By Coshandra Dillard
A 32-year-old woman, Heather Heyer, lost her life Saturday following a terrorist attack at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The violence began Friday night as torch-carrying groups of neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members took to the University of Virginia campus to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue.
In times like this, people naively say “this is not America” or ask “what is America coming to?” They seem to be stunned by the notion that such displays of racism would be happening in 2017.
To that I say, “where y’all been?”
My high school’s mascot is a Rebel and I remember a picture of a confederate soldier carrying the bars and stripes flag hanging in the school gym at one time. A high school in Tyler is still among Texas schools named after a confederate general. Across the country, there are numerous city streets named after confederate idols as well as memorials and statues dedicated to the Old South.
People will continue to defend confederate symbols and it’s not just the uneducated or KKK-card carrying white people who co-sign on this idolatry of the antebellum south. There are also supposed educated “nice” white people who want to “make America great again.”
And there are those who are oblivious to or in denial about the harm of these relics of the past. Hollywood producers are wanting to create an HBO series that explores what America looks like if the South won. Twitter has been lit up since late July with the #NoConfederate hashtag to protest this revisionist fantasy.
I vividly remember my disgust at classmates who flung a confederate flag over the fence during football games or paraded them on their pick up trucks. I had hoped those symbols and the hate associated with it would not carry on for another generation.
It’s like deja vu.
With the events unfolding in Charlottesville, I don’t think there is a black person alive who is surprised by the audaciousness of racist white people making their voices heard.
The response to Charlottesville proved to be a stark contrast to the response to protesters who called for police accountability in shooting deaths of black people and an end to institutional racism. In Ferguson, and subsequent cities, marchers were met with tanks and tear gas almost immediately.
But in Charlottesville, it took several hours before police got a handle on things. The planned rallies were known well in advance and approved by the city council. These so-called protests were not about free speech. They were a manifestation of hateful ideologies that have crescendoed since Barack Obama became president. The violence that erupted is a prime example of American terrorism and insidious racism that has been allowed to continue in our society since its founding.
The president of the United States didn’t acknowledge the hate-filled violence spurred by white nationalists, and instead wrongly spread the responsibility to “many sides.”
— POLITICO (@politico) August 12, 2017
This problematic statement places the onus to ensure peace on the victims of racism and those who stand against it.
When talking about justice and equality, there is no debating about one’s humanity. Arguing with someone who simply wants to live free and without violence is not an opinion. Being confronted with that is not an attack on free speech.
If you’re a person of color who has not been living under a rock, you know that white supremacy hasn’t changed over centuries. It’s been tempered. It’s been shouted down. It’s been tucked away. But it’s still here.
It didn’t miraculously disappear with the adoption of laws intended to level the playing field and ensure opportunities for formerly enslaved people and other marginalized groups.
Where did the people who were spouting the same vitriol in the 1960s go? Did they have a change of heart, or did they just internalize it and vent to their family members, mainly their offspring? Where did the KKK paraphernalia go? Where are the postcards of lynchings which showed hundreds, sometimes thousands of spectators, that were heavily circulated?
With the exception of events like the one in Charlottesville, we may not always easily identify who is wanting to do us harm. The paraphernalia is stored away or destroyed. The hoods came off. Some white supremacists became teachers, doctors, lawyers, judges and police officers.
Black people: we’ve always wondered what we’d be doing if we lived during the civil rights movement.
Well, we’re living in those times. The civil rights movement never went away. We’ve just been busy trying to enter the middle class, go to college, enjoy the fruits of hard work and stay alive.
The fight continues. The struggle has never ended.
However, it’s not enough for black people to rally in the streets, call out racism, or confront elected officials. It’s up to white people to gather those in their circles who continue to poison society and shut them down. We can’t afford for them to be comfortable enough to just sit there and watch the nation burn — again.