White supremacy is our country’s original sin

August 16, 2017
A white supremacists carries the Confederate flag as he arrives for a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017. Photo by Joshua Roberts/REUTERS.

What happened in Charlottesville this past weekend is devastating, but not surprising. Over the past three years, white supremacists have been invited back to the streets, to the airwaves, into the White House.

White supremacy is our country’s original sin. The legacy of slavery, the genocide of Native Americans and the exploitation of immigrants remain unresolved and largely unacknowledged. But in my lifetime, over the past 40 years, while racism festered in the back rooms, behind bars in the prison industrial complex, in discriminatory hiring practices, in segregated schools and neighborhoods and among internet trolls, it was generally sanitized in public discourse.

And then a presidential candidate launched his campaign with an unconscionable attack on Mexican Americans, a verbal assault that should have marked the end of his public career. Instead, it was only the beginning. Attacks against Muslims, Blacks and immigrants followed, along with a refusal to disavow endorsements from known anti-Semites and white nationalists (“I don’t know anything about David Duke. I don’t know what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacist. I don’t know. I don’t know…”). Good people whispered their discomfort and went along for the ride. Cast votes ignoring what was clear as day, willfully ignored, justified and excused. Clergy were scolded when they entered the fray: let’s not get too political! Journalists faced full frontal attack for pointing out what was clear to anyone willing to pay attention. This was a dangerous and deliberate fueling of white supremacist ideology, which-once uncovered, promised to wreak havoc on our already deeply fractured nation.

So how can we be surprised when Nazis now march—armed and angry—through the streets of a college town chanting “Jews will not replace us”? The murder of Heather Heyer is tragic and horrific, but even that ought not surprise us. Charlottesville represents exactly what happens when hatred is met with anything short of explicit and unequivocal condemnation. Domestic terrorism is the logical outcome of an atmosphere of racialized tension that now receives daily ammunition from the highest offices.

.There’s a reason the white supremacists didn’t wear hoods to march in the streets this time; they didn’t feel they had anything to hide.

Thoughts and prayers for the victims—even expressions of outrage and disgust—are grossly insufficient. It takes generations to heal racial wounds and divisions. It takes a few casual dog-whistles to reignite them. It’s long past time for white Americans to stand up and acknowledge that a culture of racism is a culture of violence. It’s long past time forJews, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists—people of all faiths and none—for immigrant and Native Americans, men, women and LGBT Americans to come together to manifest a political and social reality that reflects American ideals of freedom, dignity and justice for all.

We must come together today, not only to offer words of condemnation and consolation, but to do the hard work to heal our country before we slide further into the abyss.

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