A conversation that I had two weeks ago has been weighing heavily on me, and over the past two days that weight has gotten heavier. I was having a discussion with someone I love in an environment that was not conducive to a heavy political debate—and when he said, “I think we all spend too much time worrying about what (the President) says”, I simply acquiesced and let the conversation end.
Almost immediately, it felt wrong to let that go. Even two weeks ago in that safe, friendly moment, I felt like I was part of the problem when I did not point out the danger in the racist, nationalist, and violent language—specifically the language—coming from the man elected to serve as our nation’s leader. Even in this small, family setting. Even when it would fall on deaf ears. Even when no one wanted to hear it.
Because words matter. My words matter. Your words matter. The wider your audience and the more amplified your voice, the more your words matter. The President of the United States’ words matter on a global scale.
Our President—and extreme right-wing media machine of Fox News, where he gets his talking points—have consistently used language to dehumanize black and brown people. They have consistently used language to stoke the fears of a population of white Americans who are already financially and socially unstable because of income inequality, focusing their pain and fear into rage at the Mexican and Central/South American immigrants in the United States.
Our President has joked and laughed when an audience member at his rally shouted “Shoot them” when he rhetorically asked what could be done to “stop these people”, referring to refugees seeking asylum at the border.
Two weeks ago, I started thinking about how to take a missed opportunity to speak up and turn it into a message. Two weeks ago, I was thinking about the damage that was being done to our international reputation—damage that we will likely never fully recover from. Two weeks ago, I was thinking about the pain and fear that was a breeding ground for this hate speech, and the pain and fear that was being caused as a result of this hate speech–and the endless cycle we’re in.
And then on Saturday, a terrorist—radicalized by white nationalism and using exact words and phrases that he heard from our President and the Fox News network—took a legally owned high-capacity rifle, drove 600+ miles, posted a manifesto online moments before he shot and killed 22 people.
I’m not responsible for what happened in El Paso, but I am complicit every time I fail to push back on the idea that the words of our nation’s leader don’t matter.