Pretending liberal communities are safe for everyone is doing more harm than good and it didn’t save Nabra Hassanen.
By Aja Barber
A few weeks ago my best friend met me at my house with two big bouquets of wilting purple tulips, one for each of us to hold as we walked solemnly to the plaza located a stone’s throw from my house for a memorial for a teenager. A child. A person whose smile evidently brought joy to every person who knew her. A child has been murdered and it rocked our liberal Northern Virginia community to its very core. While remembering Nabra Hassanen, I looked out and saw friends and neighbors – all of us holding bouquets and passing out flowers – so many faces with looks of searching.
“How could this happen?” their faces read. Meanwhile inside, I was thinking, “How could you let this happen?” When will white liberals take the reigns in the fight against white supremacy? When will they stop looking the other way? When will they realize it’s up to them to dismantle white supremacy and not the burden for people of color to bear?
Reston – my hometown and the place where Hassanen was brutally murdered – is supposedly imbued with liberal and progressive values. Reston was built as one of the first planned communities in the United States after World War Two. I’ve lived here for thirty odd years, my parents bought their house when I was barely a year old. I have never met a single liberal white person who didn’t want to shout in my ear about how accepting and wonderful Reston it is, how it is more special than any of the other places in Virginia. The chorus of back slapping and congratulatory applause gets to be a bit much.
Related: AFTER FINSBURY PARK AND THE MURDER OF NABRA HASSANEN, BEING ATTACKED SEEMS MORE LIKELY THAN NOT.
While people are plenty nice, that doesn’t take away from the fact that my family is one of the few black families in the neighborhood and definitely the longest running mainstay. The dream of Reston is hardly affordable to all. While I admit that it’s a good place to grow up, white liberals give themselves too much credit and live with a false notion that their liberal values mean that hate doesn’t exist just below the surface. And that is how you end up with a Trump presidency.
Listening to Hassanen’s younger sister thank the audience for attending and end her message with a somber, “I just wanted to say to Nabra, I love you, and I’ll always miss you,” was more than my heart could possibly take. For a moment she reminded me of my niece–she spoke words no child should ever have to speak and it took my breath away.
Nabra wasn’t slaughtered out of the blue, islamophobia exists and thrives in places we swear it will never grow. “But Aja, Nabra Hassanen was killed by a non-white latino man”, as if islamophobia and racism cannot grow and exist inside the hearts of other people of color. White supremacy is all-consuming, and it doesn’t matter if the perpetrator is non-white. Muslims are very much at risk right now and they have been since September 11, 2001.
This entire nation is built upon white supremacist values and muslim women are especially at risk. Millions of white people elected a man who ran his presidential campaign on white supremacy, sexism and islamophobia.
One of the things people in my neighborhood are most proud of is our Saturday farmer’s market. It boasts produce from a variety of local farms, baked goods, cheeses, arts and crafts. It’s nice to have so much within walking distance. Leading up to Election Day, I got used to seeing the different political parties set up their tents in an attempt to sway voters during their shopping trips, but now the time for civil discourse has come and gone.
Every Saturday that I attended the farmer’s market, I kept waiting for all the good liberals I know to march up to that booth and ask the Trump team how they could bring such vile rhetoric into our beautiful, diverse and welcoming community. I kept waiting for someone to challenge them and let them know that their mere presence made marginalized people (many of whom they call their friends) feel less safe. I was waiting for all the good white people I know to find their voice and say, “I am NOT okay with what your candidate is preaching and you should not be okay with it either.”
But I didn’t hold my breath because white liberals will always let you down.
In the aftermath of the election and especially after the murder of Hassanen, I’ve seen signs which read “Hate, has no home here”, popping up in yards around my neighborhood like mysterious mushrooms that grow in the night. Too little too late – hate already lives here. You didn’t say anything about it or challenge it in your space when you had the chance. A lawn sign is nice but it’s an easy path to inaction–it certainly doesn’t make me feel more safe. If you are not using your voice to speak up about white supremacy, your lawn sign is of no help to me and it certainly wasn’t to Nabra Hassanen.
Author Bio: Aja Barber is a television producer who would like to eventually make the switch to full time writing. She lives in the DC suburbs (and sometimes London). She writes about race, intersectional feminism and fashion. She can be found around the internet but also on Medium, Twitter and Pinterest.