Saturday morning began like any other, scrolling through social media timelines, except for the onslaught of videos, pictures and opinions from a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. On Friday night (August 11), several hundred torch-bearing white men began marching at night ahead of a weekend of planned protests. City plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, General of the Confederacy, from Emancipation Park near the University of Virginia (UVA) motivated several demonstrations by torch-bearing white supremacist organizations since May.
Just to clarify a few things: 1) white nationalists are racists who believe in white supremacy and segregation; 2) Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant in 1865 ending the Civil War; and, 3) this is critical to understand – it is 2017.
In response to hundreds of racists marching through the streets of downtown Charlottesville waving Confederate and Nazi flags, counter-protesters mobilized in a show of resistance. Several brawls erupted throughout the city, with people beaten with poles, pepper-sprayed, and a 20-year- old white man drove from Ohio to Virginia to ram his vehicle into counter-protesters. 19 people were injured and a 32-year- old woman killed in the vehicular attack.
Please remember that the torch-wielding mob of angry white men meant to threaten, intimidate, and antagonize progressive citizens of Virginia. Please understand that the woman murdered, and the people brutalized in these attacks are American citizens. Please be clear, these acts are textbook cases of domestic terrorism.
Imagine you’re enrolled at UVA, preparing to return to start the fall semester, and full-out race riots are happening on and around campus. Trump briefly denounced the violence in Charlottesville from his New Jersey Golf Club during a planned announcement on veterans’ healthcare. Terry McAuliffe, governor of Virginia, declared a state of emergency ordering, “Nazis…go home,” and shaming white supremacists for calling themselves patriots“…you want to talk about patriots, talk about Thomas Jefferson and George Washington” he said.
Bree Newsome, the activist most recognized for scaling a flagpole to remove the Confederate flag flown in front of the South Carolina state house, tweeted in response “Reminder: Jefferson was a slave-owning child rapist and Washington personally hunted down a slave woman who ran away from him. We have to deal w/ truth.” There is no more apt summary of the catastrophic events occurring throughout
America leading up to this weekend’s cluster of tragedies – the failure to deal with the truth of this nation’s history. “So much deep miseducation around history in this country and the active denial of slavery & its continued legacy in USA. Goodness knows ” -Bree Newsome
It is hard to accept a Trump presidency, being that he is completely lacking in experience as a public servant and demonstrates daily his utter incompetence. Seasoned politicians are keenly aware that events like Charlottesville provide an opportunity to define oneself in their response. For Bush it was September 11th and Hurricane Katrina, for Obama it was Trayvon Martin and Sandy Hook Elementary.
Trump however, following missile launches by North Korea threatened them with “fire and fury;” and, following acts of domestic terrorism from torch-bearing white supremacists urged “We have to come together as Americans with love for our nation and true affection” and “there's blame on all sides.”
Let us deal with the truth. Just as hugging police officers has not prevented Black and Brown people from being shot to death by police officers, love and affection will not end white supremacy and domestic terrorism.
Ibram X. Kendi describes how racial disparities persist in his book Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. “In trying to understand why these lives don’t seem to matter, we talk a lot about ignorance and hate. But history tells us something else: that racist ideas were created to defend deeply entrenched and enticing discriminatory policies.” -Ibram X. Kendi for National
Book Foundation Kendi defines three groups: Segregationists, Assimilationists, and Antiracists, discussing how each has responded to racially biased policies throughout America’s history.
Looking at the events since Trump’s inauguration helps to add perspective on what occurred in Charlottesville this weekend. Segregationists – white nationalists – have been emboldened by Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric, his appointment of the racially biased Jeff Sessions as US Attorney General, and his regular announcement of prejudiced executive orders. It is not surprising then that white supremacists groups have organized regular demonstrations, rallies and protests throughout the nation since Trump assumed the office of the President. The rallies taking place this weekend in Charlottesville were a national effort undertaken by white nationalists, racists and supremacists to organize. Trump branded himself early in his political rise as a would-be populist to align with a racist sentiment threatened by social progress. For many whites, social progress is a direct threat because it means levelling the playing field by rolling back federal policy that disenfranchises and marginalizes historically oppressed groups. Which is precisely how a former television star without any experience in public service earns the votes of 60 million registered Republicans under the guise of “economic anxiety.”
During Trump’s campaign, he regularly incited violence against peaceful protesters at his rallies, announcing he would cover the legal expenses of his supporters. National media depicted Black teen protestors elbowed in the face, shoved, spat upon and stabbed with needles by Trump’s loyal base of white supporters. Trump refused to disavow support from David Duke, former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan until pressured by the Republican Party – Duke attended the Charlottesville rallies Saturday.
Assimilationists, members of the American public claiming they had not voted for Trump but indifferent upon his nomination urged the rest of America to “give him a chance.” Wholly dismissing decisions made by Trump via Executive Orders rolling back civil rights, and the collusion with Russians confessed by his son and namesake, Donald Trump, Jr as distractions. Assimilationists seek to maintain the status quo, observing yet ignoring the injustices their compatriots face alone, perpetuating America’s division.
Trump supporters refuse to take ownership of the impact his “decision-making” has, ignoring the evidence of his open bigotry, racial prejudice, and gender bias normalizing the climate of hatred and intolerance. They benefit from class privilege that dictates, “if it doesn’t impact me, then I don’t consider it a problem.”
Back in May during the initial march of torch-bearing racists through Charlottesville, Chris Newman, a Black farmer, offered this perspective, “Charlottesville is by far the most aggressively segregated place I've ever lived in or visited.” -Black Farmer Calls Out Liberal Racism In Powerful Facebook Message, Zeba Blay for the Huffington Post.
Even so-called progressives frame Trump’s base of support as economic anxiety of white rural and working class Americans, ignoring that well-to- do white Americans voted predominantly in his favor. Business owners and corporations consistently speak to rising taxes and industry regulations as threats to their economic interests; prioritizing financial gains over the rights and freedoms of fellow American certainly will not make America great. Hopefully, the irony of businesses in downtown Charlottesville forced to shut down due to violent demonstrations by white nationalists was not lost on them.
Finally, Antiracists – organizations like Black Lives Matter (BLM) and the Resistance Movement – seek inclusion and justice, both of which Trump and his administration oppose. These goals call for a well-informed public with a clear understanding of historical wrongs faced by oppressed groups: people of color, women, LGBTQ, disabled, and impoverished. Solidarity among groups advocating for civil and human rights expose oppositional aims to control resources, divide fellow citizens, and deter social progress.
Choosing the antiracist approach is the only method to reach America’s aims of liberty and justice for all. The alternatives are complicity with white supremacy or indifference about its impacts to the nation and its citizens. Contrary to popular opinion, old white racists aren’t dying off, in Charlottesville’s case they are mobilizing young white racists.
Trump’s condemnation of “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides” is blind to the fact that innocent people peacefully protesting were maliciously attacked and one person killed by white racists. His message then is just another dog-whistle to his supporters that he will continue to defend acts of domestic terrorism, aggression and intolerance as long as they guarantee he continues to hold the highest seat in the nation. This level self-interest by Trump and others like him indifferent to the hatred, bigotry and violence he condemns is telling.
The longer each of us waits to choose justice and inclusion the quicker the nation continues to self-destruct.
(Photo: The White House)