Call It By Its Name, and Don’t Let It Be Forgotten
Yesterday, Nazis were marching with torches in the streets of an American city, chanting “White Lives Matter,” “You will not replace us,” and “Jews will not replace us.” They beat counter-protesters with poles and rammed the crowd with a car, killing a woman and injuring dozens of others. And they did all this while chanting the Nazi slogan “blood and soil,” and carrying Nazi, Confederate, and Ku Klux Klan flags.
This is America in 2017. And if we are going to fight it, we have to look it full in the face and say its name out loud.
We know these people. We have always known them. They have been with us since the founding of America, and they have always been our most violent citizens. (The majority of mass killings in the United States have been committed by white men.) The visibility of the Charlottesville rally is unusual, but angry white men have been killing people at a considerable clip for the entirety of American history.
Jews and Black folks and other minority groups reacted with sorrow but not surprise. What what happened in Charlottesville this weekend was entirely too familiar to us. Mobs of white men with torches chanting about our destruction have haunted our nightmares for generations.
In the past few decades these American terrorists faded into the shadows and stopped broadcasting their beliefs out loud, but let’s be clear — they never went away. The hate and violence we saw in Charlottesville is not new. This is the America that most Americans have lived in for a long time.
Still, yesterday was important, it all happened in the light of day, without artifice or apology. They’ve even dispensed with the white hoods their fathers wore, and are proudly showing their faces to the cameras.
The source of this newfound boldness is no mystery. President Trump is writing their slogans, egging them on, and providing them political cover. He didn’t create them, but he certainly unleashed them.
Even after years of criticizing President Obama for not using the words “Radical Islamic Terrorism,” President Trump is predictably refusing to call this White Supremacist Terrorism by its name. Instead of a full-throated condemnation of white supremacism, Preside Trump gave us a tepid speech shot through with the worse kind of false equivalency:
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”
He promised to rain down “fire and fury” on North Korea and called the press “the enemy of the American people,” but when it comes to Nazis and Klan members mowing people down in the streets, suddenly he’s being cautious not to condemn one side without also casting blame on the other. To put it in perspective, he criticized the cast of “Hamilton” more harshly than he criticized the white supremacist mob that just killed someone. Saying it differently — when a truck driven by a brown man plowed through a Parisian crowd, Trump said terrorism. When a truck driven by a brown man plowed through a London crowd, Trump said terrorism. When a car driven by a white man plowed through an American crowd, Trump told us we have to condemn violence and bigotry “on many sides.” How much clearer could he possibly be??
Nor was this a poorly planned, off-the-cuff statement; the White House doubled down on its both-sidesism later in the day:
To be clear, because some of us do still care about facts, there was no violent leftist mob. There were only Nazis beating Black people and chanting “Jew! Jew! Jew!” when the mayor of Charlottesville tried to speak.
“This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back, and that’s what we’ve got to do.”
Even Trump’s weak-tea condemnation of violence on “many sides” was too much for Duke, who fired back a tweet reminding Trump: “I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists.”
Trump does remember. When reporters asked whether he wants “the support of these white nationalist groups who say they support” him or if he’s “denounced them strongly enough,” he turned around and walked off stage.
None of this is a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. Racial resentment among white voters was largely determinative of support for Trump in 2016. A majority of Trump supporters — 52% — see blacks as “less evolved” than whites, and 27% of Trump supporters say that African-Americans lack “self-restraint, like animals” compared to 8% of Trump opponents. In the primaries, polls of Trump supporters showed that one-third believed the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was a good idea. 16% admitted they believed that “whites are a superior race,” while an additional 14% said they were “not sure” (that’s a third of Trump supporters in total). 20% of Trump supporters disagreed with Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Nor is this attitude limited to Trump himself and his most die-hard supporters, no matter what we might want to believe. They are not the fringe — they are the right-wing mainstream. Republican leaders have been preaching literal white supremacy on national television since before they took power in November.
We saw this coming a long way off, and now Trump’s campaign of prejudice and paranoia has come to its inevitable fruition. Trump has taken hate groups mainstream and helped a radical fringe take over the Republican Party.
It was absolutely intentional, and it’s working.
Today, just like on November 9, many Americans are asking — what can we do to fix this?
The Democratic Party is out of power across the country, and the very most we can hope for from even the most moderate Republicans is the usual empty #ThoughtsAndPrayers. The police confirmed where their loyalties lie yesterday, when they stepped out of the way and let a white supremacist militia run amok. We are pretty much on our own.
As individuals, we cannot stop the Nazis from marching in our streets. But we can stop the next worst thing — apathy in the face of evil.
Everyone who watched the video of the moment a car plowed into the crowd and killed Heather Heyer felt sick to their stomach. No who listened to the chants of “White Lives Matter,” “You will not replace us,” “Jews will not replace us,” and “Blood and Soil” could sleep soundly last night without hearing the echo of those voices.
Good. If you felt that way when you watched what happened, don’t give in to the urge to turn away from the painful reality of it. Instead, go watch it again. Engrave that sick, outraged feeling on your soul and never let it lose its potency.
When the collective expressions of rage start to fade from social media over the next days and weeks, and people start to forget, don’t let them. Use whatever platform you have — on social media, in your religious community, at your family’s dinner table — to remind people what happened in America this weekend, and what it meant.
This is not optional. You cannot “stay out of politics” unless you want to enable white supremacists. As MLK said, if you are silent in the face of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. And in the words of Elie Wiesel: “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
There is a reason Jews say “Never Forget” when we talk about the Holocaust. Political amnesia is the grandfather of apathy, and apathy is the great enabler of atrocities.
“Never Forget” is not just a slogan — it’s a strategy.
Americans have uniquely short memories, which means it is on us to keep reminding each other. Practice whatever self-care you need in order to stave off outrage fatigue and the temptation to flinch away from the horror.
Don’t be afraid that you have nothing new to say. There is nothing wrong with repetition. Most people need to hear something at least seven times for it to sink in — and much more if it’s something they don’t want to hear. The message is very, very simple. Say it again and again, every way you know how.
It’s critical to remind people of what happened, and not to let the narrative get distorted. Don’t let anyone forget what the President did and did not say, the slogans being chanted, the people who died and who killed them. Don’t let anyone forget that the bad guys came for Jews and immigrants and Black folks at the same time, and that we stood together to face them down. Don’t let future tellings simplify the events of this weekend to erase either victims or heroes.
And while you’re talking and writing and thinking about what happened here, don’t forget to call it by its true name. Names have power, and it’s important not to let this slide away into equivocations like “alt-right” and “clashes over racial tensions” and “economic instability.”
Ultimately, what it means to #NeverForget is to hold the memory of what happened in Charlottesville clearly in your mind when making decisions down the road.
When Black folks tell you racism is enormous and endemic and threatening their lives every day, believe them. When Jews tell you anti-Semitism is current and rising and endangering their families, believe them. You may not see the smaller everyday manifestations, but this weekend you saw what white America is capable of. Remember Charlottesville if you’re ever tempted to dismiss or downplay claims of racism or anti-Semitism.
And now for the most important part. If you voted for Trump in 2016 thinking he was just another Republican, think about Charlottesville before you cast another ballot for him in 2020. If you didn’t vote at all because you had serious qualms about Hillary and you didn’t think Trump would be as bad as predicted, fine. All our fears were hypothetical before, and reasonable minds could disagree about what would actually happen. We are now living in the post-Charlottesville world, and reasonable minds can no longer disagree. Don’t you dare sit out the next election now that you know what’s at stake.
When the Democratic primary begins and the usual circular firing squad starts to form, remember that there were literal Nazis in the streets this weekend, chanting Donald Trump’s name.
We need to tear down the edifice of the Trump administration, and salt the earth where it stood.
All together now:
If you have the means, you can also donate to progressive organizations and local GoFundMe pages to help the victims of the violence in Charlottesville and help protect the people who are constant targets of the hate we saw displayed this weekend:
(Originally published on Extra Newsfeed)