From the Editors: On Charlottesville and White Supremacy
I’ve asked our editorial team to share their thoughts with you on what transpired in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend. As always, when we have a platform to speak out against hatred and bigotry, we must use it to do so.
If you subscribe to the Daily Rumpus, my own thoughts, below, will sound a little familiar when this afternoon’s newsletter goes out, but I wanted to share them with all of our readers.
From kindergarten through the fifth grade, I attended an Orthodox Jewish day school. My family was not Orthodox, but the school was just a few blocks away from my childhood home and convenience beat doctrine, for a while.
As a result, I spent my early school years pretty immersed in Jewish studies and culture. And, I was exposed to the Holocaust at a very young age; one of my earliest school memories is sitting in the auditorium watching black and white footage of the concentration camps. The images—giant holes in the earth filled with too many dead to count, barricades crowded with bunk beds, skeletal bodies—seared themselves into my brain.
I’ve always had nightmares and trouble sleeping. I only stopped having night terrors in my mid-twenties. And the Holocaust makes good fodder for nightmares. Through my childhood, I would wake sure that I was being taken away to a camp. But as I grew older, life offered plenty of material for my nightmares and the once-regular scary dreams about the Holocaust were replaced by other scary dreams.
Until sometime in 2016. As then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign became more legitimate and more hateful in its rhetoric, and white supremacists became more and more emboldened, my Holocaust nightmares returned. Now, it’s my child being taken away. Now, I’m being stopped from getting on a plane and interrogated about The Rumpus. I do not wake from these nightmares feeling rested.
I am not religious. I don’t believe in God, as such. But I always identify as Jewish, and when I need to explain why, I do it thusly: Nazis would kill me, whether I believe in God and practice Judaism or not. So, I am Jewish. Never forget.
I never thought that white supremacists ceased to exist. Our country was built on white terrorism. But I did feel safe, personally, from violence. And now, I don’t. I feel safer than I know many others feel, and I am grateful for my privilege but also angry that my privilege leaves others at greater risk.
If you aren’t speaking out against the violence and hatred being espoused by white supremacists, you are complicit in that violence and hatred. If you aren’t terrified by what is happening in Charlottesville, you aren’t paying attention. American Nazis and the KKK are marching in our streets, and we have a president who refused to directly address this for days but who did find time to incite nuclear war on Twitter.
This is reality, this is right now, and this is wrong.
– Marisa Siegel, Rumpus Editor-in-Chief
I’m angry at what is happening to this country. I’m angry that we spend a lot of time being victimized by white rage, capitulating to white rage, justifying white rage, when what about the rage of immigrants of people of color? The people who, time after time, bear the burden of hate on their bodies and with their lives? Rage in marginalized groups is often trivialized or demonized, but the anger here, the anger we see in response to the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, is just as vital to our nation as peace and love and unity. It has just as much right to be on the streets as any disaffected white man.
Anger gives us passion to take action and make change. Be angry and let that anger make a difference.
– Lyz Lenz, Managing Editor
What happened in Charlottesville leaves me stunned-not-stunned. Ask any person of color about white supremacists, and our faces will tell you this is no surprise. We may say we’re shocked, but we are not. This is our normal. We are tired. We get up every day anyway, and most of us live to the next. We find a way to be happy against the variety of injustices, microaggressions, and blatant discrimination.
I was born in New York City and grew up in a white suburban town in 1980s Southern California where not a day went by without being called a “chink” or told to “go back where you came from.” I am, by all definitions, an American. But my American identity is not what racists seek—they want me gone because of the color of my skin, and the features of my face. They seek to blame. Racism is hateful—but it is also a lazy way to navigate the world. And when we see a lie, we must call it out.
There were many times in my childhood where I wish I’d spoken out, but instead chose to be polite. I have sat down with the Optimists and accepted an essay award from them at the age of thirteen, and quietly suffered the Korean war veterans telling me that they “saved” me, that I “owed” them and that my English was “very good for a Korean.”
To all this I said, “Thank you,” because I was taught to be polite above all else.
I hope that as an adult, I have made up for some of my silence. I am, for one, more afraid of the consequences of racism than I am of racism itself.
We have never had a president in modern times do anything but condemn racism and white supremacy, so Trump’s response as the president of our country is stunning. But his decision to blame “many sides” is stunning-not-stunning. He has a track record of supporting Nazis and white supremacists, a large part of his supporter base. And he is himself racist.
Where does this then end, if the leader of our country effectively gives white supremacists permission to spread hate and violence? Where does this end, if the leader of our country disregards people of color, LGTBQs, the sick, and the impoverished?
Even if our government is not of the people or for the people, we are still a country by the people. We must resist. We cannot be silent. Even as I write this, I feel rage and pain; this is not comfortable to write.
Last fall, I watched hundreds of thousands of South Korean citizens, enraged by their president’s negligence and corruption, oust their president through weekly, organized protests numbering in the hundreds of thousands. This was an entire country speaking for itself. For three months, South Koreans called for then-president Park Geun-Hye’s impeachment; one month into the protest timeline, 1.9 million, or four percent of the country’s population, gathered in the streets of Seoul. The equivalent in the United States would be twelve million people.
It’s time for Americans—all Americans—to do the same. We have been polite long enough.
– Christine Hyung-Oak Lee, Features Editor
It is as inevitable as sunrise: after an outbreak of hatred against a minority group, many public figures come forward in a public space to say some version of “that’s not what this country is about.” They are often (though not exclusively) politicians, and they are overwhelmingly white. They’re also wrong.
You don’t have to have a history degree to recognize the racism this country was founded in and reifies daily. (I’m mainly talking to my fellow white people here. People of color know this intimately already.) Proof that white supremacy is what this country is all about is evident in the person of the current president, a man who ignored reporters when they asked him if he condemned white supremacy. It’s evident in the way the Charlottesville police responded to the violence at the protest, especially when compared to the force other departments have used against people of color both at protests and in the course of a normal day. It’s evident in incarceration rates, poverty rates, graduation rates, in the ways schools and cities and police forces are funded in this country.
It’s important to acknowledge that this is exactly what our country is about because if we keep lying to ourselves, we’ll never be driven to change things. The people at that march are our cousins, our coworkers, our neighbors. We sit beside them at restaurants and we talk to them on the phone when we can’t figure out how to change a password and we complain to them in whispers about the length of the PTA meeting before open house for the kids. There’s probably more than a few of them on your Facebook friends list, too.
I get where the impulse to ignore this comes from. As a white male, I hate the thought that a stranger might look at me and think it’s okay for him to use a racial slur in my presence, that a racist would see me as a potential ally. In that situation I might overcorrect and say “Those racists are so out of the mainstream that they’re not even really American.”
But they elected a president. They voted for a man who ran on the most openly racist platform in the last hundred years (at least) and either loudly applauded him or were at least okay enough with what he said to not have it be a deal-breaker for them. There’s a lot of racist people in this country, and it’s past time that we admitted it.
– Brian Spears, Senior Poetry Editor
The reports coming in from Charlottesville this weekend, and the baby-in-chief’s absurd, non-condemning response about wrongdoing on “many sides,” reminded me for the zillionth time of that Huffington Post article entitled, “I Don’t Know How to Explain to You that You Should Care about Other People.” I even parodied it on Twitter as “I Don’t Know How to Explain to You that ‘White Nationalist’ Is an Appalling Thing to Be and that You Don’t Decide Who Gets to Live Here,” an attempt to wrap my brain around a historical moment in which people who openly believe in their alleged racial “supremacy” feel comfortable both expressing these thoughts at all, to anyone, ever, and, marching in public to proclaim these beliefs, dressed in actual Nazi and KKK garb.
Why is it even possible to align oneself, proudly and publicly, with groups known for murdering people? And to think that this alignment is a noble one, meant to “save” something? I can’t conceive of a world in which saying “I am a white supremacist” is not met with the same unanimous condemnation as “I am a pedophile” or “I am a murderer.” And I won’t. White supremacist, white nationalist, neo-Nazi… these are shameful, invalid identities to claim. The imaginary “all-white America” these murder-sympathizers hope to “reclaim” never existed and will never exist. I Don’t Know How to Explain to You that You Are a Curse Word and Your Outrageous Beliefs Reveal a Lifetime of Impotence Not Likely to Change, but we see you, and we condemn you.
– Sarah Lyn Rogers, Fiction Editor
Mostly my heart aches for the mother who woke up this morning and remembered her daughter is forever gone. Hatred is a sickness of confusion, a disease of lost humanity. No one should die at its hands, which is all it wants. It should be met with its opposite: reasoned counter-strategies of nonviolence forming an immovable wall of calm. It should be met with unwavering respect for human life and human dignity.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has released a campus guide to countering the alt-right, and this link provides a quick rundown on all the smart, effective ways to respond to Nazis, the KKK, and other organized hate groups when they show themselves near you.
These strategies hurt them far more than “punching” them. And resorting to fists is only what they want—their ideas are the despised diarrhea of the most corrupt and rotted bowels of history; their only “hope” is to drag everyone else down into the filth with them.
They want a street brawl. They want chaos. They want physical violence. They want it to seem plausible that there’s “blame” on “many sides.” History shows the strategies that work best: organize better events at a good distance, to draw everyone away, organize local businesses to close so the haters can’t find food or toilets—use public and private resources to isolate the haters while everyone else celebrates diversity in their absence. Methods like these are well-thought-out, well-organized, nonviolent—and effective. Please help STRATEGIC NONVIOLENCE go viral. A lot depends on it.
– Amy Letter, Features Editor
The events that transpired in Charlottesville are appalling. Things will get worse. You want to believe people are better than this, but they aren’t. The thing that frightens you is not the revelation that Nazis still exist because you always knew a few people you suspected of that sort of thing. Really, it is how you always have thought of the South and those places in the middle. The thing that frightens you is that you warned people. You warned the family members who wanted to vote for Donald Trump, who brought all this on. And then you realize maybe your family members who voted for Donald Trump would also support Nazis or dance around a burning cross covered in white robes. Maybe you now must acknowledge that the uncle who threatened to skip his daughter’s wedding because she was marrying a black man or your mother’s cousin who uses phrases like “those people” would have been marching right alongside those Nazis. Did they already forget why my grandfather left Mussolini’s Italy? Why he returned to Europe wearing the uniform of an American soldier; why he learned to shoot a gun; why he maybe killed some other teenager? Did they need to look again at the photographs of the camps he smuggled passed the Army censors? You realize the bubble you live in isn’t as big as you thought and remember that sometimes bubbles pop in the slightest breeze. You check your passport expiration date and memorize the route to the nearest border crossing. They are coming for you. They are coming for all of us.
– Ian MacAllen, Interviews Editor
Black lives, Muslim lives, Jewish lives, LGBTQ lives, Native lives, brown lives, Asian lives, Latino/a lives, disabled lives, and all marginalized lives: I see you, and stand with you, and your lives matter. I admire your courage, strength, anger, action, joy, and grace in the face of so much hate and history. I will keep working to honor you and protect your lives as editor, poet, mother, and citizen.
– Molly Spencer, Poetry Editor
On Saturday night amongst the abundance of Charlottesville posts on my Facebook timeline, one post stood out from the rest. A guy who had played on my high school basketball team expressed confusion about the media painting white nationalists as a problem: “I’m white and I hold nationalist views regarding the US looking out for ourselves first and other nations second. So why are we being held responsible for Charlottesville?” I reached out to him. I thought, “No way does he not know what white nationalism is,” but he claimed to have no clue what white nationalism was. Twenty minutes after I sent him the link to this Wikipedia page, he messaged me to say he felt foolish and that he had removed his post.
Yesterday my wife, Ashley, and I went to see Wonder Woman—a movie that we had somehow managed not to see until now. The film felt felicitous in the context of Charlottesville. In the climactic scene, Diana chooses to see the good in humankind and to defeat Ares the god of war, though she has no obligation to do so, while Steve Trevor flies a gas-bomb plane into the atmosphere, detonating it where it cannot harm anyone else. Ultimately, both characters sacrifice themselves for others, showing in the end that hate and violence are no match for love.
An important message, and one much-needed of late. But how is a person practically supposed to love and sacrifice oneself when faced with real-world alt-right/white nationalist furor? Aside from the obvious answers—protesting, donating money—dialogue itself can be a sacrifice. Just recently the Washington Post featured my friend Stacy Nelson, who struck up a dialogue with an incarcerated former neo-Nazi, telling him about a time when her grandparents were attacked by the KKK. This conversation was not an easy or simple one to start, yet it ultimately proved beneficial to both parties.
Interacting with my high school buddy who claimed to know nothing of white nationalism got me curious, so I did some cursory research and found some staggering numbers. According to the Pew Research Center, “54% of US adults say they have heard ‘nothing at all’ about the ‘alt-right’ movement and another 28% have heard only ‘a little’ about it.” That’s 82% of US adults, a number which I can hardly comprehend. I would like to think that fewer than eight out of every ten adults I know are more informed than this, but I’m not sure anymore. When I posted a link to the above article, yet another person who I would have expected to be informed contacted me and expressed ignorance regarding the alt-right movement.
For me, these interactions evidence the danger of silence and the necessity of using the platforms at our disposal to take a stand, to call people out, to engage in dialogue, to create opportunities for education, and to dispense love in the face of violence. It is silence that allows people to remain uninformed.
– Robbie Maakestad, Assistant Features Editor
Skinny. White. Twerps.
The English language offers a colorful panoply of disparaging terms for women, people of color, and other marginalized groups. There has always been—and there remains—a woeful dearth of useful epithets for entitled white men, the kind of terms that can make someone feel less-than (which is, of course, the goal of such terms). Sure, you can call someone a “dick” or an “asshole,” but is that really satisfying? Not for me (not least because I often half-joke that I myself am a dick or an asshole, even though I am female).
That said, there is a term I’d like to resurrect and encourage the use of—a term that really can only apply to men, and usually applies best to white men at that. Technically, its definition is “a silly or annoying person,” but rarely, if ever, have I heard the term deployed to describe a woman (perhaps because there are so many other words for them?). That word is “twerp.” I once dated a man, briefly, who confessed that being called a “skinny twerp” was among his greatest fears (I kept that in my back pocket). Whenever I see this weekend’s iconic images of the white supremacist tiki-traitors, all manner of indignations pulse through my veins, as they surely do for any reasonable and compassionate human being. And at risk of suggesting that all the white supremacists in Charlottesville are male (they are not) or particularly slender (they are not), I find it ennobling to call them all, en masse, “skinny white twerps.” These men—fragile, puny, a disgrace to our country—are twerps, twerps, twerps.
Say it with me: Skinny. White. Twerps. Now, do you feel a bit better? That’s good. Because we cannot grant them the gravity, the muscle, the power, that they ever so utterly, pathetically desire but lack.
– Eileen G’Sell, Features Editor
– Brandon Hicks, Comics Editor
Feature image via Creative Commons.