On Friday, March 15th 50 people were killed and 50 more injured in a mass shooting in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Like many Americans, I woke up in the morning to see this tragedy all over the news and was lost for words. While mourning the loss of so many lives, I was also mad, enraged at the rise of white nationalism as a global political force with such deadly consequences. The shooter was a white supremacist who had published an anti-immigrant manifesto on 8chan. Innocent people had died because of hate so powerful it led to such a heinous act of violence.
So I think it would be irresponsible of us to spend five minutes feeling sad about this shooting and then move on. 50 people died and their lives should be mourned and remembered, now and forever. Furthermore, we must understand this tragedy as the embodiment of a coherent far-right ideology which has inspired several violent attacks over the past few years. And while it may be just a fringe of people who are actually white supremacists, the prejudices of racism and Islamophobia are still disturbingly prevalent in Western society, and the cruel and hateful rhetoric used by right-wing politicians in our political discourse sows the seeds of bigotry which manifests itself in horrendous acts of violence.
In the shooter's manifesto, he discussed "white genocide", the idea that white people in Western countries, where they have historically dominated as the majority, are being "replaced" by non-white and Muslim immigrants. White nationalists think that immigration which leads to diverse, multiracial societies is an existential threat to the white race and antithetical to Western cultural values. While such a view clearly seems extremist and wrong to the vast majority of reasonable people, certain strands of this thought can be seen across the political sphere: Steve King's tweets, the chanting of the Charlottesville protestors, Jeanine Pirro's comments about Rep. Ilhan Omar, and Trump's characterization of immigrants as invaders.
Trump said that he doesn't see white nationalism as a global problem, but of course he is part of the problem. This is the man who ran his 2016 presidential campaign by demonizing immigrants and stoking white fear of "the other". He called Mexicans "rapists", mocked the Black Lives Matter movement and he promised to ban Muslims from entering the country. His political strategy was to convince white people that people of color were to blame for all their problems. Having the President of the United States, the most powerful man on Earth, express racist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic sentiments has done more to embolden white supremacists than anything else.
Considering all of this, I can't help but marvel at how much privilege it takes for white male conservatives to be able to "tolerate" Trump because he passes tax cuts. I will never understand how conservatives have embraced a man who is so morally bankrupt and explicitly hateful. There are things more important than economic growth than the GDP. There is the feeling of alienation and marginalization that the children of immigrants experience on a daily basis, the sense of otherness that we breathe in and out of our lungs over and over again, the way white people look at us when we walk into a room and they are afraid of us because they do not understand us.
We endure all the stares and the snide comments and the feeling of being foreign that we just can't rub it away no matter how hard we try. White people ask me where I am really from and they are shocked when I say Little Rock, Arkansas but I am not surprised at their reaction because I know that even though I was born here, even though I am a citizen of this country just like them, they will never see me as a real American. So go tell the young Muslim girl who is bullied in school for wearing a hijab and told to go back to where she came from, that under Trump the economy has been doing great.
The truth is Western countries are no longer the nations of white Christians if they ever were. The United States, the UK, Australia and yes New Zealand are multiracial, multiethnic and religiously diverse countries and this is the reality that white nationalists fear and seek to undermine at every turn. But we cannot let them. We cannot let any politicians define our national identities on the basis of race or religion. We must speak loudly and assert that these democracies, our countries, will be diverse and inclusive. We will not let small men divide us.
We are stronger than that. And we will overcome hate.
It will not be easy. Progress is never easy. Activists have been struggling for more than a century to fight against systematic racism in this country and there are still so many disparities between black people and white people. But this goal of building a country that respects the dignity of every individual, that provides equal opportunity for all to succeed, that welcomes the immigrant and the refugee knowing that they will make our countries better- this is a worthwhile fight.
In my hometown, there is a small but thriving Muslim population that I have had the honor and the privilege of getting to know. In high school, I joined an interfaith youth group that taught me so much about the Muslim faith. Some of my closest friends come from Muslim immigrant families. I have visited multiple mosques in Little Rock, and the faithful worshippers I've met there have shown me nothing but kindness and hospitality. I think some white people are afraid of Muslim immigrants because they have never really interacted with them or gotten to know them; they fear that which they do not understand.
But from my own experience, I know that Muslim immigrants are not our enemy. They are not radical jihadists seeking to impose Sharia law on us all; they are simply people who came to America for safety or for economic opportunity, who like every other immigrant, just want to achieve the American Dream, practice their faith in peace, live in America while not letting go of their culture, and give their kids a better life than the one they had. The Muslim immigrants I know are smart and hardworking and kind. They are doctors who save lives; they are lawyers who defend our rights. They are the very best of America.