The events of August 12th in Charlottesville, Virginia were frightening, disgusting and alarming, and as I write these words on Monday, August 14, we don’t know if they will have any long-lasting historical repercussions. Will Charlottesville be remembered as the next Fort Sumter? It’s too soon to tell.
The streets were filled with angry, young, white men wearing symbols of white supremacy, carrying confederate and Nazi flags, and chanting “Blood and Soil,” among other phrases that are sadly still very alive and very dangerous. These (mostly) men were unafraid to walk through the streets of a college town Virginia unencumbered by the protection of anonymity, without the sheets and hoods that hid their fathers, their grandfathers, their uncles, from the scrutiny of their neighbors. These are people unafraid to be identified as members of the Klu Klux Klan or of American Nazi organizations. It is their lack of fear that makes them both dangerous and stupid: since Saturday, the Twitterverse has been ablaze with photos, working to identify the marchers, and they’ve had some success.
However, identifying the white supremacists, racists and Nazis in the street is only one step.
We have to identify them in our state houses, in our government and in our lives as well, because it’s not just the individuals without the hoods who are the problem: it’s the concepts themselves.
Racism. Sexism. Heterosexism: These certainly rear their ugly heads in places like Charlottesville, in very visible Instagram worthy photos, but that’s not where they actually do the most damage. In fact, in places like Charlottesville, the damage happens one person and one tragedy at a time. The problem is larger, and the delivery method more insidious and more effective.
These “-isms” all codify the inherent belief that one is better than someone else because of who they are.
There are straight, white men who believe themselves superior to all others merely on the basis of their gender, skin color and sexuality. When a legislator votes to restrict women’s access to health care, that’s sexism. When a judge gives an African-American defendant a harsher sentence than a white man convicted of the exact same crime, that’s racism. When the rights of a gay couple to adopt children is denied, that’s heterosexism. The HIV epidemic is a problem of these –isms: had the virus chosen to attack our straight, white, male friends first, it would have been a media issue like Legionnaire’s disease or the Tylenol scare of 1982.
Those seem like obvious truths, but they are also acts of violence. They are acts that judge a group of people to be lesser than others, and writing those distinctions into law doesn’t just impact the individual in the case, it emboldens others to take the enforcement of those distinctions into their own hands, in the street.
Over the weekend, the Department of Health and Human Services told dozens of organizations trying to reduce teen pregnancy that their 5 year grants were going to be cut short by two years. This directly impacts women, and disproportionately impacts women of color. This is nothing short of a racist and sexist policy, and sends a message to those who would discriminate that it’s okay to do so.
Laws that separate us into groups based on DNA, biology, our place of birth, our religion, are anti-American. They signal to the racists, sexists and heterosexists that they are morally correct in their beliefs. They embolden those who would use violence, those who would perpetrate terrorism, and those who would wipe us from the face of the earth.
It’s all well and good for Attorney General Sessions to refer to James Field’s plowing into a crowd with his car as an act of terrorism, but so long as he’s waging his war on marijuana, so long as he’s championing affirmative action for white people in college admissions, he’s only paying lip service (when it suits him) to the real problem.
White, straight, healthy, heterosexual, Christian men are afraid of losing their power in America. They’ve been in charge and in power for so long, they don’t realize that sharing the gavel only brings more people to the table, more energy, more ideas and more forward motion.
The White Supremacist, Nazi and Klan marchers have been emboldened by the Trump Administration to come out from under their hoods, but unless we’re willing to pull the administration itself out from under its own, we’re only chipping ice off the visible part of the iceberg. Institutional Racism provides the support for these in-your-face levels of hatred.
Call on the President to use the words “domestic terrorism.” Make him disown the white supremacists, the ‘white nationalists,’ the Klan, the Nazis – and in actions, not just words. Call on him to fire Steve Bannon and Steve Miller, two of the most hate-filled, poisonous advisers we’ve ever seen in the White House.
Call your Senators, Call your Congressperson, your city council person, your mayor, your governor, and don’t just ask them to denounce or call on the President to take action: ask them to take action themselves with health care laws, sentencing laws, family laws that don’t draw lines and distinctions between groups, but lift us all up.
We have a moment in time where these calls and these conversations are really, really important. We need to own it, or we will have more and more moments like we had in Charlottesville last Saturday.
Thoughts, observations and comments from Witti Repartee, hostess, fundraiser, bon vivant and...well, lots else.