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Charlottesville: Shock or what we already knew?

It has now been a little over a week since the sad, tragic, and devastating white supremacist/nationalist terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia. This week has offered moments of reflection, centering, analysis, debate, confusion, disgust, passion, and a whole range of human emotions that have firmly gripped an entire country with no signs of letting go. We once again find ourselves in the aftermath of one of these horrific events that reoccur at such a sustained frequency that it threatens to become our norm. And yet at the same time, it already felt all too familiar. It already felt normal, at least for some of us.

The various groups of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), neo-Nazis and white supremacists that converged on Charlottesville to protest the city’s planned removal of a monument honoring Confederate General Robert E. Lee, with torches and an assortment of weapons, which included firearms, was very familiar. The circumstances and the organization of the groups opposing their hateful message may have been different, but it wasn’t “fresh,” from my vantage point. The fact that a young woman named Heather Heyer, who was white, was brutally murdered with a vehicle driven by James Alex Fields Jr. (who has been charged and will be tried in court) along with 19 other persons being injured, while tragic, was not foreign. Even the indigent and downright repugnant response by the so-called President of the United States (whose name I will not give the dignity of writing out) wasn’t a shock if you know his history. The bottom line is that none of these things were surprising because the history of racism and white supremacy, which is the original sin and often serves as the god of this country along with capitalism, has shown us everything that we witnessed on Saturday, August 12, 2017!

White Supremacists groups, whether they decided to don hoods and robes or not, have continued to spread their hateful message unimpeded. At the same time that government agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were infiltrating and dismantling groups like the Black Panther Party, which included assassinating its leaders (i.e. Fred Hampton), they were allowing white supremacists organizations like the KKK to thrive. And now we have the documented proof, which many of us as African Americans know as a lived experience, that police forces and agencies were actually infiltrated by explicitly white supremacist groups and people.

In addition, Black lives have throughout the history of this country been used, abused, and discarded like garbage. Our lives and subsequently our deaths at the hands of others have always been devalued. But in our struggle for liberation, we have also seen white allies killed. Unfortunately, while our murders may not have caused everyone to pause and say, “Hey, this has to end,” allies’ murders have done just that. We see examples of this during the Civil Rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s with Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, who were killed along with James Chaney (who was Black) in Mississippi during the Congress of Racial Equality’s (CORE) Freedom Summer initiative. Moreover, this happened with Rev. James Reeb and seminarian Jonathan Daniels, who went down to Selma, Alabama in an effort to be a part of the march from Selma to Montgomery to win voting rights (or the Voting Rights bill that was later signed and enacted) for African Americans. They were killed also. Fast forward to Heather Heyer, who was counter-protesting with others who dared to stand up to these racists, who threaten each and every Black life in America, and all who dare support them. Her death is another chapter in this long anthology.

Many were also disappointed, discouraged, and utterly appalled by president 45’s statements concerning the tragedy in Charlottesville, and rightfully so. He had the audacity to condemn violence “On many sides.” The statement in context is below,

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides. It's been going on for a long time in our country.”

His comments that came late Saturday afternoon were disgraceful, but it got worse. On Monday, a full 48 hours after the violence ad chaos that gripped the community of Charlottesville, 45 gave another speech for the cameras, but this time he was reading a carefully crafted statement from the teleprompter, “Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the K.K.K., neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.” His revised comments did not erase that original stain that was left on everyone from his remarks Saturday. While delivering it, he looked so uncomfortable and inauthentic (not that he ever really appears authentic). And then, for many, the unthinkable happened the very next day. In a press conference that was supposed to be about infrastructure, he doubled down on his original statement from Saturday. This was the authentic 45 in rare and disgusting form. He said, “There are two sides to a story. I thought what took place was a horrible moment for the country, but there are two sides to a story.” He then went on to say a series of deplorable things. He said the statue of Robert E. Lee was “very important” to those who were marching in favor of it staying up. He stated,

"This week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You really do have to ask yourself: 'Where does it stop?'"

And I would be remiss if I left out this moment of defiance and attack as he said,

"You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say it, but I will say it right now.”

Let us be completely clear. There are no “two sides” to white supremacy. It is vile racism that threatens, steals, and kills. It is the incarnation of evil. His statements were a license to and support for white supremacists everywhere. His statements were cheered on by the very same people. David Duke, who is a former grand wizard of the KKK tweeted, "Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa.” It must be noted that the account isn’t verified, but he has been an outspoken supporter of 45. Many were claiming he has lost all moral authority, but I scramble to remember when he ever had that.

The statements by the current occupant of the white house were not surprising coming from a man with a history rooted in white supremacy. He was sued on multiple occasions for housing discrimination based on race. He took out a full-page advertisement in the paper calling for the execution of the Central Park 5, five African American and Hispanic-American teenage boys, who were charged with the brutal rape and beating of a white woman, who was jogging through central park. They were later cleared of all charges based on DNA evidence. During his campaign, he managed to offend and tear down every group of people besides white men. Specifically, as it relates to race, he called Mexicans rapists and murderers and asked African Americans, “What do you have to lose?” There was much more, but that would only serve to elongate this piece. It is also true that his father was arrested at a KKK rally in New York City during the 1920s. With all of this evidence from the past, nothing that he did or said throughout the week was surprising.

The fundamental reality is that white supremacy is woven into the very fabric of identity in the United States. This has remained a country built on and operating under white supremacy. This is 400 plus years in the making! This began with the systematic genocide of Native Americans and the kidnapping and enslavement of the African people. I argue that the very story of these United States is one of internal war. It is an internal war to either maintain or dismantle, depending on who you are, white supremacy.

None of this should come as a surprise to any of us, but I understand that it does. We need to move from the shocked phase on to the education and understanding of history phase. We understand the pathway forward by critical understanding of the past. These cycles of progress and regression ebb and flow like a current throughout the history of the, not so united, United States. Time is up for business as usual, if you haven’t already figured that out! Many have been idle for too long, but we all see and know what must be done. This war rages on, and for those of us of faith and goodwill, on the side of justice, we must be protesting, disrupting, getting unfit people removed from office, toppling racists monuments and symbolism, and creating a new paradigm of human existence in the United States. It means Revolution and not just the other “r word,” reform!

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