Everyone who has heard the saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” knows that’s it’s horse crap. And if you really think words can’t hurt you – I mean, have you ever been called “fat”?

It’s true that actions speak louder than words, but words influence our actions, our thoughts and our feelings, whether we realize it or not.

I was an English major in college (what a shock, I know), so I spent years studying words, their effects, how writers use them and to what ends. As a writer now myself (which I technically am), I choose my words carefully. I go through drafts, and edits, and re-writes, trying to choose the exact right combination of syllables that will make my readers feel the emotion I want them to feel while reading my columns. (Usually I aim for “humorous and heartwarming” – the sort of feeling you get in your chest watching a puppy trip over its own too-big paws. Not this week, though.)

The word “invasion” – and its conjugated versions, such as “invaders”/“invading”/“invaded” – is a word of war. It brings to mind armies, swarms, threats. So when you use it in a sentence that has “immigrants” or “immigration” as the subject of the sentence, you link them, and you make your reader or listener connect the feeling of fear to immigrants.

Same with the word “infested” (and its conjugates – “infesting”/“infest”). We mentally link the word “infest” with vermin (mice, roaches, flies), with drugs and with other disgusting, frightening things (e.g., “shark-infested waters”). So when a speaker uses any form of the word “infested” to refer to a place largely populated by people of color, they are telling you exactly what they think, and they are probably trying to get you to think the same way. It’s bad. So it is important to pay attention to what words people use, and to call them out on it when they use words meant to make white people scared of brown people.

I’ve been thinking about the recent mass shootings – Dayton, and El Paso. They made my heart hurt – the one in El Paso especially, because the first girl I ever loved came from Texas, so the Lone Star State has a special place in my heart. But what I feel is nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to the minority communities in our country who have been targeted by white hatred.

To the immigrant communities of Maine, I would like to say: Welcome. Bienvenue. Bem-vinda. ‘Ahlaan bik. I am glad you are here. And to Mainers of color who aren’t immigrants: I am glad you are here, too, and I am sorry for all the racism, overt and covert, that you have probably had to deal with while in Maine. We will try to do better.

Whenever a terrorist commits violence that was influenced by Islam, random American Muslims everywhere get asked to condemn that violence. We should start asking white people to unequivocally condemn white supremacist violence. So I’ll start: I condemn white supremacist violence; I abhor it, reject it, name, blame and shame it.

I’m scared of a lot of things. I’m scared of heights, deep water, spiders, ticks, gun violence, large chickens and driving when my “tank empty” light has turned on. I’m not scared of immigrants, and quite frankly, nobody else should be, either. I’m not scared of people who have darker skin than I do. I’m not scared of people who speak languages I don’t understand – how could I be? I’m from Maine! French is sprinkled across our culture here like jimmies on an ice cream cone.

I have a Spanish last name, passed down from an immigrant great-great-grandfather, a badge of honor in our family. But I’ve never had anyone tell me to go back to where I came from. This is because I am white. But it is a courtesy, a bare minimum of civil citizenship, that should be given to everyone.

White supremacy is killing us. It is killing us literally, with bullets, and slowly, as it chokes off our welcoming American spirit and leaves us economically and culturally stagnant. You know the stereotype of the unhinged survivalist living in a bunker, unkempt and wild-eyed and surrounded by guns and canned food? We’re turning into that, but as an entire country.

There are many things we can do to turn back that tide. We will start with our words.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: mainemillennial

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