Originally published in The San Diego Union-Tribune.
By Abril Perez
This is a call to action for everyone—especially our white allies—to stand up against white supremacy and publicly condemn it.
On August 3, 2019, a white supremacist violated my hometown of El Paso, Texas, by shooting Latinx shoppers at a Walmart. Fruit flies are circling the marigolds my friends and I laid out on our emergency Día de los Muertos altar in memory of the victims, yet I cannot bring myself to take it down. I am not ready to put this act of domestic terrorism behind me and you should not be either. We are all, in part, to blame for what happened in El Paso.
We politely engaged in civil discourse with racists who hide behind their self-appointed role as devil’s advocate. We watched in horror as a car slammed into a crowd of peaceful protesters, but let our indignation fade into, “but what can we do?” We nurtured the illusion that there are safe places for people of color and even felt grateful for minimal tolerance from white people. And now, as I sift through the rubble of my devastated community in hopes of finding signs of life or strength, all I find is a profound rage and sorrow that burns in my chest.
I am a third-year student at California Western School of Law. The Saturday before my finals, I received a text message from my best friend who was fleeing a parking lot near the shopping center under attack: “There’s a shooting in El Paso. Tell your family.”
Have you ever had to call your family to make sure they are still alive? Maybe you have if you are Latinx, black, Jewish, or Muslim (a list of some, but not all, communities recently targeted by white supremacists). These communities intimately understand the unique terror that follows a white supremacist attack.
That terror is the point. It makes us second-guess shopping for school supplies, catching up with friends at church, or going out to eat in fear of a screaming customer threatening to call ICE after finishing his tacos. This is how white nationalists maintain their dominance over public spaces and how minorities remain subjugated—we stay inside while neo-Nazis enjoy the sun.
I am not simply trying to inspire sympathy for marginalized communities. My goal is for you to realize that we are part of your community and always have been. White supremacy spreads when white people feel disconnected from their marginalized neighbors—as much as they might genuinely feel enraged by white nationalist violence, it does not feel personal to them. We don’t want pity or prayers, but we do ask that you use your privilege to stand up for us and keep us safe. We live here, too, and can maintain our cultures while still going to watch Captain Marvel.
The time has come for us to move beyond respecting difference to taking a more proactive approach to defend it.
If my Mexican mom is brave enough to speak Spanish at the grocery store knowing she risks being told to go back to her country, you can find the courage to defend her and others like her.
If my Latina sisters can attend protests against white supremacy in El Paso, while an entire city mourns the loss of its citizens and peace, you can muster the courage to put up a sign at your restaurant that your establishment will not tolerate bigotry.
If my city, largely comprised of immigrants, can raise millions of dollars for the children orphaned by a terrorist, including a 2-month-old baby whose mom shattered his bones while shielding him from bullets, you can find the courage to hold your elected officials accountable.
White supremacy thrives on fear, but also on complacency. Everyone needs to stamp out white supremacy any way we can, big or small. These small acts of courage add up to a collective resistance—a resounding “ya basta!” As an attorney, I pledge to use my skills to defend the rights of marginalized communities. As a business owner, student, waitress, friend, florist, engineer, whatever, I ask that you contribute your unique skillset and show up for those who need you most.
White nationalists insist that their hate speech is protected, so we must use our speech rights to speak louder than they do. We must speak with our words and actions in condemning white supremacy, for the sake of future generations and on behalf of those whose voices have been taken from them.