Let’s Talk About Charlottesville

Screen Shot 2017-08-18 at 7.25.27 AMYes, this is America.

Don’t believe the lie, “This is not who we are.” The violence in Charlotteville is exactly who we are. The fantasy that America was founded on equality, justice and freedom for all ignores the ugly history of hate, violence, discrimination and genocide rooted in ideas of white supremacy.

As a country we can not grow past Charlotteville unless we identify the problem. This was not an isolated incident or a new issue. White supremacy is a disease of our country left untreated by decades of complacency and denial. Racism is intertwined with our culture and brews within the hearts of Americans, and it cannot be rectified until we stop dismissing fault in others and start recognizing the disease in ourselves. So here’s a condensed history on white supremacy:

Pilgrims, the great frontier man and the Little House on the Prairie are just romanticization of ugly truth of how the West really expanded. The doctrine of Manifest Destiny, or that expansion of the US is justifiable and inevitable, is a direct result of the belief in white superiority. America was literally founded on the blood of Native Americans and on the backs of slaves and indentured servants. Indigenous tribes were all but wiped out in waves of government sanctioned genocide, the largest being the Indian Removal Act of 1830 issued by President Andrew Jackson. Peoples from the Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations were forcefully removed in the middle of winter leading to disease, starvation and thousands of deaths in an event known as the “Trail of Tears.” Then in the South, the newly vacated lands were turned into plantations labored by African slaves, a brutal industry that led to countless beatings, rapes and murders that traumatized my people for many generations to come. Although we idolize the Founding Fathers for the establishment of the country we ignore the fact that America thrived through ethnic suffering.

However the devaluement of people of color lives didn’t end with the Civil War. Racism isn’t a problem where opposing sides can just hold hands and sing kumbaya. The current Black Lives Matter movement is a testament to the idea that just because slaves were freed toxic racist ideologies still persisted. The Reconstruction era was designed to transform the South and reorient former slaves to their freedom. The recently defeated South then passed a series of restrictive laws against freedmen called the “Black Codes” to impede on those freedoms.

“Reactions to the Black Codes prompted federal intervention and led to black Americans voting for the first time in the nation’s history. Some black men served in southern state houses and even the U.S. Congress,” Sam Fulwood III of ThinkProgress wrote.

This brief period of black excellence was put to the end with the emergence of the KKK. The terrorist organization known as the Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1866 as direct response to Reconstruction for the sole purpose of intimidating, terrorizing and murdering newly enfranchised black people to reverse the progress of social gains.

“The first Ku Klux Klan declined in the 1870s, partly due to the passage of federal legislation aimed at prosecuting the crimes of Klansmen, though some local cells continued to operate. The institutionalization of Jim Crow segregation in the South, moreover, meant that the KKK’s desire to maintain the antebellum racial hierarchy had been fulfilled,” published in the Khan Academy.

During the turn of the 20th century many black Americans left the south for better opportunities to northern cities- a phenomenon called the “Great Migration.” However, many former sharecroppers found themselves in hypersegregated public housing and faced discrimination in the schools, workforce and judicial system. A new culture was built around black urban ghettos despite the institutionalized racism. Yet, they were stifled again by the reemergence of white supremacy.

“The revival of the KKK in the early twentieth century reflected a society struggling with the effects of industrialization, urbanization, and immigration. Klan chapters in major urban areas expanded as many white Americans became bitter and resentful about immigration from Asia and Eastern Europe. Klansmen complained that these immigrants were taking jobs away from whites and diluting the imagined ‘racial purity’ of American society,” published in Khan Academy.

The terrorist organization known as the Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1866 as direct response to Reconstruction for the sole purpose of intimidating, terrorizing and murdering newly enfranchised black people to reverse the progress of social gains.

Once again, history repeats itself with early white supremacist blaming immigrants for stealing jobs and muddying up the American dream.

The KKK didn’t reemerge again until the Civil Rights movement to again slow the social progress of black Americans then went on hiatus again until the 2016 election. During the campaign many Trump supporters voted for him because he supposedly would put America first by bringing back their jobs and deporting undocumented immigrants. The slogan “Make America Great Again” is a dog whistle to white America to regain the social hierarchies of the past.

“There are white men in America who still haven’t recovered from the ‘60s and believe that’s when the nation turned against them and their supremacy. That’s the fight these racist men are fighting for. They want restore the old Confederacy and their place at the top of America,” African American studies professor Carol Anderson said to ThinkProgress.

Economic anxiety is the front for the real phobia that had so many white Americans jump on the Trump train, the fear of diversity and displacement. It is projected that before 2050 the US will become a minority-majority nation meaning there will be no racial or ethnic group that exceeds 50%, or all the minorities in the US will outnumber all the white people. A great quote states, “When you’re accustomed to privilege equality feels like oppression.” White privilege is endangered by diversity and equality.

White people’s fear of losing power and influence leads to what Van Jones has coined as “whitelash,” or when the public shifts to ultraconservative extremes to counter the social progress of people of color. Stifling racial equality and scapegoating immigrants for a lack of jobs are the bread and butter of white supremacist talking points. Regardless of the reasons why millions of Americans claim they voted for Trump, it’s undeniable that race played a significant factor. Trump has emboldened hate and thus encouraged the latest revival of white supremacy. Since the election campaign of 2016 alone hate crimes have risen 20% across the US.

“[Donald Trump was] the candidate whose company has been sued by the Justice Department for not renting apartments to black people. The candidate who questioned whether Barack Obama was born in the United States, and who seemed to condone the beating of a Black Lives Matter protester at a campaign rally. The candidate who kept black workers off the floors of his casinos. The candidate who is beloved by David Duke and endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan,” Toni Morrison is quoted in the New Yorker.

Charlotteville is the latest example of how America’s dirty history of hate and racism was never properly addressed. Unlike before, this latest group of white supremacists don’t hide behind hoods. They feel secure that their blatant racism wouldn’t be punishable in their daily lives, that they would all have jobs the next day. (Some didn’t.) This is because for the first time in the modern era the KKK perceives that they have an ally in the White House. After Trump posted his delayed tweet condemning hate and bigotry in Charlotteville, a Trump supporter and known white supremacist had this response:

“I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists,” David Duke tweets.

I hate to agree with a former KKK leader but David Duke was right, white America did put Trump into office. Trump received 2/3rd of the white male votes and surprisingly 53% of white women’s vote despite his controversial Access Hollywood leaks and rumors of misogyny. On the other hand, black women voted against Trump by 95%. Meaning white women may value their white privilege over gender equality. And if you’re still not convinced race played a bigger role than economy when determining the 2016 election. Think about it. Obama left the economy in great shape when in left office and David Duke, the current star of hate on television, before hasn’t been relevant since the 80s. And evil dorks like Richard Spencer, the poster child for the hipster KKK, are actually gaining recruits among young, educated white men. Such as the 20 year old white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr who killed Heather Heyer (32) and injured 19 others in a domestic terror attack. And locally, Honeoye Falls resident, Jarrod Kuhn, was identified as one of the Charlottesville protestors, showing these problems exist at home too. 

The truth is Trump was elected by exploiting racial fears, frequently making ‘nods’ towards his white supremacist supporters by not denouncing them and is himself a racist. This was proven when Trump made his off the rails speech in Trump Tower where he showed his true colors and gave false equivalency between neo-Nazis and counter-racism protesters. Comments some staffers claim he said “without regret.” Yes, I commend all the politicians and leaders that came out to condemn Trump’s horrible response but I will not pretend their tweets are enough to stop another Charlotteville from happening. KKK leaders are already planned a future trip to Charlottesville and many other cities across the US.

“Social media activism is merely an acceptable starting point for someone to participate in a cause they truly believe in. There is much more that can be done that many people ― already content with their contribution on social media ― do not do. Posting a status or hashtag is the bare minimum,” Amanda A Jones wrote in the Huffington Post about slacktivism.

Hashtags like #NotAllWhitePeople that have been trending to prove there are “good whites” in America are supremely unhelpful. Racism isn’t just an individual problem, it’s a part of the fibers that wove our country and must be proactively fought against. Saying you’re not a racist doesn’t help stop racism if you still benefit from the white privilege racism provides you. Separating Charlotteville from America or from yourself isn’t solving the problem. Only once the US accepts it’s ugly history of white supremacy can we fight this evil no matter what new, trendy face it takes. The first step is by not tolerating racism in any form at home, in public, at work, and in our leaders, especially within the White House. This is on us.

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