By Jason Hines, Ph.D., J.D.
I am slightly ashamed and embarrassed that it takes incidents like what happened in Charlottesville yesterday to drive me back into the writer’s chair. I guess the very thing I have criticized has affected me. It becomes monotonous to continue to write 500-1000 words about how everything is going on in our society today is racist, or sexist, or treasonous, or just incredibly dumb. I bow to those who sacrifice their time and a little bit of their sanity to do that hard work. You don’t have to go far to see some of that work on the tragedy in Charlottesville. Everybody’s Twitter feed and Facebook timeline is filled with the salient points that need to be made – How the rise of Trump has brought this fomenting racism to the surface, how the false equivalency displayed by the President is almost as damaging as a rampaging driver, and how this is just another in a long line of incidents that prove that America has never been what its ideals say it is. But in the wake of all this hatred and rage and pain and death, I had two thoughts.
The first thought I had I then saw in print form on a site I really respect. I described it to my wife this way, “The one thing that caught me about the pro-Whiteness protests I saw in Charlottesville is that these guys are Joe in accounting.” We have this outsized opinion about what racism is in our society. And by we I mean, “White people.” There is this thought that you either have to be wearing white hoods or be bald-headed or tatted up threatening to hang Negroes from trees in order to be racist or a white supremacist. Only the most egregious forms of racism get defined as such. But look at the photo in this article – these people are the most normal looking average White people you can find. These people could be anyone, hiding in plain sight. It is photos like this that have made me uncomfortable in my church since the election. I haven’t yet figured out how to worship God next to someone who I know values a tax cut more than my civil rights. The photo is also the reason why I am reticent to extend myself to coworkers. It’s the reason I have been as unapologetically authentic in my Blackness since that November wakeup call. In short, if anyone wanted to know why people of color and ethnic minorities were apoplectic the day after Election Day, this weekend was the reason why.
The second thought occurred when I saw people like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz getting praise for calling Trump out. Now I must admit that the point is valid. If you want people to call out radical Islam then you can’t fall short in calling out White supremacy and domestic terrorism. Not that I expected any better from him (as Pastor Jonathan Martin noted, “How can Satan cast out Satan?), but the point is well taken.
However, I have no time today for feckless Republican politicians who are jumping on the easy stance of being against white supremacists who would run down people with their cars. A couple of questions – Where were you when Trump was using this racism to get elected? Where were you when he went after group after group after group and occasionally went after you? Oh you kept your mouth shut and gave him your support anyway? Oh OK. Then I don’t want to hear from you now. Also, exactly what are you planning to do if he doesn’t call out white supremacy or domestic terror? Are you going to withdraw support and turn against him? Nothing? OK, then I don’t want to hear from you now.
The same people you’re asking Trump to condemn are the same people whose votes you’ll be courting next year. So forgive me if I think you’re just an empty soulless shell of a human being who’s looking to score easy political points in a fractured and divisive socio-political climate. While I’m at it, all of that goes for Trump voters as well. Miss me with “I supported Trump but not white nationalists.” If you weren’t aware enough to realize that a vote for Trump was a vote for what is happening right now, then I can’t trust anything you say about race either.
Charlottesville isn’t new. The phenomenon of Trump is not that he created anything new, or brought back something from the dead. The thing that amazed me is the license that he has given for this hatred to be expressed out in the open without fear of reprisal.
There was a time when the latent racism of the conservative movement in this country was hard to ferret out because you had to talk about dog whistles and coded language. Now, this stuff occurs in the full light of day. And you could argue that was a good thing except for the fact that the condemnation that should follow after the spotlight shines did not come and is not coming. Instead, it has been encouraged and rewarded.
Jason Hines is a Harvard law school graduate with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at Adventist University of Health Sciences.
Photo: WH.gov Screen Capture from 8/14/2017 statement on Charlottesville.