In the wake of the tragic events in Charlottesville, with the killing of Heather Heyer, the time was then for the country to receive strong executive leadership to prevent future destructive racist forces within our society. Instead, the US president of the electoral college, Donald J. Trump, chose to send a message of cowardice and complicity.
President Trump at first said that he condemned the supposed violence, hatred, and bigotry on “many sides”. Then, he read a statement from a teleprompter shortly after this shameful act and backpedaled by saying that he actually condemned neo-nazis, white nationalists, and white supremacists.
Then came a chaotic press conference where President Trump contradicted his 2nd statement on the issue saying that instead of singling out the forces of hatred and bigotry, Trump again doubled down on his first statement and blamed the supposed “alt left” for inciting violence in Charlottesville.
However, the President of the United States was deeply misinformed about the events in Charlottesville. When the President was referring to the alt left, he was referring to ANTIFA, an anti fascist movement that represented a small fraction of the overall resistance to a blatantly racist and xenophobic protest.
Yes it is true that there was violence between both sets of protesters and there are many opinions about the climate of the many protests that occurred in Charlottesville. But to claim that there was an equal amount of violent and hateful protesters on the white nationalist side and anti-racist side is blatantly false.
Most of the counter protesters were there to protect vulnerable communities within Charlotteville and came from mainstream social justice organizations that only fought back when they were attacked by heavily armed phalanxes of neo-nazis that saluted to Hitler. Some of the statements from these protesters chilled my blood, because they are antithetical to the constitutional liberalism that has made America a symbol of liberty and freedom from oppression.
But this question still remains for us all to answer as a society. How did we get here and what could happen if these internecine trends continue? The answer to the former aspect of the question is that racial tensions have been brewing in this country for a long time since the peak of racial integration in the 1980s.
The roots of this tension go back farther though. White southern elites were afraid of poor white and black Americans uniting against them to advocate for their economic interests. So, they created the Jim Crow Laws, which were draconian laws that created an unnatural separation between Whites and Blacks in the workplace, in food service, and even in restrooms, which institutionalized racist attitudes and prevented a multiracial unity that would have allowed for these Americans to tackle economic issues of class in the United States.
The creation of civil rights institutions such as the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act of 1965 dismantled the framework of oppression within the Jim Crow system, but the damage had already been done. Racism continues to be a learned behavior that has been passed down from generation to generation and the resurgence of this hate in the United States is manifesting itself with new inspiration from the White House itself.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the US had 917 in 2016, which is a 2.8% increase since 2015 and an over 100% increase since 1999. Of those 917 hate groups, 35 were in the state of Ohio, which was the home of the man who killed Heather Heyer in Charlottesville Virginia and sadly my home state.
These changes correspond to an increase in racial segregation in many forms, which includes our school systems. School district lines have been drawn for years to create more racially homogenous school systems that create a white flight effect, which was justified under the guise that these school districts would be better school districts at the expense of poor African American children. In combination with segregation based on socioeconomic status, the number of students attending socioeconomically and racially polarized schools is 20 million in 2016 compared to 14 million in 2001.
The results are that too many white Americans are not growing up alongside our black and hispanic friends and colleagues. We aren’t sharing experiences, culture, laughs, and ideas that allow for the creation of a diverse mindset of acceptance among all races. And this direct and indirect discrimination has resulted in social stress that has weighed our minority communities through the volatile psychological and health effects that result from this trauma within our communities.
But this trauma has manifested itself at a macro level as well. In the US Supreme Court Case Shelby County Vs. Holder Chief Justice John Roberts struck down section 4b of the Voting Rights in 2013 that required many southern states to preclear laws that discriminated against minority voters. This gave more states free reign to pass discriminatory voting practices many of them being passed in 2016 and beyond.
The states of North Carolina and Texas for example had their redistricting practices shot down by the courts for racially discriminatory drawing of the congressional districts themselves. Authoritative evidence points to strict voter ID that are racially discriminatory and often are not enforced in a race neutral manner. These stereotypes are endemic to the process of voter ID laws and even attempts to make voter ID less discriminatory can often fall short of amending the discriminatory impact through education and public transportation.
With these harmful policies that are institutionalized by statute, declining political institutions, and a resurgent alt right movement, we threaten to unleash a trend of increasing racial division that can only lead to 2 words. Ethnic cleansing.
In the wake of the partition of India, which led to Indian independence from British rule and the creation of the country of Pakistan racial violence broke out between the Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim populations of the country killing 2 million people in one of the greatest mass movements of people between India and Pakistan in history. It was due to decades of racial tension that was not properly managed by the British during colonial rule. Thus, when the British left without the proper institutions in place, we saw the results.
So, in order to prevent this from happening, we need to create greater racial integration in our society, by accounting for trends of racial segregation based on socioeconomic status. We need to modernize our civil rights statutes so that they put proper mechanisms in place to prevent discrimination of all kinds, which includes voting discrimination. Additionally, we must hold hearing addressing the rise of hate groups within our society and not make empty promises.
Finally, young people such as myself need to engage with the white supremacists within our generation and send a message that they are not welcome within our society like our student body presidents have already expressed. There is some cause for optimism though. Some accounts say that most of the counter protesters were white, which means that white Americans need to take a look introspectively at our history and continue to confront our complicated past and take steps to appeal to the better angels of our nature.
In conclusion, I will leave my readers with this. When I went to a fellowship retreat for a grassroots organization called the Ohio Student Association, we were strategizing about unifying economic and racial justice at a perilous moment within our modern history.
When I looked into the faces of everyone around me the day after Heather Heyer died I felt the overwhelming sadness, the grief, the anger, the confusion, the fear for our lives, and the resoluteness among us all to organize around the cause of social justice so that Heather Heyer did not die in vain. But in order to achieve this at a systems level, we must bring our individual experiences, passions, and identities together to form a monolithic block against this oppression and fight to build bridges toward the truest form of liberty that will set us free for all and in all posterity.