Welcoming Tennessee

by Kelsey Atwood, Belle H. Bennett fellow


“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” – Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Last Thursday night I had the opportunity to hear South Asian American activist and author Deepa Iyer give a talk about her new book, “We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future.”  Although I was attending in an official capacity as the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights (TIRRC) Resources Intern, I was deeply touched as a person of faith, a registered voter, and a person complicit in a society that has allowed racist and hateful narratives to dominate our political and social discourse.

One of Iyer’s central themes was prevalence of the anti-Muslim, anti-Hindu, and anti-Sikh backlash that has not ceased in the approximately fifteen years since 9/11. Violence spans from the visible vandalism of sacred spaces and murderous acts of domestic terrorism to invisible and systematic oppression and suspicion. This racist climate of hate and fear cannot stand. If we as a collective society created this system, we can decided to destroy this system of oppression.

As we enter into a season of heated political campaigns, I challenge you to break beyond the coded messaging of “safety” and “security” to what lies underneath: a disregard for non-white and non-Christian lives. If you possess the privilege to vote, you owe it to yourself, your family, and your country to be fully informed when you cast your ballot on election day. If we are going to continue the narrative that says Americans value religious freedom, we do not get to pick and choose whose rights we are going to respect.

As a southern Christian woman, I am tired of the hate and ignorance spewed by pundits and politicians who claim to share my faith tradition. Their religion may share the same name as mine, but they do not speak for me.

 I will not be neutral. I am a part of a #WelcomingTN.


P.S. Check out a new report from our friends at Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC): Countering the Backlash: Strategies for Responding to Anti-Refugee and Xenophobic Activity from the New South. The report sheds light on the long history of anti-refugee organizing in Tennessee and gives communities across the country tools to defend refugee resettlement, combat Islamophobia, and build more welcoming communities. Take action here:








Kelsey Atwood is a 2015 graduate of Hendrix College. She is currently a Belle H. Bennett fellow at Scarritt Bennett Center where she is exploring social justice at Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition.