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Hate and hurt in America: On Charlottesville

john a. powell, director, Othering & Belonging Institute | 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.