On August 3rd, I spent the day glued to the television, watching the news, and messaging loved ones to make sure they were safe. My understanding of and experience with heartbreak was something so incredibly different before this day.
I felt many emotions that day and the days to come. The emotion that stuck with me the most was anger. Anger that the shooter targeted my city, anger at how many innocent lives were lost, anger that the shooting was racially motivated, and anger at the systems and society that let this happen.
It’s easy for me to get lost in the anger.
It’s a defense mechanism that lets me feel safe while denying emotions that are harder for me to process like compassion, patience, and grief. There’s a weakness I associate with sadness, so it’s the anger I hold on to.
Thankfully, I have an incredible support system. In my network, particularly, my West Fund family, we have regular conversations about real-world oppressions that impact us and our work. In fact, as an organization, we are creating a glossary to ensure we are proactively continuing our own education and growth, and are reducing any misunderstanding or conflict by sharing our understanding of key terms like white supremacy, racism, and restorative and transformative justice.
The West Fund practice of having these conversations has been an interesting juxtaposition to the community-wide discussion on white supremacy brought on by the shooting. First, I found that generally, talking about a white supremacist is not complicated. The shooter committed an evil and horrendous act- therefore, it’s easy to call him a white supremacist.
What is harder to explain is the ideology of white supremacy. I noticed there was a tendency to equate white supremacy with white people. There was also incredible comfort in the fact that the shooter is an outsider, which only contributed to an underlying assumption that because we live in a primarily Latinx community, we cannot be racist.
This is all misguided.
The way that white supremacy has and continues to seep into our institutions, history, government, and everyday lives is so pervasive. It’s insidious and harder to pinpoint than say, a blatantly racist person. White supremacy is about institutional, structural, and systemic racism, not individual people. Having the community-wide conversation was challenging because 1) we aren’t in a cultural practice of civil discourse- especially with today’s strongly politicized language, and 2) we don’t have that shared knowledge or understanding of terms like white supremacy to build on. White supremacy could mean three different things to three different people, and so it becomes that much harder to communicate.
I mention this not to harp on how amazing and proud of West Fund I am (though I am and I just did), but (more so) to express how incredibly necessary it is to our survival that we create intentional spaces to talk about real issues like white supremacy. If we could put our anger, or pain, or fear aside, we could talk about how anti-immigrant language perpetuates white supremacy; we could explore how the nuances of race and gender are inextricably linked to mass gun violence; and we could examine the way in which border communities like El Paso are routinely short-changed of goods, services, investment, and resources.
There is much work we have to do to dismantle white supremacy, and it begins with a culture shift. There is so much we could accomplish by having these broader conversations. A conversation on white supremacy means a conversation on the climate crisis, on mass incarceration, on immigration, on income inequality, and so much more. We owe it to ourselves to process what is happening together. From experience, I know there is too much pain and injustice for us to do it alone.
There is an opportunity to bring the conversation to our state leadership at the Senate Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety. The committee is charged with studying and recommending legislative solutions that will help prevent mass gun violence and improve community safety. There is a hearing scheduled for El Paso on October 21st. This will be a listening session for the Committee to learn about the impacts of the mass shooting in El Paso. All are welcome and encouraged to attend and testify.
Senate Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention & Community Safety
Monday, October 21, 2019
2 PM MST to 7 PM MST
The University of Texas at El Paso
El Paso Natural Gas Conference Center
2051 Wiggins Way
El Paso, TX 79902