Originally published in the LA Times.
2017 is blood-washed sidewalks, tear gas streets, the furious glare of flashing phones. 2017 is not peace. 2017 is familiar territory, unsurprising, but somehow regrettable, even when we knew what would happen. 2017 is not justice. 2017 is hypocrisy bleeding out of politicians’ mouths, contradiction embedded in their “condemnation” of a hatred they helped ignite and normalize. 2017 is not equality. 2017 is trembling, bitten lips, clammy shaky hands joined together to form a circle in the battlefield of what America is and what we know lives under the surface. 2017 is not fairness. 2017 is black bodies flung and slammed and spit on, torn apart on the concrete, citizens not at home in their cities, in their towns, in their country. 2017 is not what it should be, but it is what it is. To deny the progress we have made is certainly, undoubtedly, a great disservice to those who have so tenaciously fought for equality in this country. But, equally, to deny the horror is to deny history itself. So let’s be graphic here for a moment, if that is what it takes. Let us be brutal in our descriptions, our words, our pleas, as they are brutal in their violence, their hatred, their undying, unyielding, unwarranted and logically baseless spite.
If you are a white person living in America right now, please do not get defensive. Do not resort to that kind of personal offendedness. I am half-white, and I am well-aware that even though I hate it, even though I wish it weren’t so, even though I try my very best to dismantle the structures of it as best I can, we are still unwitting beneficiaries of white supremacy. We cannot flee from that truth, however uncomfortable it may be. We can afford to be uncomfortable when people of color are being murdered for existing, I think. I sound angry, because I am. Try to understand. There’s many sides to this that you don’t know. Empathize.
I cannot empathize with the men and women that stood on the University of Virginia’s campus with Nazi flags and KKK chants and bloodthirsty, senseless, passionate hatred. I cannot see the other side of this, because there isn’t one. This cannot be excused anymore. These people are not victims of multiculturalism; they are not complacent or uneducated. These people are aware of what they are doing and yet they do it anyways, proudly, gleefully. Look: empathy and compassion are important. They are what makes us connected, good to one another, makes us able to fight for justice where we see it being compromised. And- the First Amendment is important. It is a fundamental pillar in the maintenance and exercise of American democracy. But. Empathy and compassion are very hard to give to those who don’t give us it back. The First Amendment does not protect or justify violence. No one is “oppressing” your right to your opinion when your “opinion” kills human beings, stains lives, and considers some people less than fully people.
What the white supremacist terrorists – yes, they are terrorists, and that is what I will call them- in Virginia are actually “protesting” is beyond my own comprehension. To be a white male! The privilege, the entitlement to violence, to terror, to destruction. No rights have been historically, systemically torn away from them. This country did not institutionally enslave their ancestors. They have not been endlessly lynched, segregated, dehumanized, and legally disadvantaged. Protest is meant to have a purpose, to actually be against something actively compromising your individual liberties and human rights. The thing is, what they perceive as a threat to their “liberty” is actually just a threat to their privilege. We cannot afford an ideology respect when it kills people for existing as they are. There are opinions that deserve consideration, but white supremacy’s “merits” don’t exist and never will. We can’t pretend that this is just a normal exercise of free speech. It’s not.
And, of course, to the President: to “condemn” the situation in Charlottesville via Twitter, with no calling out any of the organizations or people causing that “situation” is not enough. You are responsible, in a grave way, for allowing this kind of toxic “belief system of whiteness,” to paraphrase Ta-Nehesi Coates, to thrive, expand, and perpetuate itself. You incited this, made any non-white, non-male person in America the enemy, the one to blame for adversity and all hardships. You helped make this violence erupt. So do not play innocent now. We all remember. We won’t forget. The same message goes for the rest of the GOP who have helped Trump at every turn of the way, most particularly Paul Ryan. If backbone and morality could’ve become before partisanship, before winning, before undoing our first black President’s legacy, think about what you could’ve achieved, what this country would look like now.
You complied with the President. You fought for him, defended him, pretended that you were somehow more innocent, more decent, than him. That is an insult to American citizens, to think that we wouldn’t notice the supreme contradiction in that behavior.
So what do we do now? If you are a white person, again, you need to reckon with this fact: you benefit from white supremacy. So what are you going to do about that? You need to get up, even if you’ve never been interested in politics or activism before, because you are an American, and if you really believe in that concept, you will agree that nothing is more important or urgent than fighting for every American to truly be free in this country. You will wake up. You will go to – or host! – a rally, a vigil, a symbolistic action of solidarity with the brave students who stood up to those hundreds of torch-wielding white supremacists in Charlottesville, a symbol of solidarity with all people of color in this country- you will donate as much as you are able to to ensuring that victims of the violence have their medical expenses covered, feel loved and respected; you will call your representatives, pester them relentlessly until they acknowledge and adequately address this hatred, and emphasize that it is not okay; you will donate to and support the NAACP of Virginia, aid the next steps and where we go from here. You will, most importantly, not do nothing. You will not rest or be silent. You will do something.
I know that the hashtag #ThisIsNotUs, popularized by Lady Gaga and other celebrities that I myself admire, was well-intentioned. But the thing is, this is us. Racism is literally the undercurrent, the blood, the clogged artery, of America. We are built on it, created on it. It is us, and failing to see that, to reckon with the inscrutable fact, is the biggest challenge to dismantling it. That we have a President who is seemingly physically incapable of genuinely admitting that yes, Nazis and white supremacists are bad, is not a surprise. It should not be. It is the dirty, darkest, most visible manifestation of a culmination of racial resentment and hatred boiling under the surface of this country. That we dare to embrace multiculturalism is a threat to these people, to those that want to thwart and destruct the very idea of equality. It scares them. When they say they want to take their country back, I wonder, from who, exactly? Europeans came here and caused the genocide of millions of Native Americans, so this country doesn’t belong to white people. It’s been stolen by them, through genocide, through enslavement, exploitation, oppression. We don’t want America to be that way anymore, but we must realize the past if we are to cut it short.
2017 can be resistance. 2017 can be love. But only if we make it so.