Unite the White: How the Charlottesville Riots Are the Epitome of White Privilege

Steve Helber / AP

White privilege has become commonplace in social justice conversations, but for a concept so integral and prevalent in society, a lot of people seem to enjoy denying its existence.

Living in the West and other areas touched by colonization, identifying and being read as white comes with inherent privileges that people of color with the same sociopolitical/economic circumstances cannot experience. From being racially profiled by cops and store associates, to being more harshly punished for infractions by schools and courts, white people receive enhanced social treatment for the mere fact that we live in a country and society plagued by tenets of white supremacy.

Concerning how masses of people, especially white people as beneficiaries, can be so willfully ignorant: I don’t know. I do know, however, that if you can fix your lips and/or keyboard to say that white privilege and supremacy doesn’t exist, you’re delusional.

A perfect, yet tragic, example of such privilege came this past weekend. Since reaching the mainstream Friday night, we watched as white supremacists and Nazis sparked riots so chaotic that the city of Charlottesville, Virginia had been placed under a state of emergency. It started when these rioters, citing the removal of Confederate soldier Robert E. Lee as the source of their anger, marched onto the University of Virginia (UVA) campus with lit torches, chanting “white lives matter” and “Jews will not replace us” around a group of anti-racism counter-protesters.

Things further escalated the next day. A video surfaced showing a group of white people walking down a street, armed with shields and staffs chanting the Nazi slogan “blood and soil.” Pictures of Confederate and Nazi flags waving side by side spread across Twitter. Members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) showed up to the function, masks off. An armed militia of white people arrived on the scene with gear more advanced than that of the police deployed to the area. Brawls between counter-protesters and rioters became bloody after a man plowed his car into a crowd of oppositionists, killing one woman and injuring around a two dozen more.

This entire occurrence is debilitating to watch unfold, as it is an extreme display of the extent of white privilege.

The fact that we are talking about Nazism, a political movement that was founded on “scientific” racism and continues to uphold anti-Semitism, in the present tense shows that white privilege exists. It shows that full fledged, “blood and soil” Nazis have been allowed platforms to freely express their fascist-esque ideologies and generate equally deluded supporters.

The fact that KKK members and supporters of Unite the Right showed up maskless, and the fact that these people are able to exist as functioning members of society shows that white privilege exists, because it shows that no matter how vile and hateful and dangerous their opinion, they still have the privilege to possess an untouched reputation.

The fact that Colin Kaepernick is still having his NFL career obliterated because he was seen as unpatriotic in the eyes of the same people who idolize military traitors (Confederates, as Seren Sensei has noted on multiple occasions) and enemies of America (Nazis, as basic knowledge about World War II shows) proves that white privilege exists.

The fact that we have a sitting president that lives on Twitter for the purpose of calling out people he opposes by name, but seemingly refused to call his white supremacist supporters out for what they are, shows that white privilege exists.

The fact that a Black child was killed for carrying a non-lethal gun, and a Black man was shot because an officer assumed he was reaching for a gun, but a militia of armed white people can join a riot without being lethally apprehended by the police, shows that white privilege exists.

The fact that a group of POC-hating white supremacists marched onto the campus of UVA wielding tiki torches, which come from Polynesian culture, proves that white privilege exists, because how do white people rip from so many cultures that they don’t realize that they’re using a “cultural product” of Pacific Islanders to “defend and assert” white supremacy, and the irony of doing such?

It’s almost ironic that these Charlottesville riots broke out when they did. On August ninth, we observed the three year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death. His murder was a pivotal moment for those of us who call ourselves activists. It arguably elevated Black Lives Matter to the mainstream and further exposed everyone to the maleficence within the system of policing. Thousands gathered in Ferguson to protest the unjust killings of Black children, Black people in general. They gathered on Staten Island, and in Baltimore, and in Dallas, and on campuses across the country to call for reform in the way Black people are treated in the justice system. But any time Black people assembled, whether in peace or in outbursts of anger, they — we — were met with tear gas, army tanks, the national guard, and equalized police officers dressed like soldiers. We were demonized and called thugs and animals by people across the political spectrum. At one point there was a petition floating around online for Black Lives Matter to be recognized as a terrorist organization.

In comparison, we saw white people wreak havoc and commit true acts of terror. Still, multiple media sources couldn’t even call them white supremacists, let alone terrorists. Not even after a woman was killed because of their violence, intimidation, and hatred.

And at this point, I can’t help but think the attention drawn to her death came because she was white.

The hashtag #ThisIsNotUS surfaced after the riots began to trend, and the mounds of supposed white allies feigning surprise at the fact that racists can be overtly racist shows the oblivion of white people. The behavior exhibited in Charlottesville is what the United States of America was founded on. How can one think to Tweet #ThisIsNotUS when the America of today came from a past and present of imperialism, the erasure of Native Americans, the hatred and exploitation of Black people, the maltreatment of anyone who is not seen as white, and the coddling of white domestic terrorists.

This is US.

America has always been riddled with terrorism, whether or not white observers recognized or labeled it as such. And if you as a white person think that this is a shocking new phenomenon, then that right there is your white privilege.

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Originally published at affinitymagazine.us on August 15, 2017.

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