What can white people learn from Charlottesville? Over the past few weeks, we’ve witnessed a number of massive public gatherings of white supremacists of various stripes. While we’ve known about the existence of such groups (because this country was founded on white supremacy, they are as old as America itself). But it’s only recently, particularly after the rise of Donald Trump, that these groups have been emboldened enough to organize demonstrations. This is undeniably connected to Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency, which supported their ideologies and pandered to the white victimhood mentalities that make them possible in the first place. In fact, after Charlottesville, Trump said that the white supremacist faction contained some ‘very fine people.’ He refused to outright condemn their actions, even after the murder of Heather Heyer. Such comments reflect the normalization of white supremacy under Trump’s administration.
While much of the mainstream news has condemned both Trump and the white supremacists, there has been a similar condemnation of the counter protestors, who are being lumped under the umbrella of ‘antifa.’ This is despite the fact that antifascism can be best described as a series of direct action tactics rather than a coherent organization. As white people, we must not be lured into thinking that both ‘sides’ - that is, the white supremacists and those opposing white supremacism - are morally equivalent. They aren’t. By that I mean, turning up to stop Nazis from terrorizing your streets, your neighborhoods, your city, is not just not-violent - it’s IMPERATIVE. So that’s the first lesson for white people: the media will try to tell you that non-violence is the only way forward, citing folks like Martin Luther King Jr, but in doing so they disregard the complexity of his legacy and his acknowledgement that sometimes, violent resistance is necessary.
Of course, we at Library Card are not proposing a Kangaroo Court, or lashing out with punches and kicks at anyone who merely disagrees with you. But for those who want and are willing to fight for a white ethnonationalist state, for those that seek to deport all non-white people, for those that violently desire to end your way of life — they must be stopped. Because white supremacists aren’t going to be happy merely discussing their ideas. They want to execute them, too. Not only that, but the more they appear in public, the more they gain legitimacy, and the more chance they have of recruiting more folks to their cause. And if the election showed us anything, it’s that there is plenty of white resentment and disenfranchisement that is open to being persuaded to a different worldview.
The second lesson, and one that’s really hit home for lots of folks who are newer to activism and such, can be summed up by the tragic death of Heather Heyer. Heyer, who supported Bernie Sanders during the Democratic election, was herself nervous to show up to the Charlottesville rally. She knew what most of us knew: that it was going to be violent, that it was going to be a massive display of white supremacism. But she went anyway, because that was the right thing to do. She went with her friends, and she went unarmed.
And she died anyway.
Heather Heyer’s whiteness didn’t protect her. The white supremacists didn’t think to spare her because she was white. No, she was opposing them, and so she was an enemy. And to my fellow white people: your whiteness won’t protect you either. White supremacists will not hesitate to use force against you. So we can keep our eyes closed, keep our heads down, pretend like none of this is happening and that it doesn’t effect us. But eventually, the white supremacists will want to know what side your on, and if it’s not theirs then your an enemy. None of us can do this alone. The sooner that we link up, with each other and with existing organizations, the earlier that we can feel empowered to do something about racism in America. So to my fellow white people: open your eyes. Do it for Heather Heyer, for the millions who died in the transatlantic slave trade, for the Native Americans who experienced genocide, for the black and brown people who must endure mandatory stop and frisk, mass incarceration… and do it for yourself. Because your whiteness won’t save you.