Charlottesville: Facing Our Fears and Flaws
Historically, we Americans have demonstrated a great ability to turn a blind eye to our national flaws as long as it suited our purposes, whatever that may be. From our earliest colonial days we made and broke treaty after treaty with Native Americans who were here before the white settlers because the colonies and the U.S government wanted their lands convinced it was our country’s destiny to own them. The stain of slavery was enshrined in our Constitution, despite the words of our Declaration of Independence, because it was in our government’s political and economic interests to maintain its existence.
In the 1840s and 50s many feared the influx of Irish and German immigrants who were practicing Catholics. It was claimed they would take our jobs, their votes would be bought by unscrupulous political bosses and machines and they could be controlled by a foreign power – such as the Vatican. The response based on fear was to form a nativist American Party better known as “The Know-Nothings.” This was a party that for more than a decade gained major sway in local and state governments as well as in Congress. They even fomented major anti-Catholic riots. In 1844 two such events in Philadelphia resulted in more than thirty people being killed.
After the Civil War, which was fought to end slavery, we systematically created segregation with Jim Crow laws because we feared the integration of blacks and their possible gain of political power. And as part of enforcing those laws of segregation a reign of terror across most of the South and other parts of our nation was used to intimidate black populations. This was terrorism that flourished in America for almost a hundred years and was generally ignored by the rest of the nation.
In much of the first half of the 20th century, most approved of discrimination against Jews and in WWII our government rounded up American citizens of Japanese descent to herd them into camps because they might be loyal to our enemy Japan. It’s worth noting we didn’t do the same with German Americans.
Today we are called to break this cycle. In its most recent manifestation, fear driven hate reared its ugly head in Charlottesville, VA, when a large group comprised of alt-right Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan, white supremacists and Confederacy diehards staged a nighttime march with burning torches in hand while chanting messages of hate and anti-semitic slogans reminiscent of the Nazis Nuremberg rallies in Germany and KKK lynchings here in America.
In the face of counter demonstrations the following day, violence broke out resulting in an accused alt-right Nazi supporter plowing his car into a mass of non-violent protesters, killing one young woman and injuring at least nineteen others. Glorying in this terrible moment, the alt-right has promised more such rallies in more cities. One of their leaders, former KKK clan chief and white supremacist, David Duke, proclaimed Charlottesville was the first step in “taking America back.”
But this does not represent who we as Americans should be as a nation or should let our country become. We must be better than that. We cannot let hate and fear define us. Instead, all citizens of our great land and all of our leaders, must rise up to denounce the notions of racial superiority that define the alt-right. We simply can’t afford to ignore it as so many of our ancestors did before us in the hope that such “unpleasantness” would dissipate and go away. As a child of the South I can tell you it won’t!
Instead, each of us has to forthrightly demonstrate what America was founded on – that all Men are created equal and entitled to life, liberty and justice. Whether we like it or not, under our Constitution those who adhere to the alt-right’s beliefs have the right to peacefully advocate them. They don’t, however, have the right to employ violence and intimidation to achieve their ultimate goals. It’s up to the rest of us, individually and collectively on a day-to-day basis, to make sure it doesn’t happen. To prove in fact that “all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights,” and that these hallowed words don’t just apply to white supremacists.