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Hate and hurt in America: On Charlottesville

john a. powell, director, Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society | August 14, 2017

Like many people, I am deeply bothered by the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend. I give my heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to those who went to Charlottesville to stand up for decency, fairness, and equality, and who put their beliefs on the line against hate. I apologize to Heather Heyer’s family that we as a country did not do more to protect her life. I hope we do more going forward to honor her and protect the values she gave her life for.

We know there are people, called by various names and euphemisms, that believe in hate and white supremacy—these beliefs and these groups are not new. These people feel threatened by the idea of equality. When a person embraces the concept of supremacy, then equality is viewed as an attack. They believe this country belongs to whites. They believe that having people of color in positions of respect and power is un-American. There has been no greater example of a threat to their belief system than President Obama. It was not Obama’s policies they objected to, but his humanity. These people are dangerous and they must be contained.

However, I am just as concerned with the many in power who are complicit with this hate, and who are willing to exploit hateful ideologies for their own purpose. While no American political party has a monopoly on the sick and dangerous strategy of supremacy, it has been the mainstay of the Republican Party since the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Their Southern Strategy played up and played on white resentment of the Civil Rights movement to move Dixiecrats to the Republican Party. The elites who were architects of the Southern Strategy did not necessarily believe, nor did they need to believe, whatever racist tropes they were selling when using dog whistles such as “inner city violence” or “welfare queens.” To accomplish their goal of being able to garner support for programs reducing taxes on businesses and gutting regulations that protected the public, they needed something clear enough to signal to and woo resentful white voters, while retaining the ability to deny they were explicitly talking about race to more moderate whites.

This Southern Strategy has now clearly morphed into a national strategy. But the once coded messages are now explicit, loud, and clear, and are coming from those in the highest positions of political power. President Trump has been embraced by white supremacists and has only nominally rejected the endorsement of these groups. He has backed up his speeches to make America great again (read: white again) with actions and policies. He has taken one of the architects of the white nationalist movement and made him his chief strategist.

But Trump is only one aspect of the national politics of hate. The Republican Party is vigorously rolling back voting rights, gay rights, protection of Native American land, public education, and affordable housing—reforms fought for since the beginning of the Civil Rights movement, and for which many paid the ultimate sacrifice to secure.

For those who say this is nothing new, I respectfully disagree. There is definitely a clear historical precedent but the coordinates of the moral compass of what’s acceptable in this country are shifting. We are embroiled in a number of current and potential disasters from a callous and mean-spirited president, as well as a Republican Party that has lost its values and its backbone. The stakes are raised when the president refuses to publicly condemn white supremacist groups (or is too late and too lukewarm when finally doing so), yet is more than willing to attack those like Kenneth Frazier, a member of one of his advisory councils who resigned in protest over the President’s silence over the past weekend. Frazier is African-American. What about his white colleagues?

Yet there remains much cause for hope. This hope comes from people like Heather who stand up to hate with love. This hope comes from cities who challenge some of the worst aspects of Trump’s immigration policies. This hope comes from organizers who insist on defending the best American values. This hope comes from all who believe in these values and are willing to fight for them.

We must continue to organize and participate and do more in the face of organized hate. We must come forward with not only messages but policies and platforms that advance equality and inclusion. We must protect the protestors who take a stand against hate. These are people helping America be its best self. If we are to pull America back from hate, there must be supporters from all political persuasions and voices from every race, ethnicity, religion, and faith. If we are to stand for equality and love, we must ground ourselves in these values and we must indeed take a stand. We are America’s present and its future.

Comments to “Hate and hurt in America: On Charlottesville

  1. Immersed as we are in a mass media sea, it is easy to forget how soaked things are from it. Few are capable of independent critical thinking. Popular ideas are contrived and spewed down, they no longer spring forth from discernment and healthy discourse. We are told what to think. How to act. Who to be. It confuses us. Our ‘moral compass’ has been hacked. Hate is love. War is peace. Oppression, freedom. Tow the line or get crushed by the weight. Do not differ, or you’ll be forced to beg. This sweet sick sea of eye candy will drown us all.

  2. “The longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

    (Stephen K. Bannon, the White House chief strategist, interview Wednesday with The American Prospect, a progressive magazine, with magazine co-editor and columnist Robert Kuttner)

  3. All human same, no one is something different from each other. We must stay together otherwise nobody will remain to each other. Policies and platforms that advance equality and inclusion. I agree with that if we are to stand for equality and love, we must ground ourselves in these values and we must indeed take a stand. We are America’s present and its future.


  4. Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued a strong denunciation of the alt-right and the rally violence on Saturday, telling white nationalists there was “no place for you in America.” Democratic Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer sought to place the blame for the alt-right rally on President Trump.

    Both of these Democratic leaders were praised by the media for their response to the violence that unfolded. But, interestingly enough, few reporters are asking them about their responsibility in letting Charlottesville turn into a battlefield between political extremists.

    Law enforcement was on hand at the dueling demonstrations on Saturday, decked out in riot gear and looking prepared for the worst. Except they weren’t allowed to do their job. Police on the scene were reported to have been ordered to “not intervene until given command to do so,” according to the ACLU.

    When police were ordered to disperse the alt-right rally, that act directed the white nationalists into the ANTIFA demonstrators, leading to further street brawls. Police didn’t seem to try to get in between the two groups or suppress the fights.

    Does this sound familiar? It should: During the riot that shut down Milo Yiannopoulos’ planned speech at UC-Berkeley, ANTIFA were able to attack anyone they thought may be an attendee and wreak havoc on town stores. All thanks to a muted police presence.

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