I am hotline volunteer and clinic escort with the New Orleans Abortion Fund. Our mission is simple; we help women pay for safe, legal abortions when they otherwise would be unable to do so. I recently found myself questioning why my NOAF stickers were attached to my refrigerator and not my bumper. I realized that fear of reprisals, such as having my tires punctured, my car keyed, or worse, was behind this disconnect between my volunteering and my willingness to let strangers know where I stand. This is the same fear that makes me stop holding hands with my fiancee when we are in public. It is because I am concerned that someone might try to hurt us. 

The white supremacist violence and terrorism that erupted in Charlottesville over the weekend was a shocking reminder that while I can choose to protect myself from people who might harm me for supporting abortion or being a lesbian, no such privilege of choice exists for people who move in the world every day wearing skin that is not white. 

People of color cannot decide to be white for a day. They go through life deeply knowledgeable about the racism, inequality, and lack of safety they and their families face. It is imperative that white people begin to speak out against white supremacy, against the horrific violence we have seen as well as the failure of our nation’s leaders in responding to it. Our silence, is itself, a form of violence. 

It should be no surprise that the convergence of white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville this past weekend turned violent. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported that the number of hate groups in the United States rose, for a second year in a row, in 2016. President Trump has scapegoated people of color, immigrants, and members of the Muslim faith to galvanize his base who are unable or unwilling to engage with the complex causes of joblessness, poverty, and crime in this country. 

It is time for white people who oppose and recognize this bigotry and hate to come out of the “closet” our privilege accords us. It is time for us to recognize how we perpetuate racism and oppression ourselves. It is time for us to talk to our friends and family members, our neighbors, and our co-workers. It may feel uncomfortable to speak out, but the time for us to be uncomfortable is long overdue. White people cannot continue to sit quietly at the kitchen table or cookout when racism, homophobia and bigotry are espoused by our loved ones or members of our faith community. In Charlottesville, we see what our silence has wrought.

Vanessa Shields


New Orleans