This isn’t how we want America to be.
This doesn’t fit into the ideals we have for America.
This isn’t how we see America when we squint at it like we’re looking at a Magic Eye painting whenever reality gets scary or disappointing.
But it’s America.
This weekend in America, a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, brought together Neo-Nazis, Southern nationalists, “alt right”ers, KKK members, assorted militias, and fascists and white supremacists of all stripes to protest the oppression they claim they experience as white people, and the constant attack they believe “white culture” is enduring. The gathering included a march on UVA’s campus by a torch-bearing mob and a rally with chants of “sieg heil” and “blood and soil” and “you will not replace us.” Former KKK grand wizard David Duke said the event showed that they “are determined to take [their] country back” and are “fulfilling the promises of President Trump.” Marchers came out with Confederate flags, Nazi symbols and regalia, a panoply of other symbols of white supremacy, and shields and helmets and firearms. They were met by counter-protesters.
Friday night, the torch-wielding white supremacists surrounded a small circle of peaceful counter-protesters at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson, and then attacked. On Saturday, the groups clashed again. White supremacists rushed Deandre Harris in a parking garage — located next to the Charlottesville police department — and beat him with poles, leaving him with eight staples his head, a broken wrist, and a chipped tooth. Aspiring Nazi James Fields, Jr., plowed his car at full speed into a crowd of peaceful counter-protesters and then reversed out of there just as fast, leaving 19 people injured and one dead. Heather Heyer’s last Facebook message said, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”
By the end of the tear gas–fogged, blood-spattered weekend, 35 people were injured, and three were dead. And that’s what has pretty much always happened when forces of bigotry, hatred, and division are met by forces opposed to those things in America.
Behold the faces of Americans
Admittedly, some aspects of Friday night’s march seemed almost comical — not the march itself, not the fact that white supremacists were descending upon the university with torches and shouted rage and surrounding a small group of UVA student counter-protesters and swinging fists and sticks, because that’s fucking terrifying, but the white polo shirts and MAGA hats and Party City tiki torches. As KKK-slash-Nazi-slash-take-your-pick marches go, this one must have been citronella-scented and entirely free of mosquitos.
But it also made us look a hard fact in its hoodless face: Without the pointed hoods and white sheets that make them look like otherworldly demons, we can’t ignore that these fire-toting white supremacists screaming “You will not replace us!” and “Blood and soil!” are the tax accountants, real estate agents, PoliSci majors, and future senators that we encounter every day as we go about our lives. Some of them are the bloggers and YouTubers and podcasters and Internet hate-mongers who pay their electric bill with bigotry, but most of them are normal — “normal” — men and women who listen to those podcasts and take PTO from the Gap at the mall to drive to Virginia with their Nazi flag in the back seat.
And, as a friend of mine (whom I won’t drag into these politics for the sake of her career) noted, when these men and women showed up at work this morning and their coworkers asked what they did over the weekend, they probably responded, “Oh, not much.”
They’re here, and they’ve been here. There’s been a lot of talk about how the election of Donald Trump made white supremacists feel comfortable showing their hatred publicly, and the immediate uptick in hate crimes after Election Day certainly bears that out. But his election didn’t turn them into white supremacists. They didn’t suddenly flock to join Stormfront first thing in the morning November 9. They might have felt emboldened to add straight-up Nazi boilerplate to their Twitter bio, but they were always there, spreading and sharing their bigotry in coded language they no longer feel obliged to code.
The League of the South, a Confederate flag–flying white supremacist hate group, was advocating for Southern secession long before Trump was elected — they just aligned themselves with Trump’s ideology when he came along and opposed his “enemies.” Richard Spencer was leading crowds of white nationalists long before he was publicly “hailing” Trump. Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, and Sebastian Gorka didn’t appear because of Trump — they called upon their own long-established base to put him in office.
America shouldn’t have been surprised
Lots of white Americans reacted to the 2016 election with “I can’t believe this is happening” and “This is unbelievable” and “How could this happen?” To which much of the black community responded that it’s completely expected and should surprise no one. They’ve been dealing daily with the bigotry and hatred that got Trump elected in November and marched in Charlottesville in August. White people — myself included; I won’t pretend to be part of an enlightened few who were caught fully awares — who don’t experience bigotry from Chad from Chesterfield were able to be shocked when all of the Chads put a bigot and his merry band of bigots in the White House.
And if everything that’s happened during and since the 2016 campaign has opened your eyes and made you start paying attention to the reality of life for people who aren’t you, the open displays of bigotry and acts of terrorism seen this weekend should horrify and dismay you, but they shouldn’t shock you. “How can this happen? This isn’t America.” It is, too, America.
America was built on the backs of enslaved people, who were held down by racist laws long after they were emancipated and gave their blood for, among other protections, a Voting Rights Act that was tossed aside in 2013 because in our post-racial society that elected a black man president, voting discrimination no longer existed.
And Americans’ fight against fascism and racism didn’t end in Europe in 1945. And it didn’t end while Americans were fighting fascism in Europe — Corky McSwagsalot addresses the reality of what was happening at home, as the world fought against the Nazis and America’s own home-grown white supremacists were committing atrocities largely unopposed by the white community.
When white Americans were “patriotically” fighting Nazis overseas, their cousins were lynching blacks on the very soil we’d been enslaved on
— Cocky McSwagsalot (@MoreAndAgain) August 12, 2017
And Eve Ewing gives documentary evidence of the attacks on civil liberties — and on physical safety and on lives — that have been a constant presence throughout American history, whether white people acknowledged them or not.
When you say #ThisIsNotUS you repudiate the documented history & testimony of people who have endured a racist America since its inception.
— wikipedia brown (@eveewing) August 13, 2017
Law enforcement that trooped in riot gear against Native American water protectors and sprayed protesters with water in sub-freezing temperatures, and that use teargas and rubber bullets in Ferguson and Baltimore, and that come girded for war to Black Lives Matter protests, stood idly by this weekend as blood spilled because “it’s important not to act too aggressively.” They arrested four whole people.
The president of the United States of America had nothing to say
During a press conference at his New Jersey golf course, Trump condemned the violence in the weakest possible terms, saying, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides — on many sides.” On many sides. The man who criticized Obama for not using the words “radical Islamic terrorism” enough for his liking, and who took on Nordstrom for not stocking his daughter’s fashion line, couldn’t bring himself to criticize Neo-Nazis, KKK members, and other white supremacists by name. And when asked flat-out if he denounced his white nationalist supporters, and if he would call a car plowing into a crowd of people an act of terrorism, he couldn’t bring himself to do that, either.
And those white supremacists he wouldn’t condemn took that as encouragement — a sign that he saw the counter-protesters as violent extremists and supported the white nationalist cause. “He said he loves us all.” It’s not hard to guess which “us” he’s referring to there. Richard Spencer saw Trump’s lukewarm tweet immediately following the attacks as a condemnation of the anti-fascist protesters, while David Duke took them as an affront to white people.
At the Root, Michael Harriot decodes Trump’s statement.
Some people are wondering what Trump specifically meant by condemning hate and bigotry “on many sides.” Allow us to explain:
He means the side that hates people of color, and the people of color who are recipients of hate.
The side that pierces innocent black bodies with bullets, and the side that has the audacity to die from being shot.
When Donald Trump talks about the hate on both sides, he means white America—which holds every economic, social and political advantage in this country and has been metaphorically and literally slitting the throats of blacks, Hispanics and non-Christians for the entire existence of America.
And he’s talking about the people who’ve been getting their throats slit. Because they hate, too. They hate getting their windpipes slashed open. They are bigoted against the neck-slicers.
This man wasn’t elected by a statistical majority of Americans, but he got enough votes to take office. Enough Americans were able to overlook his blatant, unashamed racism, sexism, Islamophobia, and fearmongering to cast their vote for him. (And don’t give me any #NotAllTrumpVoters bullshit — he never made a secret of who he was.) Many were motivated to vote for him because of those things. Those people didn’t materialize out of nowhere, and they weren’t disillusioned liberals changing their vote because of economic anxiety — they were always there, and finally they came out of the shadows because they finally had a candidate who hated the way they did.
Life in America
It is perfectly acceptable — and encouraged, even — to say that this isn’t how we want America to be. It’s fine to say that these aren’t the values we espouse, and to fight to change the reality to fit the ideal. But insisting that “this isn’t America” allows us to pretend it’s an aberration, and it isn’t. We don’t get to pretend that this was some alarming single event, and let the next one take us by surprise, because this isn’t America. This is America.
America has Neo-Nazis marching with torches and mowing people down with cars. It has racist young men sitting down to pray in a black church and then murdering the congregants. It has white nationalists in suits praised as “dapper” as they give speeches in front of Sieg Heil-ing, Nazi-saluting masses. It has Southerners who threaten murder in defense of their precious Confederate statues and flags. And none of that is anything new. They aren’t “lone wolves.” These aren’t “isolated incidents.” They’re an ongoing campaign of terror and hatred that foreshadows the next act of terror and hatred and should preempt any surprise.
If we want to be able to realistically say, “This isn’t America,” we can’t just repeat it and hashtag it over and over like some anti-racist, anti-fascist version of The Secret where we just have to speak it aloud until it’s true. We can’t just say, “Racism is bad, and all people are equal, and that’s the American way.” We have to take action to turn America into what we want it to be.
Sara Benincasa has provided a fairly comprehensive list of organizations in Charlottesville that people can support to help counteract the hatred spewed by the Nazis and white supremacists that descended upon the town. It also includes a link to funds for the family of Heather Heyer and for Deandre Harris’s medical bills. These are valuable steps to take in the short term. In the long term, we have to do more.
And by we, I mean white people. We can’t call upon Jewish people, LGBT people, and people of color to face down the people who hate them and want them exterminated for the sake of world peace. We, people with privilege, have to do the job. We have to open our eyes and recognize that these violent bigots aren’t Internet-shielded monsters but our next-door neighbors. #NotAllWhitePeople is bullshit, because #EnoughWhitePeople are fomenting this violence and bigotry that they marched on Charlottesville with torches and people died. They’re giving us a great deal on a used Prius. They’re standing next to us at family reunions. When we encounter racism — whether it’s on our Facebook walls or from our 90-year-old great-grandmother — we can’t leave it unaddressed for the sake of family harmony, because the price of family harmony is the kind of violent disharmony we saw this weekend.
Nah nah nah, don’t follow our “lead”: go into your homes and get your bothers and uncles and fathers and partners to cut this shit out. https://t.co/bYFLfoTyAl
— Zoé Samudzi (@ztsamudzi) August 12, 2017
If you’re white and want to be serious about fighting white supremacy, put your bodies, resources and time on the line.
— Charlene Carruthers (@CharleneCac) August 12, 2017
How will you fight racism and white supremacy in your everyday life?
— Sam Sanders (@samsanders) August 12, 2017
And as a parting note: Obviously these ideas didn’t spring fully formed from my forehead. I implore you to click every link and visit every website, blog, and Twitter feed linked here to see the people who have been saying these things since time immemorial, and we haven’t been listening, and so we’ve been caught by surprise. That is the American way. But we can change that, and we can change the American way, and we can make an America that this truly isn’t. But we have to start by acknowledging that right now, #ThisIsUS.
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