Memorializing America’s racist past

graphic by Nicole Ng

When heritage becomes hate, and history becomes the art of forgetting, the only result can be an uprooting of the racist foundation our country was built upon. On August 12, five hundred white supremacists marched in an ugly movement whose roots spread far beyond the town of Charlottesville, Va. The “Unite the Right” rally was organized by white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and members of the Ku Klux Klan, a scene straight out of the 1950s, the perfect portrait of a racist America we thought we had left behind. They chanted “White Lives Matter,” while carrying tiki torches, subject to a countermovement of leftists who were not going to stand idle in the violence.

Beyond the fact that the American system of government is sanctioning the enigma of institutionalized racism in the heart of many American towns, the silence from our elected officials gives even more cause for concern. The Charlottesville protest was initially incited by the planned removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Once again, the path of destruction was paved over with silence.Though he eventually specifically condemned those groups on Monday, Trump backtracked in an impromptu news conference, blaming “both sides” for the violence and saying many of the rally participants were peaceful. Perhaps his reason for stoking the so-called “Alt-Rightwas as to not upset his white supremacists supporters, including David L. Duke (R-La.), the former Grand Wizard of the KKK, who stated at Charlottesville, that he was, “Going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump. ”  The response from our president was truly sickening, and a clear demonstration of the propagation of both overt and covert white supremacy.

I recognize and understand that the distinctness of the ideal of conservatism from self-described conservatives, who themselves may hold racist viewpoints. While some conservatives may be racist or ignorant, conservatism is not inherently a racist or problematic ideal. Many mainstream Republican politicians rallied against Trump, including former Massachusetts Gov. W. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.), who said, “No, not the same. One side is racist, bigoted, Nazi. The other opposes racism and bigotry. Morally different universes.” Many were in accord that there is no room for groups with violent and racist agendas in America, while others failed to acknowledge the wrongdoings of the alt-right subculture and instead blamed it on the alt-left. Corey Stewart (R-Va.), former chairman of the Donald J. Trump presidential campaign in Virginia, went as far as to belittle the entire incident as some, “Nutjobs who showed up in Charlottesville,” even going as far as saying “When you think about it, this is the far, far, far left. These are people, they believe the government should control people and stymie free speech.”

What many Republican politicians failed to recognize is that it is no longer about defending one’s side of the political chasm, but standing up for American values. So, instead of specifically condemning hate groups, they made statements against polarization in America or the situation itself, even though it was clearly not one isolated incident. While Trump did not explicitly condone hate crimes, neo-Nazis, the use of swastikas, the n-word, or any other examples of blatant racism, Trump has allowed a new era of covert white supremacy to arise as a consequence of his inaction against these forces.

The foundation of our country was built upon institutionalized racism and systematic oppression, which is visibly embodied in the statues that remain of racist leaders that remain a malevolent fixture of the American public square. The silence of the so-called ‘Alt-Right’ and many of those in the Republican Party reflects the image of a hateful and ignorant America, one in which voting for anyone other than Trump, as Duke says, “Is treason to your heritage.” The only way we can move forward from the display of blatant racism is by exposing our system of government for what it has always done with impunity, which is systematically oppressing the minority.” Perhaps the removal of a racist statue is just what we need to strike up this conversation of race.

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