You don’t need to wear a hood or attend a rally to enable White Supremacists.
On Saturday, Nazis and White Supremacists — emboldened by the election of Donald Trump — killed Heather Heyer and injured many others. Today, all across the country, more Americans feel unsafe while others feel even more emboldened. And so we march on, absent of leadership, fundamentally unable to stop what was sowed for generations. It’s terrible, horrible, disgusting, appalling, and every other negative adjective in the book. But it’s not surprising.
I told close family members, again and again, that a vote for Trump was a vote for White Supremacy. Many voted for him anyway. Then, after the election, again I told them that Neo-Nazis like White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon had reached the highest levels of the administration. Again, I was being dramatic. “No one would hire them if that were true,” they said, as if racism would turn off other racists during the hiring process. As if White America had never empowered racists throughout our history in the first place.
In my Christian high school, teachers said that Former President Barack Obama was A) a Muslim B) a Socialist C) maybe the Antichrist. That the goal of Islam was violence. That dipping bullets in pig’s blood might deter that violence. And, most importantly, that someday the end times would come i.e. a war to end all wars between Islam and Christianity. This wasn’t found in a textbook, but was improvised in some form or another repeatedly.
The textbooks weren’t much better though. They minimized the achievements of women and people of color down to only key events and convenient examples. An abundance of time was spent lionizing the Founding Fathers and other American figureheads as Christian do-gooders out to better the world, until modern-day Democrats poisoned the well of American exceptionalism and cast us into darkness.
Radicalization is common in America and does not come with a “Sharia Law Zone” label dispensed by Fox News. It is not just the poor and socially estranged. Institutions that play a major role in American conservative life — churches, schools, and the GOP — have maliciously insulated themselves from the reality at hand in order to elevate the contributions of Christian Whiteness above all else.
None of these actions require a torch. All they require is a social system unfit to punish the indecent. For many, this privileged system manifests itself on a daily basis when, in only encountering other white people, casual conversation can often delve into racism and violent rhetoric without shame or repercussion. Some examples I’ve heard often include: advocating for violent above the law measures like police brutality, frequent talk of “welfare queens” and black-on-black violence, painting diverse cities as hellscapes — on and on it goes. White Privilege allows White Supremacy to exist in the same conversational space as the latest NFL scores.
This isn’t new. As Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in his latest column addressing HBO’s prospective alt-history series Confederate titled “The Lost Cause Rides Again,” White America has never been made to reckon with our history of slavery and genocide. As he points out, much better than I am able to, even after the events of the Civil War, punishment was not brought down on individuals that fought to perpetuate slavery.
Knowing this, we do not have to wait to point out that comparisons between Confederate and The Man in the High Castle are fatuous. Nazi Germany was also defeated. But while its surviving leadership was put on trial before the world, not one author of the Confederacy was convicted of treason. Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop was hanged at Nuremberg. Confederate General John B. Gordon became a senator. Germany has spent the decades since World War II in national penance for Nazi crimes. America spent the decades after the Civil War transforming Confederate crimes into virtues. It is illegal to fly the Nazi flag in Germany. The Confederate flag is enmeshed in the state flag of Mississippi.
What Coates writes is applicable to the situation in Charlottesville as well. Instead of reckoning with history and admitting that Robert E. Lee fought with the express intent to keep Black Americans enslaved, and therefore doesn’t deserve to be monumentalized, many would rather pass off these blatant indiscretions as part of a shared heritage. Whiteness trumps any sense of morality or decency — unpunished.
This same reasoning has allowed the “Alt-Right” to exploit the First Amendment. Under the guise of free speech and anti-political correctness, these groups have leveraged the ideas of discourse and civility to include the most barbaric hate speech, literally quoting phrases from Nazi Germany. Like many other times in our countries history, legality and morality are not on the same side. Even private businesses have capitulated. Twitter struggles to moderate their users, as if the free speech enshrined in the First Amendment guarantees a free online platform as well. Despite a hot-bed of Nazi activity and conspiracy that has endangered lives, Reddit has still failed to ban some of it’s most horrendous subreddits.
To White America, entering racist ideas into the public sphere, whether at a protest, an online forum, or just as casual conversation, comes with no strings attached and little community pushback. Not to mention the frequently lackadaisical approach of law enforcement in regards to White Supremacist groups.
Silence is complicity. Both sides-ism is complicity. If we are not able to take a stand against bigotry and rip out the racist underpinnings of our daily existence, then we are only casually American. We won’t deserve the sacrifices by those of all different colors and creeds who fought on the right side of history — against the Confederacy, against the Nazis, and against all forms of hatred between and since.
This is who we are. We haven’t lived up to the words of our greatest thinkers, writers, and monuments — but it doesn’t mean that we can’t. We repeat ad nauseum what being an American means: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Those things must include casting those out who would casually throw others away in order to elevate their own supremacy.
My life is better because of people that do not look like me. The United States is better because of people that do not look like me. Nazi punks be damned.
Here are a few ways to help the victims of the White Nationalist rally in Charlottesville and fight against racial hatred:
Don’t be silent.