Confronting hate: reflections in the wake of Charlottesville
Last weekend, America witnessed a repugnant display of hatred, bigotry, and vitriol organized by white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klansmen, who convened in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the removal of Confederate monuments and memorials from public spaces. The so-called “Unite the Right” rally reached its tragic conclusion when a self-described neo-Nazi drove his car through a crowd of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. But even before this act of domestic terrorism, the rally had produced haunting images of crowds carrying torches through a Southern town at night and wielding military-grade weapons in broad daylight, chanting “Jews will not replace us,” “blood and soil,” and other hateful slogans.
Events such as this understandably provoke strong, emotional reactions for Americans of all backgrounds. In communities across the country, large rallies and vigils have been held to express solidarity with the victims in Charlottesville and focus attention on the continued presence of thousands of Confederate monuments and memorials in public spaces. One such rally, held last night in Durham, ended with the toppling of a monument dedicated to Confederate soldiers that had stood in front of the old Durham County Courthouse for nearly a century.
Although there are legitimate debates as to their tactics, it is easy to understand the convictions that led these citizens to take this action. While communities in other states have taken steps to remove their own monuments, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted a law in 2015 taking this power out of local leaders’ hands. This misguided and cynical law diminishes the power of citizens to petition their government and should be repealed immediately.
We must honestly face the elements of racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism that poison our society today. This is not just about who we have been as a nation; it is about who we are today and who we aspire to be tomorrow. It is about ensuring that each successive generation of Americans continues, to paraphrase Dr. King’s inspirational words, bending the arc of the moral universe ever more toward justice.
I have always considered myself fortunate to have come of age politically during the Civil Rights movement. For a young man from a small town, the movement was a profound example of the power of people with conviction to right ancient wrongs. Three short years after I helped organize student protests against Chapel Hill’s segregated businesses, I sat in the gallery of the United States Senate as the Civil Rights Act passed in a dramatic vote I will remember forever.
Looking back on these years, I often marvel at how far we have come as a nation toward ending institutionalized discrimination and achieving a more perfect union. Yet, like the Charleston massacre two years ago — and the many smaller acts of bigotry and racism that draw far less attention in the media — the events in Charlottesville this weekend remind us of how much work we have left to do.
It is in moments like these that we must summon the determination and courage to come together as a community to reject the voices of hate, to draw upon the values we share as Americans, and to chart a better path forward.