Charlottesville, Pride, and Perseverance
Thinking about this past weekend’s events in Charlottesville, I find myself often lost in thought about the “why” of all this. Why did Heather Heyer lose her life? Why did that man feel enigmatically compelled to commit such a horrible act? Why did a sea of people feel the need to take up torches, a symbol intrinsically tied to a very specific hate group, and march in the street? Why did it take our President two days to condemn those groups? Why do those people feel so proud to be white?
It’s overwhelming and sad, and that last question gnaws at me.
Why do you, I, or anybody take pride in being white, black, brown, gay, trans, or any other race, ethnicity, creed, or identity? What is pride anyway? Is it simply being proud of some characteristic that accidentally was bestowed upon you at birth, or is it more? Is pride ultimately is the emotional connection to perseverance in the face of hate?
I have pride in my Jewish heritage because my people throughout history have been persecuted and murdered, and to take pride in that heritage is to shake a fist at those who failed to extinguish our light while honoring those that fell to the venom of hate. Similarly, black pride, LGBTQ Pride, Latino pride is about squaring your shoulders to the gale of inequality that has tried to push you back. To say you’re proud to be Black, or Proud to be Rainbow, or Proud to be Latino is to acknowledge the perseverance required to be those things and to honor those that fell to the hurricane while still providing shelter to those walking behind them.
White pride is to take pride in power. If you’re proud to be white — yes, you’re proud of the accomplishments of white people — which, sure — white people have contributed many great and wondrous things to the world — but when it comes to power and subjugation, if you proclaim “White Pride,” to those that have been subjugated, oppressed, enslaved, murdered, controlled, demoralized, criminalized, and segregated — you’re taking pride in those accomplishments too.
Bigotry is real. Black people have a long history of oppression in the country. LGBTQ people are still fighting for equal rights in many states. Study after study shows that being white, on the aggregate, means higher wages, more employability, might rights, and more safety. You can pick any individual out on the scatter plot and say, “Not that white person!” or “that Black Lesbian makes more money than me” — but that ignores the cumulative effects of systemic, proven, institutionalized racism and inequality that minority communities still face.
Yes, poverty is the great equalizer, but solving poverty doesn’t end racism, bigotry, or hate.
Black Pride, in part, comes from this: “There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life’s July and left standing amid the piercing chill of an alpine November.” — Martin Luther King, Jr. (Assassinated)
LGBTQ Pride, in part, comes from this: “It takes no compromising to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no survey to remove repressions.” — Harvey Milk (Assassinated)
Jewish Pride, in part, comes from this: “Our freedom was severely restricted by a series of anti-Jewish decrees: Jews were required to wear a yellow star; Jews were required to turn in their bicycles; Jews were forbidden to use streetcars…” — Anne Frank (Killed in the Holocaust)
Latino Pride, in part, comes from this: “It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life. I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally non-violent struggle for justice.” — Cesar Chavez, advocate for basic humanity in work
More often than not “pride,” particularly in the context of race, ethnicity, creed, or sexuality, is intrinsically tied to perseverance in the face of oppression, bigotry, and the exertion of power.
“White Pride” lacks that essential perseverance, as in this country, White people have been the ones oppressing, subjugating, and exerting power. A friend and I had an earlier conversation where my friend said that for him, pride in being white came from the story of his family, who a hundred years prior, came here from Eastern Europe and built a life, tasted the American dream, and setup future generations; but that’s not “white pride,” that’s pride in your family. That’s pride in America. To have “White Pride” for that is take pride that your family most certainly had opportunities that black families that had been freed from slavery a scant 35 years prior still didn’t have. I’m not saying those immigrants didn’t work hard, or struggle, or suffer, or require grit and perseverance themselves to make it — I am saying that taking pride in your race as part of why you got there is to take pride that your family had opportunities, that many descendants of slaves absolutely did not.
In my family, it’s the same reason Benjamin Gendenlaf changed his name to Benjamin Love, as there was an advantage on paper in people thinking he wasn’t Jewish.
Charlottesville shows us all that we have a long way to go. While there is an absence of leadership in the White House, we can look to our community leaders, the voices who still ring out loudly on the topic, and the echoes of the past to light the dark tunnel ahead.