Opinion: Virginia Rally Reminds Our Racist Past Never Left Us
Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists encircle and chant at counter protesters at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson after marching through the University of Virginia campus with torches in Charlottesville, Virginia, Aug. 11, 2017.Samuel Corum / Getty Images
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As Neo-Nazis and sundry racist organizations march in Charlottesville, Virginia, emboldened last night by the silence and false equivocation of a president they helped elect into office, we must confront the reality of what this means for our country: that our racist past never left us. Here are six things to consider when these rallies continue and anyone insists that racism in America is a thing of the past.
We should consider the tone-deaf response to racism by our Supreme Court in the Shelby County v. Holder decision. In that case, the court dismissed the history of racism in our country by saying that policies in place designed to address the many voting rights violations across the country, specifically Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, were a punishment for the past and struck them down or gutted them, failing to take into account the many developments since the act was passed.
We should consider that the police response to this violent racist rally on Friday night was tame by comparison to strong-armed police responses when black protestors march. While black communities gather to protest against real discrimination in Ferguson, Missouri; Baltimore, Maryland and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the response by the police is an overwhelming show of force in riot gear, military equipment, and firepower. By comparison, the response to Nazis, Ku Klux Klan, and other white supremacist organizations marching with the intent to intimidate was a universal yawn by the police force until tension ratcheted up.
We should consider that the organizers are not outsiders, malcontents, or members of the hard hit “white working class” that the media has been obsessed with since Trump’s election. The organizers of the white supremacist march met with local and state leaders prior to the rally.
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Rep. Tom Garrett, R-Va., met with members of Unity and Security for America, as did Corey Stewart, a candidate for governor and chairman of the Prince William County, Virginia, board of supervisors. He has repeatedly tweeted his support for maintaining the racist monuments.
He also has compared the progressives who want to take down these monuments to ISIS. Another organizer, white supremacist Richard Spencer, attended the best schools in the country, the University of Virginia, Duke, and University of Chicago. He attended Duke alongside Stephen Miller, the purveyor of Trump's immigration message.
We should consider that this rally promoting white supremacy is extremely anti-Semitic. The roots of white racism is also founded on Christianity. The Ku Klux Klan has always been not only about white superiority, but of white Christian superiority. They have been vehement anti-Catholics and it is no surprise to see the melding of Nazis and white supremacists joining in this common cause. Trump's promise to ban Muslims from entering the country breathed life into these organizations, and they will continue to grow as attacks on mosques are dismissed by the Trump administration as potential false flag attacks by the left.
We should consider how Democratic ideals are constantly being weaponized against minorities, and we will hear it constantly in the wake of these rallies. Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of a democratic society, but the principle of free speech often conveniently ignores the disparity in power between the speaker and the listener.
Whether it is corporations paying ungodly sums of money to influence elections, or fomenting hatred against transgender members of society by taking cues from our president, free speech is a tool of oppression as much as it is a promoter of freedom.
We should consider that this rally was an overwhelming display not only of racism, but of toxic masculinity. White men dominated attendance at this rally, and it is a reminder that racism and patriarchy are woven together into the fabric of American culture. In a week that one of the most powerful women in music, Taylor Swift, had to defend herself against a man who groped her, we need to remember that we elected a president who has admitted to groping women, and that our nation’s approach to reproductive freedom for women centers around what they should be allowed to do with their own bodies. The Texas Legislature recently passed a bill that would require women to purchase supplemental health insurance for reproductive procedures.
We should also be reminded that exit polls showed that 53 percent of white women voted for Trump.
Many in America, mostly non-minorities, seem shocked by the brazen display of racism on one of America’s storied university campuses. The University of Virginia was founded by Thomas Jefferson, a man who personified the duality of American values. Jefferson was a slave owner, and actively participated in America's original sin, but Jefferson was also a man ahead of his time in helping to establish a country founded on freedom of thought, on reason, and on a nation held together through civic virtue.
The racist rallies at the University of Virginia are a reminder that the greatest enemy of American ideals is America itself.
Stephen Nuño-Pérez is an NBC News contributor and political scientist. Stephen is an Associate Professor and Chair in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University.