How is This Still Happening in Houston?
RANT: Houston can never be the world class city it so badly wants to be until we stop tolerating white supremacy.
Photo: Dave Cebrero
As Houston rapidly approaches becoming the third largest city in the country, we still have some serious work to do. More important than building new parks and public spaces, themed cocktail bars, or dynamic and adventurous new restaurants is the need to demonstrate to the rest the country that despite our geography, we are not backwards or bound by this region’s history. No matter how much the oil and gas industry grows, no matter how cosmopolitan we think we have become, no matter how cool how our music and arts scene is, we will never be a world-class city until we make a white supremacist gathering in Third Ward as rare as it would be in Brooklyn or downtown Los Angeles or in the streets of South Side Chicago.
Just yesterday, on a sleepy Sunday morning, a few dozen white supremacists wielding assault rifles and confederate flags invaded the Third Ward. In my heart, this is something all Houstonians should absolutely not tolerate and find completely repugnant. What adds insult to injury is the fact that these agitators are not Houstonians. A quick perusal of their event page shows that they’re all from Humble, Beaumont, Nederland and other places where this kind of hate is deemed acceptable. Of all places, they decided to post up in front of the NAACP building just across the street from a church. With neighborhood children and families all around, these white supremacists came into this community to do nothing but intimidate and make people feel unsafe in their own neighborhood. A counter-protest soon formed the other side of the street and the neighborhood quickly galvanized against what is something that cannot become the norm in our city. Unfortunately, however, the counter-protesters we’re almost exclusively comprised of African-Americans who live in the neighborhood. Slowly, folks from from other neighborhoods and communities began to trickle in and join the counter-protesters. But let’s be clear, Third Ward is close to the Museum District, River Oaks, Montrose, etc. — neighborhoods where your average person will claim to be stridently against racism. So where were they? Where were the tens of thousands of people who fill up my social media feeds every day with various social justice issues? Why wasn’t there an overwhelming response of support for the residents of Third Ward? Am I crazy to be shocked that in this day and age we would actually tolerate this?
Some may respond that the best thing to do is to ignore such people and their provocation. I don’t think the residents of Third Ward have the luxury of letting white supremacists with rifles be ignored. How many times does one ignore extremists entering your community armed with an AR-15 and making threats? How do we stand by and watch our neighbors be intimidated? Maybe it’s because this is the way it’s always been. White supremacy has a long history in Houston, as it does in most of the South and Texas. Whether it’s the Klan lynching people in the 40s, bombing KPFT in the 70s, terrorizing the gay community in Montrose in the 80s or even protesting Syrian refugees last year, Houston has yet to send a loud and clear message that this is not okay.
As we grow in size and population density, while also becoming the most diverse city in the country according to the most recent US Census, it’s on us to show support that extends beyond our respective communities. I wish the Museum District was as disgusted by what happened yesterday as it is by the proposed Ashby High Rise. I wish Montrose was as up in arms to support their neighbors just one mile down Richmond Avenue as they are about mattress stores moving into the neighborhood. I wish all my fellow Arabs who came out in droves when these same assault-rifle-toting white supremacists came to the Da’wah Center in downtown had come to the Third Ward yesterday. Right now is obviously a very politically charged time in America and this has manifested itself on social media in a major way. But, now more than ever, Houstonians should come together and take real action to send a crystal clear message that this is not fucking okay and we won’t tolerate it. We need to let these bigots know that if they want to come to Houston to try to intimidate us, we will come out and show overwhelming support for our neighbors. Simply put, racist groups should be afraid to operate in Houston. This is not a problem we can ignore and expect to just go away.
by Omar Afra