Why I'm Not Surprised By Charlottesville
Many of us at some point heard a news story or saw a social media post about the goings on in Charlottesville on Saturday. Racist members of the alt-right and KKK joined together under the guise of hate and protested the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. A counter-protest ensued. Police were involved. A hate-filled terrorist mowed down a crowd with his car. One woman lost her life. Indeed what began as a white nationalist and white supremacist protest turned into a complete shit show.
I've taken stock of the mix of reactions, and the majority of them are people expressing debilitating shock and awe at how something so horrific can actually be occurring in today's time. While I can appreciate the raw reaction to the incident in Charlottesville, I have one fundamental question:
Are you really surprised?
I cringe when well-meaning people proclaim that "racism is dead" or "we are well beyond our past." That may make you feel better, but it's just not true. I'm not someone who thinks America is absolved of all of her past sins. I just think those sins have been less in-your-face and have become more systemic. There may no longer be "Jim Crow" laws, but there is redistricting. So you see - six in one hand, half a dozen in another.
The fact that I can sit at a dinner table with parents who not only lived through segregation but can remember specific details about it tells me that we aren't as far off as people may think. My mother vividly describes how it felt when a white girl spit on her face for no good reason, just because she was on her campus being black. She can recall the day that one of the fraternities rode around campus on horses in confederate and klan attire with torches inviting white girls to the Confederate Ball...and throwing dog feces and dead chickens on the porch of the black girls' dorm. So for those who believe Charlottesville is like walking back in time, go sit in my parents' kitchen and you'll see that it's not that unique.
You know what happened to those people who rode with the klan in the 50s and 60s and used racial slurs as much as they used the word "christian" and "patriot"? They had kids. And those kids were in Charlottesville on Saturday. Hatred is indeed a learned behavior, and just because many have suppressed those feelings, it doesn't mean they don't still have them and aren't capable -and willing- to pass them on. Like the old folks say: just because I don't do things anymore does't mean I forgot how.
To add insult to injury, we now have a President who has emboldened racists and supremacists with his heavily coded rhetoric and overall bigotry-laden tweets and one-liners. That he could even survive his party's primary, then gain the nomination, and ultimately secure enough electoral votes to move to Washington put the country on notice that the evil monster that we assumed was lurking under the bed was ready to come out in the daylight. While you can't blame one person for the fact that overt racism and white nationalism is enjoying a strong and unapologetic comeback, you've got to at least look beyond coincidence and see that the person occupying the White House is adding fuel to the fire.
While I am disturbed by the images on my screen, I'm not at all surprised. Unfortunately I knew after November 2016 that Charlottesville would happen. I just didn't know when. And here we are. We have reverted back to the 1960s when hatred was not only tangible but was also televised. The only difference now is that the hoods are off... and our televisions are in color.
Featured photo: Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images