During the Charlottesville white supremacist national rally that turned violent last weekend, someone raised a provocative question on Facebook: “were white people in American now fearing other white people?”
My reaction to that query was swift and resolute: I have always feared white people who have had limitless power — beginning with my own family and a father who was a literal tyrant with omnipotent power controlling everyone and everything within his household.
Powerful white people — i.e. white men throughout American history have administered horrible injustices based upon their petty prejudices, empowered through their privilege and access to wealth.
We only need to look to one illustrative example: Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence, kept Sally Hemmings as his slave concubine, while choosing to free their children, he decided against freeing her, even in his death.
I am not surprised about the depravity that occurred in Charlottesville, because America’s history is replete with endless examples of racist oppression.
Black people are regularly murdered in this country by police officers who are rarely held accountable. White juries rarely convict police officers if such a case even gets to court.
That’s just the tip of our troubling racist society.
Yes, America has never dealt with its original sin of slavery. We have white washed our history over and over, even excluding an accurate and comprehensive account from a vast majority of school books.
President Trump didn’t create these white supremacists, rather he legitimized them. They have been with us for a very, very long time.
What is different in 2017 is that America is led by Trump, an ogreish man who appeals to the worst impulses of the American people. Since the 2016 campaign ensued, he has skillfully manipulated the cleavages between Americans by inciting anger and playing off white voter resentments and grievances. He has stoked the fires of white supremacy and arguably prepared the ground for a ‘Charlottesville’ like event. He is dangerous, indeed.
Our country could benefit from a “Truth and Reconciliation” process, akin to the South African model approach to addressing its Apartheid past. Reparations should be made for our original sin of enslaving millions of people against their will. We should officially document the history of slavery in America in detail and officially recognize once and for all one of American greatest original sins. We should remove every Confederate memorial across America that enshrines a remembrance to its wretched history of enslavement, torture, rape and the dehumanization of African slaves.
As President George W. Bush has said: “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.”
The legacy of slavery in contemporary America is structural racism. It continues to manifest across our society from segregated schools in New York City to the repeated successful efforts by the Republican Party to deny access to the ballot if you’re a black or brown person.
White supremacists no longer wear the sheets of the Ku Klux Klan in America instead they openly express their prejudices and intolerance in broad daylight.
These fascists provocatively carried Nazi flags in Skokie, Illinois in 1978, causing a near riot in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood which included Holocaust survivors.
Nazi sympathizers have been in America for a long time too. Historical accounts reflect that Henry Ford, the automobile mogul, produced war materiel in its German plant for the Third Reich up until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Indeed, German Ford served as an “arsenal of Nazism” with the consent of its headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan according to a U.S. Army report.
During the campaign, Trump not only legitimized Nazi sympathizers, he frequently retweeted “Alt-right” messages on the Internet, encouraged supporters to use violence against protestors during campaign rallies. As president, he even employs sympathizers that include senior political strategist Steve Bannon, originally an editor at Breitbart News, an extreme right wing media platform that openly trafficks in white supremacy news and portrays Nazism in a favorable light.
These foul actions by Trump defame an entire generation of young Americans who went to war in 1941, millions fought and thousands gave their lives to defeat fascism and the Axis powers during World War II.
So let us each pick up a mirror and take responsibility white America for our troubled history that cries out for decency and accountability. The last time we had such a polarizing split within the country, we entered into a civil war under the leadership of President Abraham Lincoln. We are not blessed with such a great or wise leader now. We confront the grave reality that to save our country, it is really up to each of us.