Our president thinks white nationalism is “not really” a growing threat, as he said in the aftermath of the mosque massacre in New Zealand. He’s cut funding to combat right-wing violence, reasoning there are “very fine people” on both sides. This is why he has become a figurehead for the global movement of white nationalists. Whatever is in Donald Trump’s heart, his policies and stated views have heartened racists who have shown, time and again, a bloodthirsty eagerness to suppress the equality of those they deem of inferior stock.
It's time for all of us to start having uncomfortable conversations.
I found myself thinking about this today as I tried to process the brutal massacre of my brothers and sisters in faith in New Zealand. I'm an American Muslim. If I had a nickel for every time I've been told to condemn “Islamic” terrorism, well – I'd probably be able to retire.
Civil rights activist Michael Skolnik tweeted today, “Christchurch Mosque: White supremacist. Tree Of Life Synagogue: White supremacist. Mother Emanuel AME Church: White supremacist. Oak Creek Sikh Temple: White supremacist. Overland Park Jewish Center: White supremacist. Islamic Center of Quebec City:White supremacist.” In my home state of Virginia, we still reel from the 2017 white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville that claimed the life of Heather Heyer.
But white supremacy – the idea that members of the socially constructed “white” race are superior to others – stretches both beyond violent incidents and back across the ages. I remember the feeling when I showed up as a volunteer immigration lawyer the night of the first travel ban at Dulles Airport: “you and your kind aren't welcome here.” Or in the callous lies told to Central American asylum seekers – including a judge who told my client, “Everyone from El Salvador's got a story like yours. It's not going to win you the right to stay here.” Or in the papers of John Tanton, architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement (whose closed papers I have filed a lawsuit to unseal) lamenting that the Fourteenth Amendment provides citizenship to all people born here.
I remember Medgar Evers and Emmett Till. I remember Orion Anderson, falsely accused of assaulting a white girl, dragged out of jail by a posse to be lynched in the county I now live in back in 1889. I'm of South Asian heritage: I remember my grandfather, jailed by the British imperialist powers for his fiery speeches rousing his Indian countrymen to demand independence.
Why does the conversation always place the onus of condemnation on my community? Are we the only ones to bear responsibility to clean house?
Take it from someone who's been down this road. We've condemned so-called “Islamic” terrorism and the hate of ISIS and Al Qaeda until we were blue in the face. We've taken out ads, lit enough vigil candles to light a city, and stood in solidarity until our feet swelled. And all that is good – but don't misunderstand why we do it.
We're not national security pawns. We're not “your allies” in the “war on terror.” We are just people. We're mothers, fathers, gas station owners, doctors, lawyers, and falafel makers par excellence. We're in the same boat, facing the same currents on the same river as everyone else. That's why we condemn terrorism committed in our name, not because we're trying to clean only our own house.
White folks, people of color need to hear it from you. We need to know you'll call out white nationalism in all its pernicious and insidious forms. But we also need to know you see yourselves as allies in the struggle against hate. Because hate is what drove that terrorist in Christchurch. Hate is what drove the Muslim ban. Hate is what drove separation of parents from children at the border. Hate is what drove our vile history of lynchings and segregation and redlining. Hate has hijacked the Republican party.
I went to Friday prayer today, and despite the extra police presence, my mosque was full. We will not be deterred. Though we've been part of this country since the first enslaved Africans were brought here in chains, but it’s not our seniority that gives us our voice. Our determination to drive out hate does.
Who else is in?