The neo-nazi white supremacist horror that unfolded in Charlottesville over the weekend is just the bitter fruit of a strong yet old-ass tree that will not die so long as we keep behaving like we haven’t been scarfing down said fruit to get where we want to be in life. Neo-nazis marching openly as white supremacists in 2017 is not shocking. The smoldering racism and bigotry fanned by Tea Party and birther politicians, of voters who turned up in droves at Trump rallies and polling stations, of a justice system that refuses to convict police officers of extrajudical executions of black people, is the same racism and bigotry that decided to show up without their white hoods on a college campus, parading bare-faced and with pride through a Southern town. Some of us knew this could happen, because we recognized the escalation through the Obama years in the shooting deaths of unarmed black people by the police, and by shooter terrorists radicalized at home. At least those of us who know and are subjected to this country’s white supremacist history knew this could/would happen.
For those who
claim they never saw this coming (and even if you did) you do us no favors when you say or do these three things:
1. Saying “this is *not* who we are.”
Um, the hell it’s not. When did the history of wealth accumulation that built this country, via the taking of land and the exploitation of black and brown labor on US soil and beyond, stop being a thing? How do you think America became a global superpower? Do your children know what made America great in the first place and what it means to want it to be great in that way *again*? There is no institution in this country that is not undergirded by white supremacist logics that privilege white citizens and their communities. White supremacy was not abolished with the Emancipation Proclamation, the dismantling of Jim Crow, the Brown v. Board of Education decision, or any of the other candidates. Americans just found new and more covert ways to enforce white supremacy, like increasingly creative restrictive covenants, differential sentencing laws for drug charges, and the private prison system. The enduring fact of black and white neighborhoods—raised, as many observers noted, to a fine art by the multiple separate municipalities in St Louis County—are among today’s glaring examples of the far reaches of slavery’s separatist white supremacist legacies and how property ownership and other seemingly benign structures are rigged to enforce them.
When the first line you draw is “this is not who we are,” you are beginning from a point of dangerously ignorant negation. Try starting from acknowledgment: “we have been this way for too long.” Acknowledge the systemic roots of white supremacy in who we are as a nation and call out its contemporary manifestations. Understand how they continue to work long after legal slavery and segregation have ceased to exist. Think seriously about how they are and have been at work in creating who we are today. Work to dismantle them.
2. Saying “we must listen to what they [the white supremacists] have to say.”
Yeah, no. We musn’t. Stop that. The problem with hearing hate out, however well meaning in intention, is that it creates dangerous false equivalences that obstruct the work of meaningful equity. It’s why there are dumbasses on my screens gawping over how both sides can’t seem to convey their competing views less disruptively, as if one side doesn’t have slavery and genocide on its historical track record. Only one side has terrorized non-white people with flaming torches and gas-chambers. Only one side is seeking to strip civil rights from everyone who isn’t a heterosexual white male. Only one side has mowed down pedestrians on a crowded street, murdering an American citizen in broad daylight. Only one side has acolytes who do things like walk into a black church and murder Americans at prayer and Bible study. You skew the terms of dialogue in hate’s favor when you treat it as though it is a morally tenable position worthy of equal consideration. You devalue the side fighting for equality. You are not helping the cause of justice, you are validating murderous and destructive hate. Cut it out right now.
3. Sharing symbolic memes.
What am I supposed to get from the sharing of memes depicting the ripping up of a Nazi flag? That shit is as small as the safety pin. Sorry, not sorry. We are so far beyond symbolic gestures that seeing such weak shows as expressions of solidarity just makes me mad. There were young white men brandishing torches on a university campus in the name of white supremacy in 2017. From where my black female immigrant ass is sitting, in Misssouri, the only state to have a travel warning from the NAACP, this is terrifying. All the Nazi flags in the world ripped in two does nothing to assuage that fear. Give a hard pass to the symbolic gestures in memes and on our clothes. Instead, go have an honest conversation with the children and young people in your family about white supremacy and how we are still in a place where, despite decades old legislation, despite a history of events like slavery and the Holocaust, white supremacists can march openly night and day, striking terror, spewing hate, and committing violence, while the police stand by for far too long and watch. Everyone, regardless of race, needs to be talking with their children about why there is such a thing as “the talk,” about why hearing it is crucial for some children and not for others.
Don’t know how to have such a heavy conversation? Click on the links to a variety of event-based syllabi that are being circulated. Here’s one specifically about Charlottesville’s history of white supremacy. Read the things listed and once you’ve digested them, go talk honestly to the children. Already talked to the children? Go talk to those in charge of the children’s school district. Ask them how these events will be treated in the classroom. Ask about the resources being allocated to help teachers instruct students frankly and factually about these events. And while you’re at it, go talk to your church’s minister and leadership council. Ask for more teaching that helps your faith community understand the relationship between the Good News of Christ and social justice. Demand the denunciation of what happened in Charlottesville, from the pulpit, as un-Christian. Jesus himself flipped tables and called his friends the devil for less.
Think children are too young to be exposed to things this heavy? Then you are well on your way to being complicit with the system that socialized the young men in their twenties and thirties who showed up on UVA’s campus with torches, upset that theirs are no longer the only voices that matter. Let’s avoid creating another generation of people who is either too enthusiastic about the public resurgence of white supremacy or too anxious to deny that this is who we really are. Can we do that?