standing for equality is not oppression; all sides are not to blame
Note: This is less a post on Charlottesville itself and more a social assessment, though the former obviously plays a signifiant role.
I have been staring at a blank page since the protests occurred, deliberating the merits of weighing in: as a disabled WOC, I feel some obligation to speak; and yet the Asian population in the US has not borne the brunt of white supremacy and the KKK, so maybe I should leave that to others. (I was, for the record, offline when it happened and therefore haven’t seen any commentary via social media, just news outlets.) Then Donald Trump gave another statement this afternoon—15 August 2017—again condemning “both sides” and calling out the “alt-left”.
He made my decision for me, so thank you. I think. This is now a different discussion altogether.
My reaction was and remains split between anger and sadness; I wish I were surprised. I am saddened that this occurred, that Heather Heyer and VA State Troopers Lt H Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke M M Bates were killed, that 19 people were injured, that students on a university campus not even in session had to see this, had to be intimidated by the presence of white supremacists. And I am furious that this occurred, that Heather Heyer and VA State Troopers Lt H Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke M M Bates were killed, that 19 people were injured, that students on a university campus not even in session had to see this, had to be intimidated by the presence of white supremacists. I am furious that these people, who believe they have some divine right of superiority, feel so emboldened that they no longer think hoods and masks are necessary and willingly show their faces and admit their participation. I am furious that this happened in large part because we elected a president who made public expression of these views socially acceptable—and before someone calls me a melodramatic leftist, I remind you that the protestors themselves stated multiple times that they were doing this to further Trump’s campaign promises, his agenda.
And before someone then tells me it’s impossible to control who interprets your words and how they do so, I’ll preempt that, too: I agree. But if someone is repeating your words and they are not out of context—and these are not; for anyone who distrusts the media, find a youtube video of one of Trump’s anti-immigration speeches—you lack a leg on which to stand. But even if none of that were true, it is possible to denounce someone for misinterpreting and misrepresenting you. Bernie Sanders didn’t send a former campaign volunteer to open fire on GOP members of Congress at baseball practise, but he had no compunctions about decrying that course of action. It should not take anyone 48 hours to say, in essence, “Nazis are bad”, and the attempted explanations are beyond insufficient: not wanting to grant recognition only works if that applies to every criminal group in existence, from radical Islamic terrorism to gangs; wanting time to sort out the facts only works if off-the-cuff remarks aren't issued separately.
But “racism is evil” is evidently now a newsworthy statement. There’s a very short list of things that can be pretty unequivocally categorised as “evil”, such as, say, terrorism. Racism used to be on that list, too—even most racists object to being labelled as such; they have other words for themselves that makes them sound more righteous (see: white nationalists).
Blame, Mr President, is not due on “both sides”. One side entered shouting racial slurs, among other things, wielding chemical sprays and shields and swords and semi-automatic rifles; the other side stood in a line with their arms linked, and the next day it was clergy singing church songs. True, the counterprotestors also had chemical sprays and blunt objects (the Washington Post called them “sticks”, which feels like it should be an understatement), but they did not initiate the fight. And, frankly, if I were preparing to stand my ground against a group of people I knew would have no compunctions about injuring me, I’d have some sort of “stick” with me, too, at bare minimum.
So yes, blame the unarmed people whose crime was being in the same space. Public space, no less. Blame the people who showed up to stand against racism and bigotry. That makes sense.
On a recording taken at the protests, one man declared, “I’m tired of seeing white people pushed around.”
At a Charlottesville city council meeting—presumably in 2012, around the time it was first suggested that the statue be moved—a man identifying himself as Jason Kessler said, “Every day you guys come up here and talk about black people, you talk about gay people, you don’t give a damn about white people, and white people have a right to organise and advocate for our rights as well. You people are implementing policies which are displacing us in our home countries.”
Well. Let’s look at that a little more closely. If I tried to examine every fallacy or contest every questionable idea in those two statements, we’d be here forever and I’d have written a novel. So we’ll stick to the major, mostly surface-level points and save the deep dives for another time.
For one thing, “our home country”. Unless you’re Native American, this isn’t anyone’s home country. Every. single. one of us is here because someone in their family chose to immigrate to the United States. Some may have come over on the Mayflower; some may have come in six months ago; but we are literally a nation of immigrants. We have all either had some ancestral responsibility for displacing other people, or we have benefited from said displacement, however distantly.
Now, the right to assembly and free speech certainly does apply to white people, same as it does to everyone else. No one is contesting the First Amendment. But just because you have freedom of speech doesn’t mean everyone has to agree with or even like what you say, and freedom of speech and assembly does not give you the right to terrorise other people.
As for white people being “pushed around”, I’m sorry, but we must be living in two different countries. I’m in the US. Where are you? “Seeking equality” is not comparable with “eradicating”, or “bullying”, or “oppression”. According to the 2016 census, the racial breakdown of the United States’ 323,127,513 people is as follows:
- White: 76.9%
- Black or African American: 13.3%
- American Indian and Alaska Native: 1.3%
- Asian: 5.7%
- Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander: 0.2%
- Two or more races: 2.6%
- Hispanic or Latino: 17.8%
Out of nearly 3.25 million people, “white” still accounts for over 75% of the population. Standing up for less represented groups is not “pushing the majority around”, it’s changing the discourse and acknowledging that other people who aren’t white exist as equals. “White lives matter,” they were shouting on Friday and Saturday. Yes, they do. The majority of the rest of us aren’t contesting that anymore than we are the First Amendment; we’re simply stating that white lives have been the only ones that mattered for a very long time. If that weren’t true, James Alex Fields wouldn’t be a “murderer or a terrorist…call it whatever you want”. When a white person drives a car into a crowd in the name of white supremacy, or really anything at all, he’s a murderer; people who’ve done the exact same thing and differed only by naming “IS” are automatically “terrorists”.
Saying other lives matter doesn’t cancel another class of life out—this is not a binary. If saying as much triggers someone else’s insecurity because they are accustomed to being in the majority, that’s a completely different issue. It’s still not our fault: we do not need to justify our right to exist and live the same way they do.
If someone’s been the only employee at a company for their entire working life, they’re going to feel rather marginalised if four new employees show up. But dividing the workload and the benefits and the pay among people who have earnt them, which they’ve done by getting the job in the first place, is not discrimination against that solo employee; it is equity, or at least equality.
One does not have to be racist to have internalised institutionalised racism. One does not have to condemn their entire race in order to acknowledge a history of racism in a country or state or family or any other subgroup. But pretending racism does not exist, pretending it was not the driving force behind this weekend’s violence, is blind and cowardly.
Arguing against giving equal rights to anyone whose sexual orientation is not “heterosexual”, anyone whose gender is not binary, anyone who does not look like you, however? That is bigotry and racism. That is what drove Charlottesville’s protest. And that is something that will keep happening, for as long as we continue in this political climate where such divided beliefs are encouraged.