We are as much in a civil war now as we were when the North and South fought brother against brother in 1860’s Gettysberg. Only now it is not only about race and slavery. It is about gender and religion and sexuality too.
The events in Charlottesville, Virginia draw us back into those troubling days of segregation. Those days when the color of your skin meant you could not be trusted, when the color of your skin meant you were not worthy to sit towards the front of the bus.
Simply put, this “Unite the Right” rally was not about taking down a statue of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee. If the rally was about preserving a historical monument, the focus would not have been on raised torches, racist and anti-Semitic chants, and hate-filled marches down the streets of Charlottesville with a threatening tone. Make no mistake. This is not about “white lives matter”. It is about “white lives matter more than yours”. Worse than that, it is “some white lives matter more than yours” because your religion and your sexual orientation clearly affect your standing in the white supremacist ideology too.
Escalating to a state of emergency, counter-protesters joined the milieu, and violence erupted from both sides. Let me say here that violence is never the answer. That didn’t stop Neo-Nazi James Alex Fields Jr. from driving into a group of counter-protesters, injuring 19 people and killing 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer.
Yes, we are in the midst of a civil war, and people are, quite literally, dying.
There will be people who will want to blame President Trump. His emboldened language, his Muslim ban, his misogyny, his mocking the disabled, his demarginalization of the poor, his attitudes and behaviors throughout the campaign and throughout his Presidency have given people a free pass of sorts.
If the leader of the free world can do it, why can’t I?
The truth is Trump did not make people hate. They already hated deep within themselves. Either they were raised that way, or they had a personal experience they used to generalize their pain against whole groups of people. What his presidency did do, however, was give a voice to their intolerance. In his way, planned or unplanned, he gave non-verbal permission for Americans to speak out on their hate.
When you look closer, President Trump is quick to denounce terrorism, but only on certain terms. He jumps to blame acts on radical Islamic terrorism, acts that have included driving into groups of people, but in the case of Charlottesville, he doesn’t outright denounce white supremacy, neo-Naziism, or white nationalism, even when we know Mr. Fields’ intentions clearly were to harm counter-protesters. Instead, the President initially blamed “many sides”. He remained equivocal. He refused to call it what it was.
There is too often a double standard. When violence is incited by Muslims, it is terror, often before there is an investigation or evidence to support that fact. When these acts of violence are committed by white men, however, it is rarely terrorism, and oftentimes, when evidence points to the contrary, it is not even labeled a hate crime.
It would take two days before President Trump would condemn the KKK, white supremacists, and Neo-Nazis. It would take two days before Attorney General Jeff Sessions would label the car attack “domestic terrorism”. It would take two days and the loss of life. Dare I ask, how soon would it have taken if Mr. Fields were a Muslim?
It would take only one day more before Mr. Trump would defend the white supremacist groups he previously denounced, before he would post and later delete a tweet of a train running over a CNN reporter (in complete distaste after a woman was run over and killed during the protest), and before he would claim that a monument of Robert E. Lee is synonymous with statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
If you are as disturbed by this turn of events as I am, take heart. Your character, your morals, your decency, do make a difference. Your voice, your actions, your kindness, it all matters. Still, there are some things that don’t matter and will never matter in this crazy world.
Stand tall for those things that are near and dear to you. Do not be silent. Let who you are, how you act, how you react, be a testament to what this country was founded on — “that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
What does matter is acceptance, equality, justice, and respect. No one asked to be born into this world. No one asked to be a certain color, a certain gender, a certain sexuality, and no one should be judged as less than based on their life circumstances. As people, we deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. We deserve to have fair opportunity. We deserve to live without fear that we will be attacked for who we are as individuals.
America rebuilt itself after that first civil war. I know we can do it again.