This article was originally published in the Reno Gazette Journal.
I have lived in Nevada since 1991. It’s not always an easy place to be a Black woman.
I vividly recall venturing out to North Valleys one day to do my grocery shopping. This is a town notorious for being the home to neo-Nazis. As I turned the corner towards the store’s parking lot, I noticed a young man driving a truck with a confederate flag license plate and a rifle on a rack. As the truck got closer to me, I saw a swastika tattooed on his cheek.
I realized he was following me.
A quiet whisper in my ear told me to run. Instead, I parked my car and quickly entered the store. The thought going through my head: If this man was going to kill me, I wanted there to be witnesses.
I entered the store and desperately scanned the place for a helpful face — someone who would provide solace, piece of mind and who would not willingly allow this man to kill me. I found him standing near the customer service area. I rushed over. I pointed to the man with the swastika as he entered the store.
“That man is following me,” I told my would-be protector. This kind soul told me to stand by him until the man left. Holding my breath, I waited for the neo-Nazi to leave – which he finally did without purchasing anything. As he hopped back into his truck, I finally exhaled, and thanked the gentleman for his help.
This happened in 1993. It wasn’t until 2006 that I ventured back to North Valleys. Fifteen years later, I fear Nevada – and our entire country – is treading on its racist history.
Our president’s mantra is to “make America great again.” Many of us interpret this campaign slogan as a desire to return to the past, a time when White men ruled and White supremacists terrorized people of color.
I fear Trump’s mantra is taking hold here in Nevada. In August, my alma mater, the University of Nevada, Reno, became embroiled in controversy when a student, Peter Cvjetanovic, was pictured on national news holding a torch and participating in the White nationalist rally in Charlottesville. The university administration didn’t expel Cvjetanovic, creating a great deal of tension between the school and Black students who felt their safety was threatened. This Black History Month, students on campus are now posting flyers saying, “White Silence is White Violence.” Students hung a banner above the Business and Learning Center that said “UNR protects racists.”
In Yerington, Nevada, a male teen attacked two biracial teen girls on social media, posting a photo of himself on Instagram dressed in warrior-like clothing with a caption that said, “The redneck god of all gods, we bout to go n—– huntin.” The young girls, Taylissa Marriott and Jayla Tolliver, have endured months of racist taunting and abuse because their family insisted that the school, community and police department acknowledge and address the fact that free speech and hate speech are two different issues. Together, these racist acts – and a lack of action by people in power – prove that Black and Brown bodies are systemically viewed as less than.
The famous poet and writer, Audre Lorde, once said, “Silence will not protect you.” To combat the horrific incidents of racism, violence and hate, we cannot be silent.
The North Valleys, home of that terrifying day in the grocery store, is my home – and we cannot be silent. I ask that you join me in yelling loudly, boldly and with conviction –Nevada cannot and will not relive our racist past.