White supremacy has yet again emerged from the shadows of American society. Protests in Charlottesville, Virginia against the removal of the statue of (in)famous Confederate General Robert E. Lee brought out groups on the fringes out the right which many thought had been left in the 1960s – namely white supremacists, the KKK, neo-Nazis, and fascists. This leaves the question, how could this have happened in 2017 America?
They’ve had a black president, so the problem should have been fixed, right? Or even if bigotry is still an issue, it’s much more covert. It’s no longer lynching, but it’s police violence. It’s no longer “no blacks, no Jews, no dogs”, but it’s “no illegals”. It’s no longer segregation enshrined in law, but it’s white flight, inner cities and the cycle of poverty.
Some of us, myself included, naively believed that even though racism was alive and well, outright displays of white supremacy were now so taboo that they would not be seen on such a scale. So-called “lone wolf” attacks maybe, but never again a vocal march of people opposing basic civil liberties and championing an ethnic white state. I wouldn’t make a very good psychic.
At the Unite the Right march protesters wore Nazi memorabilia, chanted Nazi slogans, and made Nazi salutes. One man drove his car through a crowd of anti-fascists, killing Heather Heyer, a civil rights activist. And it also included “many fine people” if you see through Trump’s eyes. There was a time, about a week ago, when I believed that there was a line that could be crossed after which no one could defend you, and I thought that line would be neo-Nazism and murder. It appears I was wrong, again.
It’s not that these people and these beliefs were non-existent under the Obama presidency. Racism and fascism have had a constant presence in the undercurrents, but the election of Trump has legitimised many of their positions, and his continued reluctance to out-and-out condemn white nationalists has brought them closer still to an accepted position on the political spectrum. Refusing to denounce these groups and offer well thought-out counterarguments could mean that fascist arguments are increasingly given airtime, and with that attention, more support.
The media also have to take a degree of accountability for the rise of white nationalism. Interviewing Nazis and calling them “dapper” is giving them a platform from which to spread hate. Not only that, but the way in which media outlets talk about race gives rise to more dangerous stereotypes. White shooters are never terrorists. Black murder victims are always somehow to blame. Christmas is in the firing line and white people are now the ones being oppressed for having to say “Happy Holidays”. You don’t get to claim “reverse racism”, whatever the fuck that is, then ponder why all these racists think they’re under attack.
The march on Friday night took place on the grounds of the University of Virginia, and some may be surprised that a supposedly educated and progressive place could be the site of such hatred. Yet this is not so much of an abnormality as you might think. It’s very easy to imagine that universities are areas of model progressive politics, but this is a bubble we’ve created. Student populations are far from homogeneous, including when it comes to politics. Just because you don’t see the bigotry doesn’t mean it’s not there.
This isn’t just an American thing either. Sitting back and patting ourselves on the back for not being that bad is a dangerous and frankly piss poor reaction. We also have fringe groups making inroads in to the mainstream political arena. We too have institutional police racism, just minus the guns. We have UKIP, now a legitimate political party with a huge support base, using Nazi imagery towards refugees. We have self-confessed neo-Nazis. We have acid attacks on people of colour. We have vocal and violent racism.
Again, these groups haven’t evolved all on their own. They’ve been fostered by a climate of fear and distrust of anyone who would stand out in the new Dunkirk film. When you see Theresa May’s “Go home or face arrest” buses, or headlines like “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis”, courtesy of the S*n, that’s not exactly going to leave you with a warm view of immigrants or Muslims. This has been repeated over and over again and once more it’s acceptable to say: “I’m not racist but…”. Papers and politicians point the blame at ethnic minority groups, stir up hate towards them, then stand back in mock shock when racists turn violent. There needs to be accountability for the words of people in the public eye, because words have consequences, and no amount of hand-wringing will undo the ramifications of violent rhetoric.
I’ve met neo-Nazis, and they don’t announce themselves with salutes and anti-Semitic slurs. I’ve worked with them, went to school with them, and they’re not boogeymen. It just slips out in a conversation that they believe that the Holocaust is a myth, or that Jewish people run the banks. They try to convince you that not only do the Illuminati exist, but they’re all Jews, and they’ve got the video to prove it. They make a joke about putting people in ovens or casually use the n word, and then you realise that people you thought you almost knew hold these abhorrent views. And how do you then combat that? They make out that the whole thing is a joke, and they’re just being ironic. Don’t be such a pc bitch, laugh along when they talk about “half-castes” and how Hitler was actually a decent guy. It’s not like they mean it.
It can be hard to root out this cancer in our society, especially when you’ve been led to believe that we’ve been in remission since 1945. We destroyed the heart of it and we’re more evolved now. Yet this just isn’t true. We have to acknowledge that there are groups in our society who advocate for whites-only immigration, restrictions on civil liberties for certain groups, and ethnic cleansing. The first step to recovery is acceptance, and we need to admit to ourselves that if it dresses like a Nazi, talks like a Nazi, and murders like a Nazi, it’s a Nazi.
[Louise Wylie – @womanpendulum]