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What white liberals like me need to understand about Charlottesville

Aug. 15, 2017
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Over the weekend, one of my friends was hit by a car driven by a terrorist in Virginia. I want everyone reading this to picture that scene. Yes, I know it's a horrific visual. I want you to think about what my friend—the victim—might look like, and about what the terrorist might look like.

Let me give you some more details: My friend is a former Boy Scout. He grew up in Virginia. He's a political activist. He's extremely philosophical. He's a prolific writer. He's one of the smartest people I've ever met. I hope you're picturing him.

I don't really know much about the terrorist, though I assume that he belongs to an extremist cultural or religious group who believe they are inherently superior to others that don't look and act and think like them.

Now let me give you some more details: My friend is an Iranian American who was raised Muslim and speaks Farsi. The terrorist was a white Ohio man who supposedly served in the US military. His name is James Alex Fields, Jr. He looks like the conventional terrorist in the U.S.—a white man.

And do you know what President Donald Trump said about the riots in which this horrific event occurred? He condemned the "hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” He did not acknowledge white supremacy or the white supremacist group that worship him. I am still looking for examples of this "hatred, bigotry and violence" from these protestors—or, really, from any of the people engaging in similar protests across the U.S.—but I'm not really finding anything.

So what I'm wondering now is where I can find all the people who criticized the silent, peaceful protest Colin Kaepernick made when he refused to stand for the national anthem during NFL games. Why are you silent now? Why speak out against that, but not against mass murder and terrorism? Is it because the terrorist looks a little bit too much like you? 

I constantly find myself wondering about the people who voted for Donald Trump "because of his fiscal policy.” I wonder if they now credit him with economic growth from policies the Obama administration put in place. I wonder what they interpreted "making America great again" to mean, because surely greatness does not include room for slavery, the Three-Fifths Compromise, the “separate but equal” doctrines of Jim Crow, or women not being able to vote until the early 20th century. I'm wondering how a businessman who has filed for bankruptcy 6 times—a pathological narcissist who said he wanted to ban all Muslims from our country and literally advocated for men to sexually assault women—was elected over a career politician with probably the best resume of any presidential candidate ever. But this isn't about that. This is about clinging onto beliefs of what is safe and good versus what is other and different and therefore bad.

If you criticized Kaepernick's protest but you're not doing the same for KKK and white supremacy demonstrations, then you're racist—and that means you're not truly the “patriotic” American you may claim to be. If you believe that the government should only stand up for people that look and think and act like you, then you are part of the problem. And if you think that the government and freedom of speech protects white supremacists as well, then I'm sorry but you're just wrong. Speech that directly incites violence—as does most hate speech, and as did the rhetoric leading up to the events in Charlottesville over the weekend—flies in the face of the government’s goal to protect and represent all people within it. Hate speech does not represent your freedom of expression, it just makes you a bigot, and the only good thing that ever comes out of it is that it shows the rest of us who we need to stay the hell away from.

If you’ve read this far, I can probably guess your response right now—some variation of "But not all white people..." or "I'm not racist because…" or something similar. If that’s your reaction to this weekend’s events: No. You're wrong. Don't even pity yourself. Get educated. Don’t hate people or things that are different because they don't fit inside your comfortable bubble. And don’t delude yourself into thinking that inaction in the face of injustice is a morally neutral position. Just be better.