Conservatives Need to Open Up About Race

It almost feels like we as a country are about to bust open at the seams.

The scenes coming out of Charlottesville on Saturday were haunting. Throngs of white supremacists took to the streets, waving Nazi and Confederate flags, saluting to Adolf Hitler. One of these so-called “white nationalists” at this so called “Unite the Right” ran over counter-protestors in an Islamist-style car attack, killing 32-year old Heather Heyer in what is deemed, rightfully in my opinion, an act of terror.

Republican leadership condemned white supremacy and the KKK with little to no issue. There was, however, one extraordinarily notable abscence: Donald Trump. Anyone who has followed Trump for the past two years of his political relevancy knows that he’s ultra-quick to condemn those he feels strong about — his silence on the KKK and white nationalism spoke volumes. He has now been pandering to white nationalists since the inception of his campaign, when he asserted that Mexico was “sending rapists” across our border to wreck havoc on “true Americans” (a dog-whistle).

True conservative pundits, such as the National Review, Weekly Standard, and Commentary, whom I respect and read, were quick to point out that the non-Trump Republicans were quick to repudiate Trump. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado was especially outspoken, asking Trump to “call evil by its name” and that “these were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.” Yet, as I sifted through articles differentiating Trump from the rest of the Republicans, I couldn’t help think to myself, “why do we deserve credit for repudiating Nazis?” My grandpa was deployed in Italy in WWII to fight Nazis and other fascists; many Americans have relatives who sacrificed everything to defend our freedoms from this evil, barbaric ideology. A disdain for Nazis was taken for granted by those who were involved in WWII — why is it anything different now?

Republicans have been extremely skillful at navigating away from conversations about race. Race, and more broadly heritage, is a touchy subject for many, and something that is deeply rooted in each and every one of our identities. And when people who discuss injustices they’ve faced are willing to speak, we must listen and understand. I was 16 when someone at my high school, a private school in the heart of progressive Silicon Valley, drew a swastika in my yearbook. Jews have been subject to some of the worst persecution in history, from exile in biblical times to pogroms, Nazis, and even as a focus of the KKK here in the States. It was a blatantly anti-Semitic act that I was told was just “a horrible joke” by the Administration, who only after much pressure were able to admit that it was a racist act. I can’t speak for how African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, or others feel about the injustices they face in this country, but in that moment, I at least felt like I understood the challenges they face when trying to tell their stories.

Republicans can’t get themselves to open up and talk about the realities about racial divides in this country. Consider the past few years, when white police officers shot and killed unarmed black teenagers, or put them in the back of a police car and drove recklessly, or choked them to death in the streets of NYC. Republicans have hid behind slogans such as “Back the Blue” or #BlueLivesMatter; they have skillfully flipped the narrative from one about police injustices against African Americans to one about officers under assault from criminals and thugs. Rather than engaging with the Black Lives Matter movement and discussing these admittedly tough issues, the response from the right has been to push an #AllLivesMatter movement instead. Some extremists have labeled BLM “thugs” or a “terrorist group” that ignores inner city violence to push some “black supremacy agenda.”

Would white folks have been treated the same way by these officers? Imagine a black militia marching through the streets of Charlottesville with guns the way the neo-Nazis did on Saturday and what police officers would have done. I would not have been killed by an officer after being pulled over for a harmless traffic stop. Neither would any white Representative in Congress. And these are realities that Republicans have had a hard time coming to grips with.

Conservatives have been too stubborn to listen. We preach an open market of ideas on campus and protecting the first amendment without being open to actually listening to what others have to say. When someone speaks about injustice, we must listen, engage, ask questions, rather than dismiss. We all know that President Trump won’t be doing this — he prefers asking blacks “what the hell do you have to lose?” It’s time for the rank-and-file Republicans, the local politicians, and Republican leadership to listen and engage with those who have stories to tell.

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