A NEW ORLEANS TRIBUNE EDITORIALRecent events at a so-called Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., have left many wondering how such racial animus and vitriol exists today.
It’s easy to understand why it would make some question what is going on today. It’s been 50 years beyond the passage of the Civil Rights Act. It’s been 50 plus years since the passage of the Voting Rights Act. We have even had a Black president.
No, ours is not a post-racial society as some have dared to declare, but surely we don’t exist in one in which Klan members and Nazis can freely walk the streets with impudence and pride.
In 2017, how could members of Neo-Nazi groups and Ku Klux Klan openly march, carrying Nazi flags, confederate flags and automatic weapons as they “rally” against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee that was commissioned a full 52 years after the Civil War not as a reminder of the sacrifice of a soldier but as a symbol of White supremacy? To be sure, there are plenty of well-meaning folk who are having trouble wrapping their heads around the existence of an American so filled with racist hate that he wantonly rams his vehicle into a crowd of peaceful counter-protesters, killing one and injuring more than a dozen and half others.
It exists in this America in 2017.
In 2017, a 32-year-old paralegal named Heather Heyer was killed when White supremacist James Alex Fields, Jr., plowed his car into the crowd of protesters who gathered to oppose the message being promulgated by the Neo-Nazi and KKK groups.
This didn’t happen 100 years ago in 1917, which happens to be the year that White supremacists commissioned the bronze statue of Lee in Charlottesville. It happened in 2017—just a few short days ago.
While we were both saddened and incensed by this act, shock was not an emotion we felt.
And we wish other folk would stop being so damn stunned or feigning sadness even.
With this being the age of the tweet and the hashtag, the prevailing cry has come down to three sharp words. #Notmyamerica has become the call of progressives—mostly well-meaning White folk in their attempt to sideline those groups who spew and act on hate.
There is only one problem with the ideology behind their cry. It fails to acknowledge that what happened in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12 was in fact a most accurate representation of the very worst America has to offer.
America has not hidden herself from us, and she has been no mystery. The vile act that occurred on Aug. 12 was a sign of exactly what we have known her to be.
This is our America! This is what our America becomes when for far too long far too many sit in silence, providing nothing less than their acquiescent approval of the racism and hatred that has existed as the foundation and underpinning of this nation for 400 years. This is the burden Black Americans have lived with forever.
Let’s stop wondering how this could have happened in 2017 and recognize that this has always happened at one interval or another in our nation. This is what happens when our countrymen and women ignore, when we rationalize and when we pretend that it is an isolated incident instead of a malignant tumor aggressively growing in the body of a sick nation. This is what happens when no less than three dozen White supremacists are allowed to start PayPal accounts and only kicked off the platform after one of their members or sympathizers kills someone in the name of, uh, White supremacy.
Yep admit, this is our America!
This is your America! It is the same America in which less than 20 years ago James Byrd Jr., was lynched by three White supremacists on June 7, 1998 in Jasper, Texas. Shawn Berry, Lawrence Russell Brewer, and John King dragged Byrd for three miles behind a pick-up truck along an asphalt road. Byrd was conscious throughout most of the ordeal, and he was killed when his body hit the edge of a culvert, severing his right arm and head. The three terrorists drove on for another mile before dumping Byrd’s torso in an African-American cemetery.
It wasn’t an isolated event. It was cold, calculated murder driven by racist hate that is as American as apple pie and baseball. Let’s face it. Racist aren’t born. They are bred. And America has been a breeding ground for racists for centuries. This is the reason Black folk are angry.
Our country will never change it if we don’t accept the current condition. Like an addict that has reached rock bottom, America needs an intervention. Come on, what is the first thing that anyone with any sort of addiction or habit must do before they get better?
So it’s time for Americans—every last one of us—to take a hard look in the mirror and admit that what happened in Charlottesville happened in our America. It happened in our America—not some aberration or anomaly of a nation. This is America.
This is our America. It’s the same America today that it was in 2011 when 49-year-old James Craig Anderson, a Black man was murdered in a hate crime in Jackson, Miss., on June 26, 2011, by 18-year-old Deryl Dedmon. According to police, Dedmon, who is White, and his friends, a group of White teenagers, robbed and repeatedly beat Anderson before Dedmon ran him over with his truck.
Make no mistake. This is our America! This is the America where on June 17, 2015, White supremacist Dylann Roof was so bolstered in his hatred for Black folk that he went to a Black church in Columbia, S.C., and sat among its congregants as they prepared for weekly Bible study. Before their service could hardly begin, Roof opened fire killing nine people. By the way, it’s the same America where police treated Roof to a burger and fries after capturing the terroristic murdering fugitive.
Yep, that’s the America we live in.
We mollycoddle terroristic murderers. We blame the innocent victims for wearing hoodies or not looking like they belong in a certain neighborhood when acts of hate are committed against them. We allow White supremacists to spread their detestation under the euphemistic guise of “Unite the Right” rallies and “Make America Great Again” slogans. We turn our heads when one police officer after another guns down another innocent unarmed Black man.
We act as if the acts of terrorism are new. They are not. Just ask the families of James Byrd, Jr., James Craig Anderson, the nine men and women killed in the church in Columbia or the four little girls massacred in the fall of 1963 in a Birmingham church.
We have been here before . . . right here in this very place . . . in the same old America. And unless we are ready to some honest reflection followed by some real action, we will soon find ourselves in the place again—maybe next month, next year or maybe tomorrow.
So how do we define real action? Of course, we expect our criminal justice system to find, arrest and convict these heinous criminals beyond the fullest extent of the law if that were possible.
But what can we do—every day folk, leaders of corporations, journalists, mothers, fathers, teachers, neighbors? What can we do?
Let’s start with not referring to these animals as “domestic” terrorists. They are just terrorists. What real purpose does the adjective “domestic” serve? Just guessing here, but Heather Heyer’s mother is no less heartbroken because the terrorist who murdered her daughter was born in Kentucky instead of Kuwait. Is the hate they spew any less vile or their actions any less menacing because they have somehow managed to twist and desecrate the Bible instead of the Quran to justify their stupidity, bigotry and violence?
No. They are just criminals, terrorists who need to be hunted down and rooted out.
So yes, what we saw on social media in the wake of Charlottesville was a step in the right direction. Expose these cowards. They should not be able to go back to jobs or mingle on dating sites or sit in college classrooms as the rest us sit silent.
According to some reports, one father went so far as to publicly denounce his son in an open letter to his local newspaper. Mr. Pearce Tefft, the father of alleged White supremacist Peter Tefft is right. Other mothers and fathers of these new-fangled KKK and Neo-Nazi members ought to follow suit. Not even home can be a safe place for these assassins and terrorists.
White folk who don’t espouse their hate-filled points of view especially have to be vocal. Let them know they are wrong and that their kind has no place here.
Stop opening our colleges and universities and other public spaces to their Ku Klux Klan rallies and Neo Nazi parties. They have to know that there is no safe place for them or their invalid, immoral, invasive beliefs.
Stop buying into the bogus argument that saving monuments built to promote White supremacy and to oppress others are now somehow about preserving history and exhibiting pride.
That is what Heather Heyer was doing when she lost her life on August 12, 2017. Her sacrifice—like that of thousands before her—will not soon be forgotten.