On Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton: A call to recognize our shared humanity

john a. powell

Director

By john a. powell

We are in national mourning after a horrific week in America of mass murder. We extend our deepest sympathy to the families of those who have been killed and our hearts go out to the communities forever transformed by these acts of violence. We, as a larger American community, are all transformed by these acts of violence.

These acts were committed by men firing weapons intended for war into peaceful crowds—children enjoying a food festival (Gilroy), families going back-to-school shopping (El Paso), and people enjoying a weekend night out with friends (Dayton).

While these acts came swiftly, we have to recognize they were not random or isolated. An ideology of domination and control have been a permanent fixture and stain on the history of this country. The most recent killings are merely the latest in a recent uptick of this country’s tradition of violence and hate crimes. But the sharp rise over the last three years in these types of incidents is a result of white nationalism and white supremacy being stoked strategically by the White House for political purposes—a weaponization of hate.

We must condemn in the strongest terms the ideology of white supremacy and white nationalism. But we must do much more than send our prayers and thoughts. We must change our institutions, our laws, and our culture.

From its earlier antecedents, this ideology has mutated and moved into new iterations and expressions, with extreme othering against Arab, Muslim, and Latinx communities. The manifesto of the killer in El Paso expresses many of the tropes that have turned white status anxiety into hate and violence. These include characterizing recent asylum seekers trying to seek refuge in this country as a foreign “invasion” and forecasting the demographic “replacement” of whites—talking points that have crept from the darkest reaches of the Internet to mainstream cable news and the White House.

The dehumanizing rhetoric and speeches from our highest office has put us on a dangerous course toward the normalization of a renewed, open, and more emboldened white nationalism. Coupled with the easy access to guns, we have a white terrorism crisis.

People have been warning about these connections since day one of Trump being elected. There are very real consequences of racist language. Indeed, we cannot excuse Trump’s rhetoric by neatly differentiated “language” from “actions”—shrugging it off as “just words.” What the leader of the United States of America says are actions, and their effect is real. No matter his intentions or personal convictions, Trump holds an outsized influence, and with it, a responsibility to all members of our society.

As we continue in our work to expose, document, and counter virulent racism and othering, we must think about a new language that represents our shared aspirations. We should not confuse the dangers of the ideology of white supremacy with all white people. Our belonging is based on the reality of our shared humanity even when it is not always lived. We must claim an America for all and wherever and whenever we fail, we must not allow such setbacks to deter us from our dreams and our country. And no one, certainly no group, is outside of that humanity. We are connected, as Baldwin says, whether we like it or not. And that connection to each other and to the earth cannot and will not be broken.