By Claudia Meléndez Salinas
More than five hundred years ago, the White Terror invaded these lands: Turtle Island, Aztlán, Tenochtitlan, Machu Picchu. The White Terror brought weapons never seen by the Algonquin, the Mixteca, the Ohlone.
The invaders declared themselves superior because they were more effective at killing and conniving, because they brought with them deadly diseases that nearly wiped out Native populations, left them weakened and confused, unable to defend themselves. The bearded men saw wide open spaces and assumed everything there was all for them. They proceeded to take the women, the land, the resources, enslaving the natives and later, when the White Terror was not satisfied with their labor, bringing black people as chattel. Emboldened by their “triumphs,” they thought of themselves as “superior,” the central tenet of white supremacy.
Fast forward to August 2019, when we, people of color, descendents of those Native people, continue to face that hatred developed in order to satisfy the White Terror primordial greed, the fear of its members of becoming irrelevant. A young man who believed white supremacist lies mowed down Latinos at an El Paso shopping center, killing 22 and injuring dozens more. This jewel of a man, this “superior white,” put together a poorly redacted manifesto of illogical ideas and faulty conclusions to express his racist beliefs: that he’s against race mixing because it “destroys genetic diversity,” that Hispanics (most of us mestizos, descendents of those Indians they were trying to destroy from the get-go) are taking over the country, and that, if our growth is left unchecked, we will destroy his country. “His” country. HIS country. The country HIS people founded by taking land from MY ancestors.
Of course, this young man’s ideology and actions are just the latest in a 500-year history of hateful actions against people of color. From this country’s inception, demonizing us has been the best way to justify the appropriation of our land, our resources. It’s been the best way to justify our near annihilation. Along the same lines, the Gilroy shooter asked people to read “Might is Right,” a book that has been used to justify racism, colonialism, and slavery. Perhaps the El Paso shooter was right on one thing: Natives didn’t take the invasion of the Europeans seriously.
Unfortunately, people like him have been emboldened by this administration and by the Commander in Chief, a man who promoted birtherism to pave his way to the White House. A man who recently chuckled when one of his supporters yelled “shoot them,” referring to migrants at the border. The El Paso shooter confessed to feeling this way for years, but it’s no coincidence that hate crimes have skyrocketed under the current administration.
So, what is a person of color to do when facing these attacks on our mere existence? When the Commander in Chief tells a member of Congress to “go back where she came from?” When white disaffected young men take up AK-47s and shoot at us indiscriminately in our places of worship, in our gathering places, in our shopping malls? When we get told, over and over again, that we are not wanted, that we do not belong, that we are a threat? When the main inhabitant of the White House, the man who’s supposed to be the moral compass of this country, describes white nationalists as “nice people.”?
How do we counter the narrative propagated by 8chan, Breitbart and all those far-right spaces where these entitled white brats can blame us for their personal shortcomings and institutional failures? Where is the counter-movement that helps us feel safe in our own land, that celebrates us for who we are? Do we create a BrownandBlackisBest.org? Or do we continue to take these attacks as if they were mirrors and beads, harmless tokens of the white man’s appreciation?
For sanity’s sake I refused to watch the news on Saturday. By Sunday morning, I couldn’t continue burying my head in the sand, so I started reading the news. Watching. Weeping. I write this fully conscious of the fact that through my veins runs European blood — so hating white people is not an option. I’m one of them too, whether I like it or not. Whether they like it or not.
I am the race-mixing that El Paso shooter is so afraid of. He’s afraid of me, of people like me, of my brothers, my sisters, my children, my friends and neighbors. We are what he believes is his existential threat. And we don’t understand it. I don’t understand it, but it pains me so I’m lashing out in the only way I know how.
White terrorists are a threat to us, the way they’ve always have been, since they’ve arrived on our shores. Just read this former white nationalist interview in The Atlantic: the worst is yet to come.
I had plans to go with my family to an outdoor festival on Sunday. My goddaughter, who attended the Garlic Festival and left only 30 minutes before the shooting took place, told me she was afraid to go. My husband said the same thing. Before I could come up with a good argument against staying home— that we should not give into fear, that shooters would not target hippie Santa Cruz — I had a revelation. We were going to see a band that plays Cuban music, with a singer who only sings in Spanish. I choked up and ran to the bathroom, unable to utter another word.
It’s been like this for the past two days, not just for me but for thousands of Latinos. Independent reporter Adrian Carrasquillo has a thread on Twitter about how scared we are. As of this writing, his thread has more than 25,000 likes and nearly than 14,000 retweets. “I truly think the scale of how horrified the Latino community is right now is not being understood,” he wrote.
Some young white men who don’t understand how genetics, human evolution, politics and economics really work are afraid for their existence, so they go out and attack us when we’re defenseless. In response, we retrench. They attack, we hide. Should we do things differently?
So how are we, beautiful, smart people, black and brown people supposed to react to the threat to our existence these attacks represent? How do we change the narrative – a narrative that paints us as “invaders” in our own continent, as undesirable and inferior? Do we need to proclaim ourselves “super-superior”?
This is not about weapons, background checks or video games. This is about a mindset. Like the reformed white supremacist told The Atlantic, there are other kinds of weapons that can be used against large segments of the population. Airplanes. Fertilizer-filled trucks. Do you think there are not white supremacist pilots?
It’s a question I’ve pondered for a long, long time, ever since a certain presidential candidate accused Mexicans of being “rapists.” How do we respond? Violence begets violence and an eye for an eye makes horrible vegetarian soup. Hate and fear are already taken by the far right, so there’s no room for us. Plus, there are some wonderful white people who should not bear the brunt of our anger — even my best friend is white. And there’s me. I may be 30 percent European, but I’m still lovable.
Obviously, I’m not alone in asking these questions. They seemed to be on everyone’s mind early Wednesday at the biweekly meeting of the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace in Salinas. The group has met for 10 years in response to violence in the streets, and after this particularly bloody weekend, the topic could not be ignored. It was a heavy meeting, with people sharing individually how they felt and some sharing later with the larger group.
CASP coordinator José Arreola brought the group together by asking everyone to set their particular intentions for the day. How do you want to respond? If someone is suffering, what do you want to be for that person?
My answer was — is — I want to be the opposite of fear. The opposite of hate. The opposite of terror. We, beautiful brown and black people, should be light in the dark, love in the face of hate, courage in the face of fear. That’s how our people have survived for hundreds of years. Our ancestors fled, hid, denied their darkness, tried to blend in, intermarried. Many, many were killed. But those who survived managed to preserve their spirit in their songs, their beadwork, their weavings, their dances, so they’re still here with us. In spite of all the attempts by the White Terror, we’re still here, still brown, still black, still beautiful.
So that’s how we go on: by being proud of our dark melanin tones, proud of our heritage and our traditions, proud heirs of 500 years of survival and resistance. Still black, still brown, still strong, still beautiful.
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