On The Vice Documentary, On Charlottesville

I had several respected friends mention that the Vice media documentary was a must watch. I finally got around to it.

I have to say I agree. It is worth the time. I’ve attached it here and at the end.

The reporters follow the events in Charlottesville, but also somehow convinced many of the white supremacists leaders to speak on camera.

There has been political spin that this was about Southern Identity and confederate statues. Trump mentioned this at his rally. Beautiful statues that can’t be replaced. That discussion needs to happen elsewhere because that is not what happened in Charlottesville.

This was not about confederate statues. They chanted things like “Jews will not replace us” and “F**k you fa***ts.” Their language was about a white homeland. They used the words “ethnic cleaning.”

That’s not a battle to preserve American culture. It’s eugenicist bigotry, commonly associated with Nazis, but it’s not new. It’s the root of any genocide, and it has no place in our society.

The reporters followed up after Heather Heyer’s murder. In no uncertain terms, the supremacist leadership believed her murder was justified, it was provoked, they thought. But they also mentioned that they’re willing and ready to bring more violence.

I am writing now to encourage viewership of this 30 minutes of the history we’re in. If all that these words do is get one or two more people to watch it, and grapple with the reality we just witnessed, it will have been worth the time. But I also want to take a minute to offer some thoughts to anyone who has been on the fence about the Black Lives Matter movement.

Hether Heyer, killed in Charlottesville by white supremacists.

First, I am grateful to the reporters who went to the front lines and kept their composure in the face of hatred so that what’s at state could be made visible. Because of their work and because of the internet, we can see plainly and clearly the kind of misguided violent hatred that is lurking in the shadows of our country — from the internet to the White House. (Trump has called into Breitbart media if that claim strikes you as too extreme)

But I want us to be critically conscious of a temptation. Namely, seeing literal Nazis, and saying to ourselves, “What a shame — Nazis are bad — good thing I’m not a Nazi.” This incomplete thinking requires no action of us, and is dishonest to the context of the event.

I also want us to be conscious of being self righteously critical of Trump and walking away: “What a shame — Trump said white supremacy has ‘many sides’ — good thing I’m not a white supremicist.” This also requires no action of us and is dishonest to the context of this rally.

What I want to offer is that this rally is not new. “Neo-Nazi” might make it sound like a “new” race problem is arising. But women and men of color have been speaking up about race in America for centuries. They have been saying it in many forms, in debates on sentencing laws, zoning laws, education, mandatory minimums, and recently with police violence in the Black Lives Matter movement.

But so many of us, and here I’m speaking as a white person to white people, still didn’t listen. Ferguson burned; we rationalized. We said Michael Brown was stealing something. We said this wasn’t all cops — It wasn’t all cops and it still isn’t. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen — We said and thought whatever we needed to say to feel like we were justified in ignoring the voices of people of color. The civil rights movement is in the past, we thought. We live in a “post-racial society” — we thought.

I’m sorry. If Nazis *joining forces* with the KKK to march America’s streets with the president’s name on their lips demanding an ethnic cleansing does not function as evidence that there is a race problem in this country, I’m not sure what could.

Eric Garner with his family.

Please know this is exactly why the phrase “All Lives Matter” is so repulsive. It is a three word encapsulation of the white American dismissal of the black American experience. People of color say, “we are treated differently because of our race.” White people say “Oh come on. All people are people.” As if that somehow addresses their concerns. Or, now we are tempted to say, “Hey at least I’m not in KKK. At least I’m not part of this problem.” As if we have no obligation to listen. I’m writing to encourage you not to fall into that temptation.

Among many, there is a sad moment in this documentary when a white supremecist leader blamed the police shootings that triggered the Black Lives Matter movement on the victims. His essential argument is, its a shame that they died, but you don’t see superior white people doing stupid things like that to get themselves killed.

As if Philando Castile didn’t disclose in advance that he had a firearm. As if Trayvon Martin were doing anything other than walking. As if Eric Garner‘s last words weren’t “I can’t breathe.“

I’m grateful to the reporters who showed us the tumor of white supremacy is still here, in all its vileness, but I desperately hope, that we don’t make the mistake of thinking that this cancer it is not somehow a part of all of us. That it hasn’t been growing inside us as we rationalized ignoring the voices of its victims.

I desperately hope white people, republican and democrat, can take this as a wake up call. That we don’t just watch the footage, feel bad, go through our “how-dare-Trump” cycle and pat ourselves on the back just for not being Nazis.

I have news for you, not being Nazis is too low a bar to be an American, and it doesn’t require you to listen to others’ experience.

If you’re a white person on the fence, I hope you take this opportunity to begin to actually listen to people or color when they share that they aren’t treated the same way you are. And since our president refuses to make moral statements, let me make one myself: You have a moral obligation to listen to the voices of people who tell you they are being oppressed. You will have an intuitive voice inside you that gives you reasons to believe that their stories are false. You will believe adequate context can dismiss thier concerns. These will appear to be good reasons to you. That is part of what racism is. Resist these voices and listen anyway, even if for now the conversation is only with yourself.

An example: Colin Kaepernick knelt instead of standing during the national anthem. Swaths of white America got mad that he had chosen the wrong non-violent way to protest. I wonder, were they refusing to allow him to kneel or were they actually refusing to allow themselves to listen? Perhaps you’d prefer someone say something in a different way. You have a right to that preference. Just please don’t mistake that right for an excuse not to listen. That’s like ignoring Einstein because had an accent.

As an aside: the same is true of homophobia. The same is true of sexism. The same is true of Islamophobia.

Becuase, again, this is not new. The internet brought these people together. It may have helped them organize, but it didn’t create them. This same internet brought us footage of Freddy Gray limb, neck broken, beaten by police. But it didn’t make them do it.

I am saddened to ask. How many Sandra Blands were there before twitter let us see them?

Like this rally is just a visual of something much darker and entrenched than we want to admit, the police brutality on twitter is not new and is a symptom of something deeper. We can cough up blood, but if we don’t address the root cause, it will kill us. The civil rights movement didn’t end with Dr. King. And it didn’t “restart” with Michael Brown. It has needed us every step along the way.

Maybe white America needs a white death to wake it up to the reality of racism.

Maybe you find that statement offensive, even brutal, disrespectful to the dead. But if your largest concern is being hurt by words and not by bullets for a busted tail light, if you want to call me out for being rude instead of calling out the lack of indictments for police killings, maybe you’re starting to see the empathy gap, maybe you’re starting to understand what privilege is.

I want to end on that, on a punchy quip, walk away, drop a mic. But that’s not enough. It was never enough to feel guilty and then just go back to your life. White tears might wash away blood, but they won’t bring back Tamir Rice. And they certainly won’t prevent the next death.

He’d be 15 now.

Killed at 12 for playing with a toy, which I did too at his age, with my cousins – who are both still alive and white.

I’m sorry. Were you mad I didn’t say “toy gun?”

Notice that. Why is that? What is the root of that feeling?

The rally is the tumor; that voice in you is the metastatic spread.

So I hope if a shred of any of what you’ve read strikes you as true, please look deeper. Lean in. If you feel uncomfortable, that’s fine. But it’s not an excuse to shut your ears.

I’m not an expert. I’m not an authority. I’m not asking you to become one. But read, study, watch. Or at least: Listen. Listen even and especially when you’d rather people have spoken in a different way.

Listen to the voices of people of color. Start with these 30 minutes this vice documentary. Hear the words of the man who was struck by a car. Watch 13th on Netflix. Read Coates. Read Alexander. Straight google “black lives matter reading list” or “meeting” or “in my area.”

If nothing else, commit to being open to listen.

Your obligation is to listen.