Dear Mr. and Ms. “Blame on ALL Sides”,
I know this whole week has been exhausting. It’s been exhausting for me too. Everybody I know is tired.
And I know you think you’re being totally reasonable. It’s complicated, you say, the important thing is that we remain on friendly terms with each other despite our political differences. Clearly, there’s blame on all sides. Let’s just focus on getting along and do the best we can to avoid confrontation and mind our own business.
As we saw in Charlottesville last weekend, these days, the number of outspoken white supremacists in this country is growing. They’re waving Nazi flags in the street. They say Black people are savage “negroids” who need to be put back in line. They feel they ought to be allowed to shoot entire unarmed families coming up from Mexico at point blank range. They hate LGBTQ folks and Jews, like me, and they say horrible things about women.
It’s not a joke.
At 1:45pm on Saturday, as we now all know, James Fields, a 20-year-old male resident of Ohio and Nazi sympathizer, slammed a car into a crowd of counter-protestors, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and maiming at least 19 others.
This wasn’t an isolated incident. A chilling article from 2014 published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, recounts around 100 homicides committed over the course of just a few years by the members of the white supremacist website StormFront. What’s most horrifying about the story is that, every time one of the grisly murders garnered headlines, the website’s popularity grew by leaps and bounds.
If you can’t reject these serial killers as the homicidal maniacs they are without needing to interject a whole bunch of but, but, buts, I honestly don’t think you’re much better than they are.
Back in 2012, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children between six and seven years old in Newtown, Connecticut, as well as six adult staff members, nobody questioned whether or not the kids might be at fault for instigating the violence. It’d be vile to suggest that if the kids hadn’t been such brats, they might still be alive. In the face of hundreds of raging white supremacists calling for even greater horror, the situation in Charlottesville was no different.
My housemate from Rwanda who survived the genocide there says he’s really not sure where stuff is going right now, and I can’t help but agree. We don’t know. Sure most people in this country aren’t posting blatantly Nazi memes to Facebook, but most people in Germany in the thirties weren’t Nazi propagandists either. They just kept their mouths shut as their neighbors increasingly went off the deep end.
I desperately want everybody in this country to feel united with each other, but I believe strongly that remaining silent when our fellow Americans start calling for genocide isn’t how we get there. What should unite us is our shared belief that, no matter the circumstances, you really shouldn’t drive your car into a crowd of people or call for millions of human beings to be sent to gas chambers.
If all we’ve got holding us together is our shared desire to avoid any sort of conflict with one another, our societal glue couldn’t be weaker.
I’m sure some of the people reading this are thinking that, if only I knew you and your life story, I wouldn’t hold your unwillingness to “take a side” here against you. You’re a good mom and a good Christian, you just don’t believe in protesting. Your grandmother was a Jew. You love puppies and sunshine. But the truth is that your biography doesn’t matter here.
There’s only one real question at stake right now – how do you respond to evil? Do you sit by quietly, your hands in your lap, waiting for it all to be over? Do you condemn those brave enough to speak out against it for being too noisy, holding fast to the notion that it simply isn’t proper to raise your voice, and yes, your fists, like that? Or do you summon your courage and call white supremacy out for the delusional atrocity it is and take a stand against it?
As tempting as it might be, I’m not saying that we should stop loving our friends and family members just because they refuse to unequivocally condemn white supremacy. Love is hardest, and most important, precisely when our loved one’s behavior is abhorrent. It’s hard to love an active heroin user. Even harder to love somebody who’s chronic anger keeps leading them to commit acts of violence.
But that doesn’t mean that we need to condone our loved ones’ behavior either. If anything, loving them compels us to tell them what we think about what they’re doing and how it’s making us feel. As difficult as it can be to have conversations about white supremacy and what our reaction should be to it, I believe strongly that we ought to have those conversations anywhere we can. As long as those conversations remain relegated to living room chats between like-minded liberals and online comment battles between strangers, nothing will ever change.
Another reason why these conversations are hard is because in the last few days, there’s been an avalanche of victim blaming and activist shaming. Millions of Americans are now saying that we, the minority of people actively confronting injustice, are the ones to blame for that very injustice.
If only the activists resisting the hate groups in Charlottesville hadn’t provoked the white supremacists, they never would have been attacked like that. If only she hadn’t been a protestor, Heather Heyer would still be alive today.
But, my sense is that things are so tense in this country right now that, regardless of what we do, hate groups are going to continue gaining traction here. When some of these sentiments came to the fore last year, American white supremacists at least had to pretend that “All lives matter.” Today, with Trump, they’re flying their Nazi flags in the open. The more entitled and unencumbered they feel, the worse it is almost certain to get.
If you’re white and aren’t seeing it, there’s a good chance that you just aren’t seeing it because it isn’t targeted at you. They’ve been coming for my Muslim and Black friends for a while now, but personally, Charlottesville is the first time I can remember that I’ve seen a mass of people assemble against Jews like me. I guess I’m in the cross-hairs now too. Maybe you’ll be next?
There is no neutral ground here.
I’m not saying the counter-protestors are angels. I’m saying it doesn’t matter how aggressive they were. General Patton was no angel either, but both sides were not responsible for the Holocaust. In Charlottesville, one side was flying Nazi flags. The other was trying to stop them. One side drove a CAR into a crowd of people. The other got hit.
Staying silent right now is akin to watching your neighbors become serial killers and begin mowing down people in the street, and saying it’s too complicated for you to have an opinion.
The good news, is that for right now at least, as scary as they are, the white supremacists seem pretty disorganized. It’s clear that there’s a good number of them and that they’re both genuinely racist and incredibly angry, but beyond that, I’m not sure they’re yet capable of doing much more than sparking a riot.
But the more that our president, our governor, and the millions of people just like them refuse to outrightly and wholeheartedly condemn them, the stronger they’ll get. It’s on us, all of us, to stop them.