On August 11, 2017, white supremacist marched on the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, bearing torches and chanting Neo Nazi slogans. Their intention was to instill fear in the hearts of non-whites, to declare the existence of white supremacy, and to send a clear signal that any attempts to advocate for equality and justice for non-white groups would be met with violence. The next day, counter protestors decrying these acts of bigotry and hatred were met with violence as promised. Klu Klux Klan members and other white nationalist groups, armed with confederate flags, swastika signs, and other symbols of white supremacy, descended on Charlottesville.
As I scrolled through images of the Aug. 11th rally, I imagined what it would be like to be a student watching this scene unfold on my campus. White men with flaming torches chanting “they can’t replace us.” The images were fear-inducing, but what struck me the most was the faces of the majority of the marchers; the youthfulness in their faces. As a millennial, my generation has been raised on the rhetoric that America is on the cusp of being a post-racial society. You hear this lie much too often. Equally false, is the sense of security that settled on many liberal-leaning individuals after President Obama’s election and reelection. In hindsight, it seems as though the nation took a collective pause in the few years leading up to the election of its first Black president. While grassroots work continued and significant policy battles were won on the federal and state government level, large scale systematic efforts to dismantle the effects of segregation, poverty, police brutality, and other vestiges of slavery decreased. The truth was that America had come a long way, but our society mistook the battle victories for a war won. There was a sense of relief from the fatigue of working so hard to dismantle those issues of racism, so we paused. And while we paused, extremist white supremacist groups gathered, plotted, and organized to undo every single step we had taken toward progress.
Aug. 11, 2017 obliterated this lie for many Americans. It was a clear depiction of what America is and has been for hundreds of years. Racism does not simply live in old white men in the GOP seeking to strip healthcare from the poor, or police officers who murder black people for no reason other than prejudice; racism is one of the truest qualities of the American society. Racism is not a relic of America’s past that shows up from time to time. It is a youthful, living and breathing part of our society. It is the reality of non-white people on a daily basis. From the clerks in the supermarkets to the judges in a courtroom, racism has operated in our lives without a day off for hundred of years. I once heard it described as America’s family secret that nobody likes to talk about, but one that creates dysfunction and destroys the lives of its family members.
The Southern Poverty Law Center described the Aug. 11th and 12th events as one of “the largest hate-gathering[s] of its kind in decades in the United States.” I beg to differ. I offer that the largest hate-gathering we have seen in decades occurred on Nov. 8th 2016, when the combined efforts of white-supremacist groups and individuals, extremist-right voter suppression laws, and a contested election outcome, put over 60 million votes behind a president that ran on a platform of hatred, bigotry, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and extreme-nationalism. Trump’s election was part of the familiar American backlash to the progressive victories of non-white groups. In my opinion, Trump’s election struck the highest chord with white-liberals. It changed nothing for me. As a Black woman in America, I was as afraid on Nov. 8th 2016 as I was on Feb. 26th 2012 when 17 year old Trayvon Martin was murdered by a racist vigilante, or June 17th 2015 when a white-supremacist gunman entered Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston and murdered nine people in a prayer service, or on April 7th 2017 when the US Senate succeeded in robbing President Obama of a Supreme Court nomination, ensuring a rollback on progressive federal policies. This is the reality of being Black in America.
One of the clearest views I had of the problem America faces came on the morning after the Charleston church massacre. I lived in Washington D.C. at the time, and for me the news brought on stages of panic, frustration, and anger. The next morning I boarded the train to work, and sat there feeling empty. Tears rolled down my eyes and it was almost like the world was muted. I heard and felt nothing. For a second, the train jolted me awake, and I tuned into a train car full of mostly young and middle aged white professionals laughing and going on about their day ahead or the day before. I was confused as to why they weren’t mourning the innocent lives we lost or enraged at the white-supremacist who committed this heinous crime. Didn’t they hear the news? It wasn’t until I walked into the office, at the social justice organization I worked at, that I felt like I could relate to anyone. Racism was happening daily and openly in American society, but I could only mourn it with a few-people who had committed their time to fighting for social justice.
How do we move forward? We cannot wait for moments like this past weekend to express outrage over racism and bigotry. Those white men bearing torches on the UVA campus descended from many states around the country, they are your children’s teachers, they are policemen, they are judges, they are prosecutors, they are university students, they are members of American society. We have to speak out on these issues daily. We cannot be so outraged by these displays of white supremacy, yet remain silent about the racial disparities Black children face in the public education system, the government’s refusal to provide medical care for poor members of our communities, the exploitation of low wage workers, the unjust deportation of immigrants, the transphobic policies being passed by state governments, and the hundreds of issues that affect our lives daily. The outrage must be expressed and the work must be continued every single day, because racism is alive and young.