As a white man, I’m perturbed at the scene that played out in Charlottesville, Va., last week. As a white man, I’m always going to be a little bit embarrassed when other white men who claim to speak for my race take up symbols of hatred like swastikas and march to proclaim white superiority.
I get that there is a certain political theory that suggests it’s okay for every race but the white race to lobby for their race’s best interests. And spare me the argument about white privilege because I live in the impoverished region of rural Appalachia. The only privilege we have here is the American privilege. It’s a significant privilege, but it isn’t racially based.
Suffice to say, however, that there is a tremendous difference between peaceful rallies where white folks show up and protest the removal of Confederate monuments and a rally where people are toting swastikas and proclaiming that black Americans are second-class citizens. Those people aren’t interested in saving Confederate monuments. Their primary motive is a desire to return to a circa 1960s segregated America, and they do not speak for me.
But if America is ever going to move past the racial strife and the deepening divide that is quickly coming to define the 21st century in this nation, we have to start calling hatred, bigotry and violence what it is — and it is a scourge that exists within more than one political ideology; a blight that more than one race is capable of.
President Donald Trump has said a lot of incendiary and unwise things during his first seven months in office, but those who are criticizing his response to Charlottesville are barking up the wrong tree. Could the president have used harsher language to condemn white supremacists? Sure. But was he really that far off base when he suggested that the hatred, bigotry and violence has been occurring “on many sides” in America?
Of course not. He was merely voicing the thoughts of many frustrated Americans who have watched the political narrative being shaped over the past four years by mainstream journalists and pundits who act as though one race and one political ideology has a patent on these undesirable traits.
A columnist for GQ magazine even suggested Sunday that what happened in Charlottesville is an example of the tumultuous America that Trump promised during his campaign. That sort of talk is not only foolish, but it delves into revisionist history. It ignores the fact that violence at political rallies began to escalate under the Black Lives Matter movement. And it has continued at rallies since Trump was elected, prompted by the alt-left movement that serves as a counter-approach to the alt-right movement responsible for the weekend’s domestic terrorism in Charlottesville.
Our problem isn’t so much about a bunch of klansmen marching through a quiet college town toting swastikas as it is our growing intolerance of each other and each other’s ideas. We’re too quick to label opinions that aren’t our own as being unworthy of public discussion, too willing to see those who share those opinions shamed, scorned, fired from their jobs and placed in some sort of societal time out.
This didn’t begin with Black Lives Matter any more than it began with white supremacists, but both movements are products of it. The wailing and gnashing of teeth from political pundits over the president’s suggestion that this is happening on “many fronts” is faux outrage. You don’t even have to look further than Charlottesville to prove Trump’s statement true. Before a lunatic used a car as a weapon and mowed into a crowd of people, there was plenty of violence being perpetrated by either side — the white supremacists and the counter-protesters alike. Reports that emerged from Charlottesville revealed that fists were flying and blood was being drawn by either side.
Ultimately, of course, an alt-right political nut grabbed the headlines by using a car to commit murder. Millions of us were justifiably outraged, but let’s not pretend that what happened in Charlottesville is unprecedented. It’s been just over a year ago when five police officers were gunned down by a sniper at a Black Lives Matter rally in Texas. Have we forgotten so quickly?
Hatred and bigotry exists among all races and political persuasions, and one is just as likely as the other to resort to violence. We saw it with the alt-left in Dallas last year and we saw it with the alt-right in Charlottesville last week.
In our response to outrages such as these, we aren’t going to get it right if we give ourselves the luxury of referring to one as hatred and bigotry while referring to the other as misunderstood. It truly is a black and white issue, where right is right and wrong is wrong.
Until we figure this out, our society is going to continue to push closer to the brink of all-out civil war.