First They Came For…

Below is a modern play on Martin Niemöller’s “First They Came For The Socialists” from the view of a white American citizen, and following that is a story from the same perspective.

“First they came for the Blacks,

and I did not speak out —

because I am not black.

Then they came for the immigrants,

and I did not speak out —

because I am not an immigrant.

Then they came for the Muslims,

and I did not speak out —

because I am not a Muslim.

Then they came for me —

and there was no one left to speak for me.”

I see stories of police brutality and thank God I am not black — though if they don’t want police to behave the way they do, blacks shouldn’t resist arrest and shouldn’t have broke the law.

I hear of war stories and thank God I’m not from those countries — though they should definitely come here legally and then they wouldn’t be deported.

I see Muslims get labeled terrorists and searched more extensively and arrested for their names or how they choose to dress, and I thank God I am not Muslim — though if they want a better reputation and therefore better treatment, they shouldn’t bomb places.

But then, they called on me. They ask me why I say nothing when I know what’s happening is wrong. They tell me that if I don’t speak out, I am allowing it. And still, I stayed quiet.

One day, I went to sleep in my warm bed, but still, I had the worst dream. They had all come together — the Muslims, the blacks, the immigrants. They called me privileged. They cried that I should’ve said something.

Their words cut deep because I knew they were true, but I tried to fight it. I thought I was yelling but in reality, I barely whispered back, “Forget the past! It wasn’t me, it was my ancestors! You’re just a n*gger, a thief, and a terrorist! Leave me alone!”

My whispers laced with bigotry were the opposite of my support for them. Where my empathy was silent, my hatred was loud. You could see them giving up as they slowly walked away, hanging on to each other as if their lives depended on it — and for them, it probably did.

I woke up in a cold sweat the next day. Not because of the nightmare, but what was said in it. My rebuttals were ad hominem — attacks on them as people, rather than valid arguments against their positions. I realized the wrong in that, but there was no way to take it back. I knew I had to change, to do better, to use my voice.

After hours of reflection, I opened Instagram and saw the same stories I’d ignored in the past. My heart began hurting at the photos of the Yemenis starving and the Palestinians suffering under Israeli oppression. I smiled big at seeing Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib in Office. I was angry at the same police getting away with murder.

So instead of scrolling past it this time, I decided to make a post of my own. I announced my support for my brothers and sisters of all different backgrounds, and I finally felt good. I felt free.

(Featured Artwork: Lizzie Gill)

Na'ilah Williams

she/her. black woman. writer. 🤎

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