In the wake of Unite the Right II, I have been surprised by the reactions of some media pundits who feign surprised reactions by white nationalists taking to the streets of DC. They describe these angry mobs of white men as if their origin is strange or unknown, implying that Unite the Right II is not a reflection of America, or at least not the America they know.
But Unite the Right is America. It is a continuation of one of our darkest and most damning legacies, the inexorable foundation of this nation’s heritage: white supremacy. It’s the belief that white people and their interests are superior to all else. Some of us are just privileged enough to not have to see it.
I understand this disassociation from America’s legacy of white supremacy because I have had to work through my own ignorance. Growing up in a predominately white suburb outside of Cleveland, my understanding of white supremacy was a captive of history, limited to images of the Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement.
It would take years of self-reflection and self-education to refocus my perception beyond my privilege, to see the reality of the implicit racism and white supremacy at work in my own community and in my life.
Andrew Anglin, founder of white supremacist site The Daily Stormer, was born and raised in an Ohio suburb very similar to my own, an explicit white supremacy, easy to spot. I learned more about systematic white supremacy, like Ohio Voter ID laws intended to disenfranchise an entire generation of people of color and similar laws enacted across the country, a housing market that profits off of segregating communities, and a wealth gap between white and black families that would take black families 228 years to reach even.
The night before the white supremacist rally, I pondered what a younger version of me would have thought seeing Nazi flags at the foot of the White House Lawn. I would have shuddered in disgust and confusion. Now, this veneer of surprise is gone. I know what these people represent, from where they came. I know that the poison of white supremacy that brought them to DC permeates every aspect of this nation.
In the end, our counter-protest dwarfed the small mob of white supremacists. I found among the hundreds of counter-protesters an electric charge of kinetic energy and a feeling of unity; coalitions of folks from teenage activists to a moms carrying signs like “God loves all his children” chanted in unison, standing up against hate. More than anything, the counter-protest acted as a forum for people to come together and listen, discuss, and share individual thoughts and experiences.
The white supremacy displayed at the rally this past Sunday reflects what America was and continues to be, but it does not have to be the America of the future. If we maintain this momentum demonstrated by the counter-protest, the promise of a more progressive future is within our grasp.
It won’t be easy. It will take people like me looking at ourselves and our privilege unflinchingly, coming to terms with the system of white supremacy in which we have been complicit beneficiaries. It will take a conscious effort to elevate the most marginalized voices and to fight for policy that addresses racism at every level. It will take a push to put more people of color and women into positions of power. More than anything, it will take a united front, a movement working tirelessly to unseat the white supremacy that has reigned in America since its birth. It will take unity.