Not About the Statues.
Like many Americans, I am feeling heartbroken and troubled by the weekend’s events in Charlottesville. As a white American, I am more cognizant than ever of the ways which my experience in this nation differs from those who grew up in various minority groups. I am disgusted and outraged by the lack of formal response by our president to these acts of domestic terrorism (and outraged that this is the first time in recent years that an act of violence by white folks is even being labeled as terrorism). My heart goes out to the family of Heather Heyer, and to those injured in and traumatized by the events in Charlottesville. My heart goes out to those in my home of the Boston area, as we prepare for another white nationalist “Free Speech” rally this weekend, and the city picks up the pieces of a shattered Holocaust Memorial. After three days of these words and emotions and sadness buzzing around in my head, I’ve attempted to place pen to metaphorical paper in this reflection.
Charlottesville was not about the statues. It never was. If you are one of those people who continue to insist that leaving the statues where they are would have prevented all of this, you are wrong and misinformed. If you continue to defend the protestors’ First Amendment right of free speech and feel that they were justified in their violent presence over the weekend in Virginia, you are wrong, and misinformed.
You’ll hear from folks on both sides of this issue, from leaders and organizers of the White Nationalist demonstrators to students of UVa standing up for minority rights. You’ll see images from the weekend’s events, from the night march at UVa on Friday to the heartbreaking manslaughter on Saturday afternoon, to Cantwell’s final thoughts on Sunday when it's all said and done. Elle does a commendable job at maintaining her cool in several stressful and tense situations and discussions, keeping her opinions to herself all the while. Listen to the words of men like Christopher Cantwell and David Duke. Listen to their words, and then try to tell me that the issue lies within the dismantling of Confederate statues.
Charlottesville was not about the statues. This weekend’s demonstrations were an effort by White Nationalists to assert their dominance in American society. It was their opportunity to show the world that they are “not just an internet meme” and to “ethnically cleanse” American soil. This weekend was a turning point for our society. For the past two years, systemic racism has slowly been given the green-light by the most powerful man in the country. Donald Trump encouraged prejudiced beliefs about people of color and our nation’s immigrants (both legal and illegal). His words saturated the minds of far too many Americans who were already struggling with the feeling of a loss of white power. These words for two years fueled their anger toward blacks, hispanics, women, Jews, gays, trans — anyone who was different. Anyone who was disposable. Anyone who could be alienated and separated from the “true American” archetype was through his words.
For two years, this happened. We laughed. We joked. We mocked the idea of a reality TV star and failed property mogul becoming the actual president of our country. The media did this. We did this. Washington did this. We are all to blame. But, slowly, it became our reality, and our nation’s capital grew with self-proclaimed white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and nepotism. Our new president claimed to “know nothing” about white supremacists, failing to independently denounce the support of groups like the KKK.
Throughout those two years, not only did we all mock the prospect of a Trump presidency, but we jeered at his supporters. Note — this is not to say that all of our president’s supporters are or were white supremacists. Throughout the campaign process, people gave him their support for a variety of reasons — I may disagree with most of them, but in many cases these reasons felt true and valid to American voters, and often had nothing to do directly with race issues. However, all of his supporters turned a blind eye to the hateful words he spread at his rallies, to the threats of violence toward protestors that he encouraged. When he said that he would “cover the legal fees” for any of his supporters who assaulted or harmed a Hillary supporter — these words were ignored by every single one who cast their vote for Trump in November. They gave the OK to misogyny, racism, xenophobia, and a score of other backwards ideals — as long as he promised them better access to healthcare (how’s that going for you guys by the way?).
Although not all of Trump’s supporters are living and breathing white supremacists and neo-Nazis, many are and were. These were the men and women who posted scathingly hateful and bigoted comments on every article that the mainstream media published. The accounts that others reported frequently and labeled as “just another internet troll.” These were the men and women who we were told we should ignore, because they’re just a small and delusional subset of American people. Perhaps, in some ways, that is correct. They are not the vast majority of Americans, nor are they the majority of our president’s supporters. But they are real people, and they have more momentum and power than we believe.
What we have seen in Charlottesville was a display of their numbers, it was their way of showing the American populace that they exist, they are stronger than we believed, and they are coming for us with guns and armor. It was a power play on their part. Sort of like when someone is teased and bullied for a long time and then they lash out and fight back. For years, we have called these men and women nothing but racists, bigots, and trolls — and they’re tired of it. They saw the opportunity to frame a “protest” around the dismantling of Confederate statues on the basis of “historical significance” (don’t get me started on that one — historically significant items like that belong in museums, not on racially mixed college campuses). They took this situation and used it as a platform to congregate en masse.
But tell me this, if it were truly about preserving Southern historical significance — agree or disagree — why, then, did they chant “Jews will not replace us”? Why did they feel the need to attend these rallies carrying upwards of 4–5 guns, as well as knives and bulletproof vests (as Cantwell proudly displays in Vice’s episode)? If this was truly just about preserving the history of the South with some dated statues of Confederates — then why not come prepared with rhetoric about Southern culture?
This week, America is coming to terms with the fact that a larger-than-expected subset of active and angered white citizens are terrified by the idea of no longer being the only voice in American culture. It started with the Jews. And the blacks. Now it’s the Mexicans, the modern woman, the Muslims, the gays, and the trans folks. Each one of these minority groups threaten the power and volume which white men have successfully held onto in our nation for centuries. And we can clearly see that the diversification of our nation is perceived as a direct affront to them as white men (and women — for the record).
It is not about the statues, blue lives, all lives, free speech, abortions, Hillary’s emails, drugs, the Obamas, or any other “morally reprehensible” issue that people keep focusing their energy on. At its core, far too many Americans are terrified by the prospect of losing their white privilege, of sharing authority and power with a racially and culturally diverse group of humans. At its core, white America is coping with the loss of white power and the diverse and fair future that our Founding Fathers believed in and fought to develop.
I write this to those who may not praise the weekend’s actions of militant white nationalists, but do continue to question diversification and deny the continued presence of racism in our nation. I write this to those who continue to insist that because you did not own slaves or harm a black man, that you are not the problem. I write this to those who continue to ignore the existence of hatred toward minority groups, even if you do not partake in this hatred yourself. I write this to those who continue to insist that All Lives Matter, when you have likely never experienced systemic undermining of your effort to be a law abiding citizen. I write this to those who continue to insist that these men and women would not have had to protest had they respected the Confederate history and left the statues alone.
I write this to every single one of you who can safely continue to be ignorant and apathetic to the hatred and prejudice that continue to thrive in our nation today.
Check your privilege. It was NEVER about the statues.