Thoughts on Charlottesville

Here, in no particular order, are some of my thoughts as I follow the news on the white supremacist rally, protests, counter-protests, and violence that happened last night and today in Charlottesville, Virginia.

  • No matter what they may argue to the contrary, “white nationalists” are white supremacists. We need to call them what they are. No group that chants “Jew will not get rid of us” and carries Nazi flags can deny that they are a supremacist group.
  • Donald Trump (his election, and the man himself) has given these people the sense that it is safe for them to air their views publicly, but bear in mind that it is not just Trump that is to blame. These horrific racist and nationalist ideas have existed for centuries, as we all well know. What is the most horrifying about the current moment is that the white supremacists feel empowered to take their ideas public, and THAT can be placed squarely at the feet of Trump and his allies (Bannon, Miller, Fox News, Breitbart, et al).
  • That Trump, as of this writing (August 12, 2017, 6:00 PM PDT) has yet to specifically condemn white supremacy, and has only vaguely condemned violence “on all sides” tells you that he cares more about not alienating his base than he does about the rights, dignity, safety, and existence of millions of Americans. White supremacists, online and in the media, are interpreting his vague statements as tacit support for what they are doing. In response to one of Trump’s tweets (aside: I still can’t believe that THIS is how the US president is making public statements), white supremacist David Duke tweeted this: ““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.”
  • White supremacists are still a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of the entire US population. They were outnumbered at least two to one by counter-protesters. This is a good thing – but not good enough. That these people feel comfortable showing their faces in public in support of their racist views is frightening. And being few in number does not mean that we should ignore the problem. Plane crashes are also infrequent, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do everything we can to prevent them.
  • Sadly, condemnations of white supremacists are interpreted by members of the group as shutting down their right to free speech and assembly, and a justification of why they need to fight for their views. These people literally believe that they are being oppressed, repressed, and discriminated against because they are white. As absurd and abhorrent as this view is, they truly believe it, and the more we condemn it, the more justified they feel. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to condemn – we definitely should! But it also means that this problem is much more difficult to solve than simple condemnation.
  • I’m not going to get into the reasons that white supremacists feel the way they do. My normal approach, as any reader of this blog knows, is to look at things anthropologically – which means using cultural relativity to try to see things from the insider’s point of view. Although I do think one of the keys to changing these hateful ideas is to try to understand them, the idea of doing that here makes my whole body ache. Still, I firmly believe, as in my point above, that simply telling people who think this way that they are wrong is not going to work, and may be actively harmful. I’ve never seen someone change their mind because someone else told them that they are an asshole.
  • White people need to actively acknowledge what is going on here. I know many people get defensive at the mention of white privilege, but we have to talk about it and acknowledge it. White privilege is what has made this protest and violence possible. As many elsewhere have already said, just try to imagine if this protest had been organized by any group of color.
  • Talking to our friends on social media is not going to help change this situation in the slightest. Studies have shown that most people live in silos with like-minded people. We can’t pat ourselves on the back for our horror and for posting something about it online. At the same time, sharing with like-minded friends helps us cope with our dismay, so I also don’t think we should feel bad about it. BUT: that shouldn’t be the stopping point. We need to find other ways to engage with this sort of thinking, even if it takes us out of our comfort zones. I already mentioned that just arguing with someone about it is more likely to reinforce what they already believe than it is to change their mind, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other actions we can take. At the moment, though, I’m not sure what they are. Minimally:
    • engage with your elected officials and urge them to support legislation that guarantees the rights of historically marginalized groups.
    • vote for people who do the same, especially if your elected officials are not already doing more than offering platitudes.
    • get to know people outside your silo, and practice engaging with them civilly if you find that you have disagreements. Some interesting preliminary research has shown that people are more likely to change their views when they talk to someone who is directly affected by a particular issue (e.g. someone who opposes gay marriage is more likely to change their mind after having a conversation with someone who is gay. Note that this must be CIVIL.).
    • show up for counter-protests if events like the one in Charlottesville are organized in your area.
    • work on acknowledging your privilege, if you have it – and then USE it in positive ways, since it will give you access that others don’t have (e.g. speak up if you witness abuse).

I haven’t followed my usual rule of including links that support some of the things I’ve mentioned because I want to get this out there. I may update it later. There’s a lot more I could say, too – so there may be other posts to follow.

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