Let me state this in no uncertain terms: the ideology of white-supremacy is a vile and hateful one that has no place in our civil society.
Free speech is not a license to be free from the consequences of that speech. I cherish the first amendment, and will defend anyone’s right to think what they want, but that does not mean that we need to tolerate speech that is hateful, bigoted, racist or intolerant of a person or group of people based on sex, race, religion, or sexual orientation. And we must be especially careful when we are dealing with fascist groups that would use our freedoms against us, for the purposes of destroying our freedom. These hate groups that rallied in Charlottesville last week seek to destroy our liberal freedoms, but yet are quick to appeal to these same values when they feel they have been wronged. We cannot be tolerant of a group that preaches intolerance, to do so will only lead to the destruction of our freedoms. For this reason it is our duty to fight intolerance, and to oppose these groups wherever they may appear.
Richard Spencer and the so-called alt-right are simply Klansman wearing nice suits instead of robes. They are trying to put a fresh face on the same old white nationalism, railing against Jews and Blacks and anyone that does not share their ethno-centric views of a master race. To be clear, white power or white pride is a racist belief. One might point to expressions of black power as a counterargument, but there is a difference. Ethnic or cultural expressions of pride are acceptable: St. Patrick’s Day, Greek festivals, and Oktoberfest, for example, celebrate a shared cultural identity. Whiteness, as a culture, does not exist. American history as we are taught in school is ultimately the history of white Americans of European descent. Black history has been erased, or unacknowledged within our history books. My mother has traced our family’s genealogy back centuries, and can name ancestors that migrated over on the Mayflower or descended from Charlemagne. The names of our forefathers’ slaves were taken from them, their culture was taken from them, so yes, I am willing to allow their descendants pride in their race while rebuking pride in my own.
One question I’ve heard too many times is that if African Americans get February as Black History Month, then when is White History Month? The answer: the rest of the year. These United States were founded by white Protestants who declared that “all men are created equal” on the one hand while holding an entire race of people as subhuman, and our story these past two hundred and forty-one years has been how we have progressed and fulfilled more and more of that promise. We will not move backward.
President Trump’s response to the events in Charlottesville has been wholly inadequate as a leader and has emboldened white supremacists. His initial ‘both sides’ response to the violence was appalling and the backlash against it was appropriate. His subsequent remarks last Saturday in condemnation of the rally was diminished by the fact that those same remarks were prepared for him on Thursday and he refused to deliver them. Only after a near-unanimous outcry from both the right and left as well as foreign leaders did he finally make a proper response, although it came after an unacceptable delay. Any good that these later remarks might have done was completely undone by our President a few days later after his inexplicable statements in defense of the Confederacy and attempts to equate its leaders with our founding fathers. His moral failing is made even more tragic by indications that his base is still supporting him, but perhaps one silver lining is that no Republican member of Congress was willing to defend him.
Those of us who have been paying attention shouldn’t have been surprised by the President’s remarks. Only now the dog-whistle that he’s been sounding has become a bullhorn, so loud that only the most sycophantic members of the Republican party can pretend to ignore it. For those on the alt-right, his remarks are an emboldening statement of support, interpreted as an all-clear to move forward with their sick agenda.
One of the things that I’ve noticed during my campaign is the historical significance of the office I am running for and the district I am running in. The next session of the General Assembly will be the 398th, the oldest of any legislative body in North America. Fort Monroe, located within Virginia’s 91st delegate district, where I am seeking office, is the scene of two important events in African American history. The first, being celebrated this weekend, is African Arrival Day, a euphemistic description that refers to the delivery of the first African slaves to English North America. Some “twenty and odd” slaves were brought by Dutch merchants and traded for food at what was then called Point Comfort, and this weekend will see the 10th annual commemoration festival, which includes an African naming ceremony, film screenings, and performances by traditional dance and drumming groups.
There was a second arrival at Old Point Comfort that would change the course of the Civil War and the fates of enslaved African Americans: the contraband slave decision. In May of 1861, shortly after Virgina seceded from the Union, three slaves escaped from Norfolk county across the Hampton Roads harbor and made their way to the Union-controlled Fort. The Fort’s commander, Major General Benjamin Butler, refused to return the slaves to their Confederate-supporting owners, stating that the men were “contraband of war”. Word of of Butler’s decision soon spread, and many more escaped slaves fled to Fort Monroe within days. By the end of the war, an estimated 10,000 escaped slaves had applied for contraband status, and many and were living in the Grand Contraband Camp, the first African American community, which occupied what is now downtown Hampton. Hampton University would later be founded following the work of Mary S. Peake, who taught these contraband slaves, against Virginia law, outdoors under a large tree that is now a landmark known as Emancipation Oak.
The reason I digress into the history lesson is because the arguments and conflict surrounding this past week ostensibly stems from concern over Confederate monuments and the preservation of this part of our history. One only need to watch the Vice documentary on the Unite the Right rally to know that that this is complete pretense. The crowds that marched in Lee Park shouting “blood and soil” were not concerned with preserving Confederate monuments, but in promoting white supremacy. And while there may be some legitimate arguments about honoring those that died on the side of the Confederacy, it is my opinion that monuments and dedications to General Lee ultimately honor a man who committed treason against the United States in defense of slavery, and that such statues, buildings and roads named in honor of the man constitute a hostile affront to the victims of slavery and their descendants. A majority of the Confederate monuments in existence today were dedicated following desegregation. Even Lee himself did not believe that there should be any monuments or statues to the Confederacy. For these reasons, and others, I will be joining the Hampton NAACP, and several other activist groups this Sunday at a rally to demand that Hampton’s Jefferson Davis and Lee Middle schools be renamed. The current name is denigrating to students and citizens of Hampton, and is a constant reminder of the prejudice and enslavement that African Americans have been held to for the past 398 years.
The ultimate decision rests with Hampton’s City Council, and so I ask that they enact procedures to decide on a better name. Perhaps Mary S. Peake elementary would be more appropriate for a school in which the next generation of young minds will be taught? Just last year, one of the bridges leading to Fort Monroe was named in honor of those three contraband slaves who first made their way there: Frank Baker, Shepard Mallory and James Townsend. I know they will do the right thing again.
In addition, I join others in asking Governor McAuliffe to call a special session of the General Assembly in order to consider several pieces of legislation in light of the past week’s events. According to McAuliffe, State Police were unable to properly respond to the violence in Charlottesville due to the presence of heavily-armed militia walking the streets. We must “allow localities the power to ban the carrying of weapons by non-law-enforcement within 1000 feet of a permitted political protest where law-enforcement is present.” Virginia localities should also be granted the authority to deal with Confederate symbols in a manner they see fit, including changing the names of state-controlled roads. The Assembly must condemn white supremacists and all their ilk, and it should also honor Heather Heyer — killed in the domestic terrorist vehicle attack, and Troopers Berke Bates and H. Jay Cullen, who died in the helicopter crash responding to the rally.
Loss of privilege is indistinguishable from oppression, but white Americans must come to terms with our role in a minority-majority future. The reactionary forces which seek to “make America great again” are functioning in a deluded fantasy in which the blame lies with other ethnic, immigrant, and racial groups, and their attempts to sow racial discord among the working class must be opposed with every breath of our being. The economic inequality that has led to stagnant wages for the vast majority of American workers, while allowing the elites to rip-off the public commonwealth for their own gain, is the true enemy of our Republic, and only by repairing our democratic infrastructure will we be able to enact the policies necessary to reform our current system into a more equitable one. For this reason we need to support candidates who are unencumbered by donations from rich individual or large corporate donors, and are willing to stand up for the voices of citizens across this great nation. We need representatives who will fight for those who need good paying jobs that support a middle-class wage, schools that teach their children how to think instead of how to answer a test, and a health care system that prioritizes the health of patients over the profits of the insurance industry.
We need more women and people of color in our local, state, and federal government. Barring that, we need representatives who are allies for these communities and are willing to take a stand against the forces that seek to undo the gains we have made to bring equity, freedom, and justice to the citizens of the Commonwealth, the United States, and the world. As a white, male, American, I not only acknowledge my privilege, I consider it my duty to fight intolerance and battle white supremacy. The alt-right is not a problem that the African American community should have to solve, it is one that white America needs to deal with. And I promise, that as your elected servant, I will spend my efforts fighting the forces of hate and defending our democratic ideals from those who would undermine and divide us.
In solidarity, Michael Brandon Wade