In a world where everything seems off-balance, we cling to some ideas about what we believe is normal and solid. A standard of behavior we can all support.
When violence erupted this weekend in Charlottesville, many people (not me) waited for the President of the United States to say something comforting. They waited for him to condemn those who chanted Nazi slogans carrying burning torches. They wanted him to call out the racists and remind us and the world that this is “not who we are.” They anticipated a moment when he would say the names of the people who were killed and honor all those injured. Surely there would be a tweet and calls to parents and other family members in their time of profound and deep grief.
The moments came. Three moments, in fact. On Saturday, a robotic statement about law and justice prevailing. On Monday, a stilted condemnation of specific white nationalist/supremacist groups. On Tuesday, an authentic, at times angry, rant about the “good” Nazis and the bad “alt-Left.”
Today, as I watched people gather to honor and memorialize Heather Heyer and reflect on this latest eruption of hate in our country, I wondered about this fixation on condemnation.
What comfort does a statement from a man who has blatantly used racist rhetoric for years before running for the office to vilify his predecessor provide? How can a man who, during his candidacy, attacked everyone who falls outside of the straight, white, Christian, male identity boxes say anything to heal a hurting nation?
Why do we insist on saying this incident does not represent who we are, when racial hatred, resentment and animus has never left us and is always simmering? Without having a discussion about our national amnesia and denial about slavery, genocide, land seizures and warfare in the name of creating a white nation on the backs of everyone else, what did we think was happening as the number of members of hate groups increased during the Obama administration? Were we so naïve that we believed the spikes in hate incidents during the election and after Trump claimed electoral college victory were flukes?
Can any condemnation, from anybody, erase the truth?
How can we sit back and watch this administration roll back civil and human rights gains, order Muslim bans, support policies to limit legal immigration, tear apart already frayed safety nets for the most vulnerable and disconnect from the rest of the world and still believe any condemnation would be real?
Would it have made those of us who have been silent feel better? Would it have made those who keep telling us they did not vote for a racist and that they are not racist sleep better?
If we had heard the “right” words in the “right” tone on Saturday, would we be better prepared for what lies ahead?
The white nationalist/supremacists are reactivated and emboldened. They will continue to hold rallies. They will continue to incite violence. They will continue to fight not to be “replaced.”
And, we, whether we hear condemnations or not, have to keep fighting back.
Terri A. Johnson is the executive director of the Center for New Community.