Charlottesville and the Ugly, Cancerous Spectacle of White Supremacy.
This past weekend, millions of Americans (and international viewers) were witness to the horrendous drama and carnage that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia. We witnessed hundreds of young White men (and some women), though overwhelmingly male, march through the streets of this university town with torches chanting “blood and soil,” “Jews will not replace us,” “You will not replace us.” Such ominous rhetoric were eerily reminiscent of the Nuremberg marches commonplace in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. It was a dramatic spectacle to behold.
The violence that occurred on Saturday afternoon was even more harrowing. Viewers saw Klan sympathizers and Neo-Nazis battle it out with anti-racist activists in the streets. Racial epithets were espoused. Clergy members were attacked. Individuals People were pepper sprayed. People were trampled and thrown to the ground. Mayhem was the order the day. Such wanton violence culminated with the death of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal and native of Charlottesville. Several other victims were in critical condition.
James Field, a 20 year old Ohio native was the perpetrator of such sadistic violence. Two other state troopers died when the helicopter they were flying in crashed in he woods. Fields was charged with first degree murder with several other charges pending. President Trump weighed in on the event with tepid comments directing criticism at “both sides” for their hatred. Understandably, such intellectually dishonest comments disturbed and angered many people.
The undisputed truth is that there is absolutely no moral equation or comparison between rabid White supremacists who rallied in Charlottesville spewing racial and religious hatred and the protesters who, for the most part, demonstrated peacefully and were attacked. For some, attacked by a mentally disturbed, racist madman. These several hundred White men and women descended upon a prestigious college town espousing hatred against Blacks, Jews, non-Whites, perversely talking about blood and soil and the right to arm themselves to the teeth regardless of consequences. They arrogantly and shamelessly praise Adolf Hitler and unflinchingly give Nazi salutes. They have no apprehension in reveling in the sordid history of the Confederacy and avidly support similarly retrograde causes. Some have gone as far as to participate in domestic terrorism.
The right wing protests in Charlottesville did not happen overnight. They are the culmination of ongoing and careless rhetoric that has festered in certain isolated quarters in our culture and has more recently has been allowed to grow manifest itself in the larger society. Indeed, over the past year and a half, the nation has witnessed a White man obsessed with a hatred of Black men attack a 66-year-old 6-year-old Black man with a sword in New York City. The senseless killing of 23-year-old Lieutenant Richard Collins, an extremely young, accomplished Black man in Maryland by a member of the alt-Reich Nation. A man opening fire on two immigrants in Kansas, killing one of the victims. The double homicide and wounding of two White men in Portland, Oregon who came to the defense of a young Muslim woman and her Black friend by another inspired and emboldened, volatile White supremacist. Nooses found at the National Museum of African History and Culture. The list goes on.
Indeed, Trump has fed very tasty T-bone steaks to more than a few White men (and some women for that matter, for after all, he received 53% of the White female vote) who long for the days when heterosexual, able-bodied White men ruled. Donald Trump and his circle has contributed to and engineered such a climate of hostility. Staffing his administration with the right wing ideologues like Steven Bannon, Stephen Miller (the two sinister Steve’s), Sebastian Gorka, Jeff Sessions (although the attorney general’s recent statements on the incident and White supremacists was a welcome, if not latent response) and other like-minded folks has further emboldened the alt-right and other far right wing organizations.
Trump rallied onto the political scene in early 2016 with many aggressive, harsh, and politically retrograde messages. Racism, sexism, and xenophobia were common staples throughout his odiously divisive candidacy. While there are multiple examples of irresponsible rhetoric that have emanated from Trump’s campaign, the most striking and pointed message has been his promise to “Make America Great Again.” While such a statement can mean varied things and have multiple meanings to many people, the message that Trump was espousing to his largely right-of-center, Tea Party, birther-obsessed crowd and, to many of us who are non-White, was an unambiguous, unapologetic return to a time when White people, in particular, White men, were in control.
Indeed, Trump has fed very tasty T-bone steaks to more than a few White men (and some women for that matter, for after all, he received 53% of the White female vote) who long for the days when heterosexual, able-bodied White men ruled. Where Latino and other dark-skinned, non-White immigrants were largely non-existent. A world where Blacks and, in some cases, Jews, were occasionally seen, certainly not heard from, and deprived of any sense of dignity, fairness, and equality. Women were largely relegated to second-class status, were of no competition in the workplace, had to often quietly overlook or turn a blind eye to infidelity or spousal abuse, and were largely relegated to objects of sexual objectification. Gays and lesbians were seen as less than human, regarded as deviants, perverts and unworthy of any form of respect. Disabled people were seen as quasi-human, burdensome and semi-tragic figures. Yes, for a sizable percentage of this segment of American society, these were indeed the “good ol’ days.”
While such a reality really never existed for many Whites, in particular, lower income and poor Whites and certainly not White women across socio-economic backgrounds. The fact is that more than a few Whites have been deluded into believing that such an America of yesteryear did, in fact, exist to their benefit. This is particularly true of the economically disaffected segment of White America who avidly supported Donald Trump for President last year. Trump and his minions were able to effectively capitalize on the misguided fears and resentment of this voting block to effectively win their way to the White house. They have abused and misused their power ever since.
The fact is that we are living in perilous times. The nation is passed a crossroads. America is becoming ever more polarized to a degree that is poised to make the first decade of the 21st century look like a United Colors of Benetton advertisement. Hopefully, President Trump will reject the rhetoric of those around him who are whispering seeds of division and discord in his ear and rather, come to the realization that he can be much more effective by embracing those who seek an America that is one of unification and inclusion. As people are being murdered in our streets, America can ill afford to continue down such a dark tunnel of fear, hostility, resentment, hatred, and uncertainty.
Elwood Watson Ph.D., is a professor of History, African American Studies and Gender Studies. He is also a public speaker.