Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow
The demonstration that filled the air with chants of “Blood and Soil” and “Jews will not replace us” on the campus of the University of Virginia on Aug. 11 emboldened that mob to continue their hate-filled rally the following day. As many of us watched live on television or through news accounts, what happened next shocked and outraged us as we wondered if we were actually seeing, in the year 2017, proclaimed Neo-Nazis, the KKK and White Nationalist march through the streets of an American town.
But should we really be so shocked and outraged, disbelieving our eyes? The seeds for this rally were planted months ago. After all, it was then candidate Donald Trump who used racial slurs (calling Senator Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas”) and racial stereotypes to capture the hearts of his base: “When Mexico is sending its people, they’re not sending their best..They’re bring drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume are good people.”1.
While we grieve the violence and loss of life that took place that weekend, those events exposed to many throughout the world what others knew all along – when you build a nation through the exploitation and subjugation of peoples and create political, legal and educational systems to maintain an inferior status, it is just a matter of time that what has been present all along will become exposed in horrific ways.
We do not live in a “post-racial,” “colorblind,” or “equal society” that anyone can make it if they work hard enough. We cannot point to the election of Barak Obama as evidence to the contrary.
It was the vow of Republicans to make him a one-term president and they constantly reminded him, through their opposition, that although he rose to the highest position of our land, he was still considered a “boy” who had better learn his place. In fact, if you want to understand what the Trump political agenda is, take a look at the accomplishments of President Obama. Trump is hell bent on reversing and erasing the legacy of the first African-American President, even if causes great harm to the Republican Party, the nation and our globe (I refer to the ad nauseam attempts to repeal “Obamacare,” the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord and nullifying gun-control measures that would ban those with mental illness from purchasing firearms. Why? Because this “could endanger the rights of law abiding citizens”).
The events from that weekend in Charlottesville exposed the racism that is prevalent, yet often subtitle in America. It is what author Michelle Alexander noted in her book “The New Jim Crow”: “ [American] racial caste systems do not require racial hostility or overt bigotry to thrive. They need only racial indifference, as Martin Luther King Jr. warned.” 2
Many of us have been indifferent to the racial bias and prejudice that is integrated into our culture, accepting it as “just the way things are.” But what does America do when we do have racial hostility and overt bigotry in our streets? Some would say, “I am a political conservative on the ‘Right,’ but I do not agree with those who marched waving Nazi and Confederate flags.” But what do you do when those who did march with those flags are claiming the description of “The Right” as in “Unite the Right?” Some on the “Left” would say, “I don’t have a racist bone in my body and although my parents may have uttered racial epithets on occasion while I grew up, I believe in a global unity of all people.” But what do you do when the movement to squash “globalism” is gaining momentum?
Charlottesville has taught us that although we have grown accustomed to race and culture-neutral language, like the “War on Crime/Drugs” or “Nationalism” being used as code words against non-WASP people and for the maintenance of white supremacy, we are now at a decision point. Will we continue to allow covert and overt racism to go unchecked or will we speak on behalf of a nation where “all are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness?”
Charlottesville has provided each of us with the choice to decide what type of person, what type of community and what type of country will we be. We can feel bad for “both sides” during that conflict by making our expressions known on social media or we can do more than feel bad and actually “do” something to change the way we see and think of
others. We can “do” something to stand in solidarity with those who are targeted by White Nationalists or those impacted by the passive forms of racial bias. We can “do” something by challenging the political, legal and educational systems that are slanted in favor of one group of “hard-working” people while another group is characterized as “lazy or who refuse to work for what they have.” We have our work cut out for us. Are we up for the challenge?
1 Donald J. Trump, on his campaign trail, June 16, 2015.
2 Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, (New York, The New Press, 2012), 14 on Amazon Kindle.