Where Did the White Hoods Go?
A weekend disconnected from politics, bigotry, and Trump: that was what my friends and I truly needed. After weeks of discussing the various threats looming over our democracy, it was time for my friends and I to take two days off as we waded in the Chesapeake Bay, wishing for the political division in our country to float away like our bobbing bodies did in the water.
We didn’t choose the right weekend.
When we returned to the bay house from lunch, a best friend of mine piped up about a news alert: white supremacists and counter protesters had clashed in Charlottesville, and a car had plowed into anti-racist protesters, killing one and injuring 19 others. When he pulled up the video of the terrorist driving his vehicle into the crowd, I went numb; clearly, it was intentional. And clearly, the driver was aiming to hit the people protesting racism.
Her name was Heather Heyers. At 32, her life was taken too early by a Hitler-loving white nationalist who terrorized a crowd of anti-racist protesters.
His name is Deandre Harris. He’s the black man who was beaten with flag poles by a mob of white supremacists in Charlottesville.
And yet, Trump waited two days to condemn the white supremacists who marched down the streets carrying Nazi flags, shouting racist chants, and provoking violence–much of it in his own name. “We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump” said the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke about himself and alt-right. “That’s what we believe and that’s why we voted for [him] because he said he’s going to take our country back.”
The more difficult truth is that white supremacists have always been present in the United States. The undercurrent of white supremacy that has anchored itself in our nation has brazenly resurfaced, sans hoods. They feel empowered by Trump; David Duke thanked Trump when he doubled-down on his claim that there was violence on “many sides” at Charlottesville. Richard Spencer, a leader of the alt-right movement, has also thanked Trump for his comments. These prominent figures in the white nationalist community wouldn’t have thanked Trump if they weren’t receiving what they wanted: a president who validates their bigoted beliefs by defending them as “fine people.”
As John Oliver put it, “Nazis are a lot like cats: If they like you, it’s probably because you’re feeding them.”
When I learned about the KKK in school, I was taught that they were a vicious group of people bound together by their irrational hatred towards people different than them. Klansmen hid their faces under pointed white hoods as they burned crosses, lynched black people, and terrorized minority communities. In Charlottesville, many current Klansmen appeared in public without their white hoods. Why? Well, Trump is feeding them.
“I love the old days. You know what they used to do [to protesters] like that when they got out of line? They’d be carried away on a stretcher, folks,” then-candidate Trump stated at a 2016 rally.
Despite his two-day-late condemnation of white supremacy, he has empowered white nationalist groups. They no longer need to shield their identities. In 2017, they can proudly congregate on the streets and feel protected by a president who falsely equates Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and white nationalists with anti-racist, anti-fascist, and anti-KKK protesters.
As a white person, I can’t imagine the fear, the uncertainty, and the outrage that minorities are feeling. I have never been discriminated against or persecuted due to the color of my skin. I can’t relate to the minority experience in America–no white person truly can.
And so, for pundits like Fox New’s Jesse Watters to state that America is not a racist nation is appalling.
How can he possibly understand the African-American experience in our nation? Or the Muslim experience? Or the Jewish, the immigrant, or the Native American experience?
And, have we forgotten the ugly roots of our country?
There’s a way to be a proud American, but understand how our founding wasn’t wholly righteous. Every country has its blemishes, but to ignore them is to overlook history and, in essence, not learn from our mistakes.
Unfortunately, America has not learned from all of its mistakes. When white nationalists unashamedly chant racist slurs in our streets, and we still have Confederate monuments celebrating generals, who seceded from the United States to preserve the institution of slavery, standing over city streets and in parks, we are not yet whole, but still broken.
We have to stop sanitizing the filthy roots of our country. The question is, how?
It starts with all of us.
Every American, particularly white people, must engage in a challenging yet necessary conversation about race relations in our divided country. To accept the truth of our country’s grotesque past is difficult to swallow at first, but it’s one step in the long process of healing these divisions.
We also must condemn disgusting acts of white supremacy, racism, and bigotry. There are not “many sides” to this: one side is filled with white nationalists and Neo-Nazis. The other side is filled with activists standing up against racism and white supremacy.
We have to support communities threatened by white supremacists: African Americans and Muslims, immigrants and Jews, refugees and Native Americans–anyone who doesn’t fit their white nationalistic mold. Racism isn’t innate; it’s a learned ideology that must be stopped. We must confront our relatives, our peers, and our friends who preach racist beliefs, even if it makes family dinners uncomfortable.
To be silent is to be complicit. If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.
If you wish to support the victims of Charlottesville, go here:
If you want to learn about the complexities of racism in America, then check out these books and documentaries:
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
13th, a Netflix documentary
Charlottesville: Race and Terror from Vice News
If you want to stand up against racism, then attend the Racial Justice March in Washington, D.C., on September 30th.