As often happens after these pivotal moments in the social media era, various hashtags began to trend during and after Nazis descended upon Charlottesville this past weekend. One of those trending hashtags was #thisisnotUS. Maybe the people posting about how the hatred that was unleashed in Charlottesville this weekend really do believe that it was isolated. That we are better than this. That the bigotry that was displayed in such a viscerally disgusting way was anathema. Maybe the idea that “we are better than this” rings true to many because well-intentioned people are desperate to believe that bigotry is isolated. That it’s restricted to these nauseating public displays of racism.
But it’s not. And it is incumbent upon white America (myself included) to recognize that this IS us. What happened in Charlottesville is us. It’s gut-wrenching, upsetting, embarrassing, and horrifying. And it should be. Because we live in a society where racism, homophobia, and xenophobia are prevalent in every facet of our society. In every neighborhood. In every school. In every system that continues to provide a leg up to white Americans.
So it is us. This is America. We are not better than this. And the words of Republican legislators who denounce the white supremacy of Charlottesville quite frankly ring hollow.
Here’s what the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan had to say:
Nice sentiment. But irrelevant. Because the policies and positions Speaker Ryan works to enact everyday are rooted in the deep-seated systems of racism that allowed for the “spectacle in Charlottesville.” He praised Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, despite the fact that her family has donated to hate-fueled organizations like Focus on Family, which advocates for gay conversion therapy.
His dog whistle policies of blaming the poor have been clear: “‘We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning to value the culture of work, so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with,’ Ryan said.”
Senator Toomey Tweeted an equally hollow message on Saturday:
But I would argue that the “racism, hate and violence” was only “unacceptable” to him because it wasn’t packaged in a coded legislative agenda designed to target people of color. It wasn’t packaged in the vociferous statement of support for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ hate fueled agenda of xenophobia and racism.
Not to mention his cowardly declaration of support for Donald Trump just an hour before the polls closed on election day.
And the list of empty platitudes goes on. We have a President who simply cannot bring himself to distance himself from David Duke, or declare the murder of Heather Heyer by a white supremacist an act of domestic terror. We have a Vice President who just wishes the media would have understood that the President’s response was “from the heart” (yes, that same response where the President of the United States literally blamed “many sides…many sides” for what unfolded in Charlottesville).
So, no, we’re not better than this. We are this. Too many people in too many positions of power are in those positions because of a system of white supremacy.
A system where the son of the President of the United States, under investigation for possible treason, is described by his father as a “good boy"; and unarmed, 12 year old Tamir Rice winds up dead at the hands of the police-- and by too many, blamed for his own death.
A system where Chelsea Mungo, a Philadelphia 4th grader writes to her State Senator to ask why her school gets less money because she and her classmates are black.
A system where Laporshia Massey, a Philadelphia 6th grader dies after suffering an Asthma attack at school—a public school with no school nurse due to $1B in budget cuts at the hands of previous Governor Tom Corbett.
I don’t always know the best way, as a white woman, to fight this system. But I do know that it’s not about me, and that if I don’t stop to listen and really hear about the reality of this system, then I can’t fight it.
As I was thinking about Charlottesville today, I read this wisdom from Reverend Mark Tyler, and it is advice that we should all take to heart:
Every day. We must fight this system every day. Because even though this is who America is, it isn’t who we have to be.