“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King
Last weekend, a protest rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, proved once again that racism is alive and well in the U.S. In fact, I am going to go so far as to say that in some pockets in the U.S., bigotry in its many forms is even higher now than it was during the Civil Rights Era.
What led to Saturday’s rally started back in 2015, after white supremacist Dylan Roof shot and killed nine black parishioners in a Charleston, South Carolina, church. After the shooting, South Carolina lawmakers voted to remove the Confederate flag from statehouse grounds. Alabama confronted the issue by taking down Confederate flags from the state Capitol, while other states ended Confederate specialty license plates. At least 60 publicly funded symbols of the Confederacy have been removed or renamed since the mass shooting in Charleston, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The removal of the monuments is not without critics who claim that the emblems and landmarks represent history and heritage, and that efforts to remove them is political correctness run amuck. Most, however, say the monuments are painful, and pay homage to slavery and racial injustice. Some states in the south are drafting state laws that would bar local governments from removing any more Confederate monuments and symbols. Other states, notably Tennessee and North Carolina already have such laws on the books.
In February, the Charlottesville City Council voted to remove a statue of Confederate Robert E. Lee astride his horse that stands in a local municipal park which is also named after Lee. Last Saturday, 15 May, white supremacist Richard Spencer, president of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist organization, led a group of more than a hundred people protesting the removal of the statue. The protestors carried lit torches and chanted, “You will not replace us”, “Russia is our friend” and the far-right nationalist slogan “blood and soil”. “Blood and soil”, for those who may not be aware, refers to an ideology that focuses on ethnicity based society. The expression has its roots in Nazi Germany. The torches were, to many, reminiscent of the days of the Ku Klux Klan when they marched, carrying torches which they used to set fire to crosses, homes, and businesses owned by blacks.
Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer released the following statement:
“This event involving torches at night in Lee Park was either profoundly ignorant or was designed to instill fear in our minority populations in a way that harkens back to the days of the KKK.”
Personally, I believe it was both ignorant and was designed to instill fear. But more important, it is unacceptable that even a single person in this nation believe the ideology, if it can be called such, of the white supremacist groups led primarily by Richard Spencer, along with Steve Bannon and his band of thugs known as the ‘alt-right’. The Charlottesville rally was only the most recent in a series of events and speeches this spring — from Berkeley, California, to Auburn, Alabama, to New Orleans and elsewhere — where the alt-right forces, including Spencer, have attempted to galvanize their power on the political stage, sometimes using “free speech” as a platform, to lure and expose young people to white nationalist beliefs and show support for President Trump.
The white supremacists, particularly the alt-right, embrace preservation of Western civilization, opposing immigration and always talking about “white identity” — a calling card for David Duke and many hardcore racists. It behooves us to realize and remember that these people do NOT represent the majority of Americans. But they are loud, they are vocal, and they are spreading the ideals of hatred toward anybody who does not look, act, and think as they do. Most of them claim to be “Christians”, yet I find that to be an oxymoron, since from what I am given to understand, Christianity teaches love and tolerance for ALL people, not just those whose skin is pale.
The danger, as I see it, is that we seem to be headed toward a mentality similar to that of Nazi Germany where Hitler embraced the “Aryan race”. Until the past year or so, I always thought we were better than this. And in fairness, most of us are, but the numbers of those who, with supreme arrogance, believe themselves to be better than others, seem to be increasing, and we need to speak out against it at every opportunity.