As I walked up the step to Union Square Park, I immediately thought I was in the wrong place. I scanned the crowd and couldn’t find anyone who looked like me. I had decided to head downtown to participate in the Vigil for those who suffered during the incident in Charlottesville Virginia just a few hours before. I continued to walk past the crowd pretending like I was walking through the park to get to the other street when I noticed a poster that read “white supremacy is terrorism”, I stopped and joined the crowd as the bowed their heads in prayer.
I guess I wasn‘t the only person who noticed the demographics of the crowd. A young man walked over to the center of the crowd and expressed his concern for the lack of black people; black men in particular, who were absent from the crowd. He explained that our population was not present, not out of fear but because they didn’t understand the significance of what was going on.
The crowd was made up of mostly white senior citizens, both male and female. Soon after, an elder moved to the center of the crowd and shared a poem that explained to the people why it was so important for her to be present that day.
“First they came for the anarchist, I did nothing because I wasn’t an anarchist,
Then they came for the socialists, I did nothing because I wasn’t socialist,
Then they came for the communists, I did nothing because I wasn’t a communist…
And then they came for me, and there was no one left to protect me…
she explained it was then that she realized that having no one to protect her when “they” came for her is why she stands up for others today and will continue to fight for equality for all.
I have always had it in me to defend others around me who weren’t able to defend themselves. I clearly recall a time in middle school, 5th or 6th Grade, at Intermediate school 174 doing just that. A classmate who I had known since Pre-k was being bullied by my fellow classmates during homeroom. She had gotten her hair cut for the summer before going scuba diving with her family. My classmates taunted her continuously. I told them to chill-out a few times and even complimented her on her cut. She was white, her hair would grow back within a month or two anyway, so what’s the big deal, I thought to myself. As I spoke out, a Latina girlfriend of mine, screamed at me asking, more like accusing me, saying “How you gonna defend her, when her ancestors treated yours as slaves?” I stood there silent, suddenly AWARE, until our teacher prompted everyone to go to their seats so we could start the Pledge of Allegiance. That comment was on my mind all day. I wondered if I was a trader of my people for sticking up for a white girl. I had never really paid attention to color in that manner before. Except for that one time in elementary school when I wanted to be Latina because they got all the boys. I grew up in the South Bronx and we were a world of our own. White people just didn’t live here. Although, I never came out and denounced my friendship, that year I chose to stick with my people because I believed that they would be the ones to have my back if needed. Middle School wasn’t a place to make enemies in my hood.
Although there are white nationalists trying to take back “their” country that they stole from the Native Americans many years ago, people of all backgrounds are showing solidarity in standing up and speaking out against those who refuse to accept our existence. From our experiences, we tend to make assumptions that can prevent us from opportunities. I didn’t walk around refusing to befriend white people but some do because one person chose to violate. To see all of those white people standing there with us in prayer is a reminder that we should not judge a book by its cover and that we should not allow one experience to cause us to dismiss getting to know someone.
At the end, one of the few black men at the vigil walked to the center of the circle with tears in his eyes and stated, “Thank you for standing for me, and thank you for standing with me”.
We are all in this together you may not be the target now, but who will defend you when you do become one. No matter what color or race you are, racism should never be accepted. If we keep thinking that we can’t make a difference then we won’t make a difference. Change begins with you.