Given the clashes in Charlottesville, VA between nationalist, racist protestors and the anti-racist counter-protestors, I thought I would offer my thoughts and opinions about what is going on broadly. I’ll cover the nationalists’ side, responses from people on social media, and where I think things may go from here.
White nationalists descended on Charlottesville, VA on August 12, 2017 to protest the removal of a statue of the Confederate General, Robert E. Lee. This was perceived as yet another assault on what they believe as traditional American values and heritage. White nationalists, called to action by Richard Spencer and The Daily Stormer website run by Andrew Anglin from Charlotte, NC (as indicated by SPLC), of many identities (alt-right, Nazi, KKK, pro-fascist, etc.) from across the country gathered in what they called “Unite the Right” to demonstrate that white domination would not stop. Many showed up with riot gear and weapons (including knives, guns, cement-filled soda cans), giving every indication that they expected to engage in violence. Violence was had and, what is now national news, Heather Heyer was killed and dozens injured when a man (who I will not name) with ties to Nazi organizations took it upon himself to drive his car into a group of counter-protestors. Since Ms. Heyer’s death, Daily Stormer has published an article titled “Heather Heyer: Woman Killed in Road Rage Incident was a Fat, Childless 32-Year-Old Slut.” Intent is clear and the call to action by a Neo-Nazi website (as indicated by SPLC) and the number of people attending demonstrates the breadth of the white nationalist movement.
Although this response from white Americans predates the Nazi response to the “Jewish Problem” (see: Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash, for which I will write a review soon) it demonstrates a broader insecurity among those in power. When the Feminist Movement in the 1960s began to pick up steam and male hegemonic control began to wane, scientists (of the man variety) began to argument that the Y-chromosome was declining, leading to the loss of the male sex (see: Sarah Richardson’s Sex Itself). As white hegemonic control is challenged in America, we see a violent backlash as people’s social status is debased, leading to a loss of belonging, particularly in a class that they view as superior. LBJ said that “if you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” One implication here is that people are okay as long as they are not on the bottom of the social hierarchy, as long as they have someone to dominate. The disruption of the traditional class/race hierarchy displaces many and further exacerbates the sense of anomie and hate, blaming minorities (black Americans, immigrants, etc.) for their failings as they see mobility among those deemed inferior and not deserving.
On the other side is the counter-protestors. I believe there must be strong opposition to the ideology seen among the Charlottesville pro-Nazi demonstrators and many like them all over our country. Being a presence and voice against this hate is necessary but there has been a particular type of voice that stands on the side of anti-racism that I’ve seen on social media today that is of some concern. As I have a presence on Twitter and Facebook, these are the places I’ve seen this type of language but a model goes as such: “If you are just now seeing fascist, white nationalist, Nazi, alt-right as a problem, then you’re the problem.” This type of language is divisive and instead of making an ally in the fight against fascism and hate, it marginalizes. The type of ignorance that causes apathy and indifference can be broken by extreme circumstances like this. This is white privilege in practice. White people have the opportunity to be ignorant of the hate the festers around them because it doesn’t affect them in the same way that it does the recipients of such hate. This serves as a teachable moment in history where more people can be made aware of the issues that plague us and can then be mobilized against the hate that is becoming more visible in recent times.
Over the last 50 years we have worked hard to push abject racism and hate to the margins. It learned to be more subtle (see the Southern Strategy, the War on Drugs, police violence, housing discrimination, etc.) but never went away. With the election of Donald Trump, we see a reinvigoration and sanctioning of white nationalism, racism, and fascism which has made it not-so-fringe. These people have been around us all the while and now feel secure enough to come out. This movement isn’t led by “old people with outdated ideas that will just die off” but young, educated people. I think that we will see a greater presence of the fascists, Nazis, alt-right, etc. but at the same time, as more people become savvy to the dangers of allowing this type of thought, we will see an opposition build. I think (and truly hope) that this will unite us, across class, gender, religious, and race lines.