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What transpired in Charlottesville last weekend was neither shocking nor the epitome of white supremacy. Rather, this was merely a symptom of the deteriorating racial progress in America, a shift from more covert forms of racism to increasingly mainstream and state-endorsed white supremacist rhetoric. What we witnessed was the consequence of the Trump’s campaign and administration appealing to popular xenophobic images with scantily veiled coded language to mobilize a scared people behind the fragility of “American culture and values.”
While images of this recent display of American terrorism and barbarism hold striking resemblance to iconic photographs from the Civil Rights Movement, black people in the United States interact with the lingering effects of Jim Crow and slavery daily. So, while I welcome the outrage and support from our “woke” allies, I invite them to stick around after the vigils and join the movement against the normalization of these repugnant views. Waking up is only the first of many stages in Bobbie Harro’s “Cycle of Liberation.” Creating and maintaining change requires commitment and authenticity.
Yes, crowds of racists holding torches are hard to miss, but white supremacy is entrenched in our society and in the systems we interact with daily. The same racially influenced tactics have persisted by way of voter suppression laws, the continued segregation in school, and redlining just to name a few problematic practices that deserve some of that liberal outrage.
Cautious conservative behaviorists will express disgust at KKK rallies, and comment on how the country has never been more racially divided. Without delving into the absurdity of that comment, I submit that this perceived racial division is merely a return to unfiltered discussions of race matters in America. The growing use of body cameras in the police force, and technology advances in cell phone and social media have further fueled this dialogue by making private thoughts and acts — however ugly — more accessible to the general public. These raw discussions of race make for uncomfortable Uber rides and happy hours, but we owe it to ourselves to push through, as growth seldom occurs without some level of discomfort.
While this country has yet to heal from centuries of slavery, or even acknowledge its deep impact, agencies charged with upholding the notion of “justice for all” continue to fail black people and other vulnerable populations. Earlier this month, Jeff Sessions announced that the Justice Department will curb affirmative action in university admissions despite the persisting race gap in higher education and the disproportionate enrollment of minorities in for-profit schools and community colleges. In addition to derailing progress made in public health with budget cuts to programs primarily benefiting minority and low income people, this administration’s criminal justice agenda doubles down on inflammatory racialized rhetoric.
Whatever remaining trust the black community might have in the government at large is quickly waning, even in more progressive jurisdictions like the District of Columbia, where we recently learned that the officer who killed 31-year-old Terrence Sterling will not face charges. The grand jury’s decision to not indict the D.C. officer, and the white supremacy march in Charlottesville happened within a short period of time, inflicting more pain on fresh wounds.
Although we have come to expect very little from President Trump, his inadequate response to the domestic terrorism that took place in Charlottesville did not go unnoticed. The way he and others have framed this event, and the killings of unarmed black men has the following Malcolm X analogy play on repeat in my mind: “If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out that’s not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the blow made. And they haven’t even pulled the knife out much less heal the wound. They won’t even admit the knife is there.”
Guillaume Bagal is president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA). He can be reached at email@example.com.
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