Once again my home state of Virginia has had to declare a state of emergency around the issue of race. It seems surreal in the year 2018.
This time the emergency was declared in preparation for the one-year anniversary of the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” protest—a rally that left counter-protester Heather Heyer, a 22year old white female dead, and others, like DeAndre Harris, an African American male (who was beaten violently by six white men) seriously injured.
The purpose of this second rally, scheduled for this weekend in D.C., is to protest the “civil rights abuses” that the white nationalists feel they have suffered by being denied a permit to return to Charlottesville.The news here, of course, is not the location of the rally. It is that the same group that organized in Charlottesville last year feels perfectly comfortable congregating again in the nation’s capital. Perhaps the uglier news is that in the last year, the views of this group have made their way—sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly—throughout our everyday life and discourse.
On Wednesday evening Fox News host Laura Ingraham echoed the fears of the nationalists, when she openly declared on LIVE national TV that “we” are in “a state of national emergency”, and that we must demand that Congress “act now." The national emergency she spoke of was not a terror attack, a Russian cyber attack, or natural disaster, It was, instead, the emergency of "massive demographic changes."
Ingraham continued her diatribe, "In some parts of the country, it does seem like the America that we know and love doesn't exist anymore," she lamented. "Massive demographic changes have been foisted upon the American people, and they are changes that none of us ever voted for, and most of us don't like. From Virginia to California, we see stark examples of how radically, in some ways, the country has changed."
Ingraham finally said out loud what the rest of us know has been driving the racial animus under President Trump: white fear of demographic changes in America.
Ingraham is a national TV personality. But those fears she laid bare are also taking root in local communities. One black man, Ketchazo Paho of Bethesda, Maryland said a white man smashed him in the head with a bicycle lock on Monday morning after repeatedly calling him the “n-word” in the capital’s toniest neighborhood of Georgetown. Before that, the man had damaged Paho’s car. He received eighteen stitches to his head to close his wounds.
It’s unclear whether the person charged with the assault, 24-year-old Maxim Smith, has any ties to the white nationalists organizing the “Unite the Right” rally scheduled to be held near the White House Sunday. But Paho’s attorney, S. Lee Merritt, Esq. —who also represented De’Andre Harris—offered this:
“While there’s no known affiliations at this time, we know about the speech that he used, the kind of hate speech, that rhetoric, that is consistent with these types of groups. We have a lot of hate groups coming to the DC area this weekend and I think it’s critically important that we get out ahead of that, that law enforcement knows that they need to clamp down, because these groups are notoriously violent.”
Mr. Merit’s point is that people of color need to be on alert, because violence has now spilled over into everyday citizens, not just at official marches or protests. And it’s not just physical violence. It’s the subtle violence done to black and brown people over the past year in the form of 9-11 calls made by white citizens on black citizens for sitting at Starbucks, checking into their Airbnb residence, sleeping at their Yale University dorm, or eating peacefully at Smith college, which they attend.
As we reflect as a nation on what happened last year—in the normally quiet college town of Charlottesville—I think we can all agree that we are not in a much better place. Maybe even worse. The President of the United States, who traditionally in these situations is a voice of calm and national unity, failed our country miserably last summer when he hedged his language as to who was to blame for the violence. Trump infamously said, “there were fine people on both sides.” Unlike Lincoln, Eisenhower, Kennedy or Johnson, he did not call out the racists or their behavior. He did not call out white men carrying torches in the dark, spewing anti-Semitic, Naziesque chants.
Instead he argued, he pushed back, he stood his ground, and he tacitly gave his base permission to be angrier, more divisive, and more open about their aggression toward black and brown people in America.
Corporate executives who publicly protested Trump’s equivocation on Charlottesville, and resigned from his White House corporate committee, a year later returned to dine with him at his New Jersey summer golf retreat just days ago. It seems that all is forgotten, and that some of these executives want to be back in Trump’s good graces.
Will Trump make a public statement or appeal to these white nationalists gathering in D.C. to leave America and Americans alone? Will he call on the nation to heal in the midst of a year of ever-escalating racial turmoil? Will he talk about the immigrant children internment camps on the border, the violent deaths of African Americans like 18-year-old Nia Wilson whose throat was slashed in July by a white man on a BART train, or will he say nothing?
Time will tell, but my guess is that Trump will ignore this weekend and continue golfing at his summer retreat as if it never happened.
The most disturbing thing to me about where I see my country right now, is that America’s present looks a lot more like her past. Not since President Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, have we had a President so insensitive to matters of race, equality and national unity. It was Wilson who showed the racist Klan movie, “Birth of a Nation” in the White House. It was Wilson who oversaw the resegregation of multiple agencies of the federal government, which had been surprisingly integrated because of Reconstruction decades earlier. It was Wilson who himself fired 15 out of 17 black supervisors in the federal service and replaced them with white people.
Trump may not be as openly racist as Wilson. But his administration has made clear their desire to roll back affirmative action in education and in the workforce, he has literally caged immigrant children and separated them from their families, and implemented a Muslim travel ban to name just a few examples. The Trump administration is the richest and whitest we have seen in recent memory. And coming on the heels of the nation’s first black president, Trump ran on code words like “Make America Great Again” and dog whistles that signaled to his base that he was going to restore America to her so-called glory days of old—meaning those days when blacks, women, and brown people knew their place.
The question we must all ask is not just why have we not progressed over the last year, but where do we go from here? Will we give into our racists past, or will we come together, us, “we the people” and demand from our President and of ourselves a better future. Times are bleak but, fortunately, that decision is still ours.