By Rosetta Miller Perry
For over 25 years the Tennessee Tribune has proudly chronicled the good things happening in North Nashville and across our city, region and state. Over that time we’ve not ignored or tried to pretend that ugly, vile things weren’t also occurring, and when necessary we stood up and identified them. But we’ve always spent a lot more time emphasizing the good things, celebrating the accomplishments, and noting the firsts and breakthroughs than we have reporting about the negative and backward elements that remain in our midst.
But sometimes we have to stand up and say there are certain things that must be eradicated and eliminated if Nashville is ever going to truly be the kind of place that deserves to be branded the “It City.” It has be the kind of place where people both in and out of power publicly let it be known certain views are not welcome in our midst, and that any and all forms of bigotry and hatred will not be tolerated. Whatever you may think as a private citizen is your business, but if you espouse hatred, racism, sexism, any form of religious bigotry or homophobia, you speak for yourself, and do not represent the Nashville that we want to see and celebrate.
Some of the reaction last week to Zulfat Suara’s candidacy for Metro Council should be an embarrassment to any and all Nashville citizens who claim they believe in human dignity, equal justice and Civil Rights. The fact that a Nigerian woman who also happens to be a Muslim has decided to run for public office is apparently too much for the bigots, racists, and just plain morons to handle. Never mind she has the perfect legal right to run for public office,. or that she’s entitled to do so as a citizen of this city. The bigots are out in force, with comments like “You will never, ever be on Metro Nashville Council. I am on a personal mission to stop it and make sure it does not happen. I will make sure of it. I’ve got your picture. I’ve got your face. and everyone is going to know to not vote for you.”
Or this piece of brilliant advocacy from another enlightened soul who says “Just like Christian’s (sic) in your home country, Muslims are not welcome here.” Suara’s home nation of Nigeria has more Christians than any other African nation, but of course this idiot either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about that fact. Suara is also dealing with people stealing or damaging her campaign signs. While she’s alerted law enforcement about these threats, she’s going to continue her campaign, and the Tennessee Tribune says to her “don’t let the racists and bigots drive you out.”
We agree with her when she says “I hope people will stand up and say this is not our Nashville.” Yes, everyone including her opponents and people of good will across the city irregardless of race, faith, gender or sexual orientation should stand up and say there’s no place in our city for the kind of garbage that has surfaced online, and especially on the websites and walls of bigots who thrive on stirring up hate and negativity, especially in places like Twitter where they can hide behind phony names and fake identities.
Stephanie Teatro, who co-directs the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition and its political arm — TIRRC Votes, which recently endorsed Suara — said in a Nashville Scene article that Muslims, immigrants and Black women face a backlash when they decide to step up and run for public office. “Zulfat happens to be all three,” she said. So she wasn’t surprised that Suara is facing major harassment as she seeks one of five at-large Metro Council seats. “The only way we’re going to get to the other side of this political moment where people feel emboldened to be so hateful is to have effective and capable leaders like Zulfat,” Teatro added. “The most powerful rebuke to any of these xenophobic activists is for her to win a countywide election.”
The Tribune commends Suara for trying to remain positive. “For every bad comment, there’s 1,000 positive comments,: she has said. “For every nasty encounter — someone looking at me funny — there’s 100 more that have embraced me.” “I truly want to give back to this city, and I believe I have the means to do that. Nashville has been very welcoming. I hope that those that have never met me will not let a few people make them unwelcoming. I hope people will stand up and say, ‘This is not our Nashville.’ ”
We stand solidly behind her, and defend her right to run for Metro Council, and we also ask where is the public condemnation of these actions by those in power? Silence by implication is agreement, and while we don’t think the vast majority of people in power in Nashville back this type of vicious hatred, there should be unanimous and widespread response to it. Don’t let the voices of hatred and bigotry seem to be consensus by not responding. You don’t have to be a supporter of Suara to condemn the ignorant and bigoted response she’s gotten from that segment of the population that hates anyone who isn’t white, male, and fits their definition of an American.
The Tribune doesn’t think those comments represent the Nashville we know and love. But they represent voices in Nashville we’ve been battling against throughout our existence. These are people who repeatedly try to marginalize the voices of women, of Blacks and other people of color as well as the poor. They want to keep things the way they were centuries ago. These people know that in 2019 their views aren’t considered tolerable, so they mostly keep them to themselves, at least until something or someone comes along that brings them out of the sewers where they normally reside. This time it’s the Metro Council candidacy of Zulfat Suara. Tomorrow it may be something else.
But we say enough, and we also say let everyone who’s sick of this kind of bigoted nonsense speak out against it, and let these people know they not only don’t run anything, but they can’t decide who can run for political office based on their bigoted reading of the law. It’s just a matter of simple justice and fairness. Best wishes to Zulfat Suara, and be strong. There are lots of good people out here behind you.