A path for racial healing 1 year after Charlottesville
This weekend marks the first anniversary of one of modern America’s darkest days. It was one year ago Sunday when racial hatred and extreme nationalism exploded into violence and bloodshed on the streets of historic Charlottesville, Va.
There, bands of Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan sympathizers and other white supremacists openly and brutally fought with those daring to challenge their twisted thinking.
In the end, one counterdemonstrator was mowed over and killed by an Ohio adherent of Adolf Hitler, dozens of others were injured, and two Virginia State Police troopers died in a crash of the helicopter they were using to monitor the protest.
One year later, it would be somewhat comforting to note that over the course of the past 12 months, America has learned some lessons from that bloody Saturday near the University of Virginia.
We are, however, largely at a loss to find such comfort in abundant supply. Once again, the prophets of hate have planned demonstrations and marches to mark the anniversary and shamefully attempt to legitimize their racist doctrines.
Because of a wisely implemented state of emergency declaration in Charlottesville and other parts of Virginia, the signature rally will take place in Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C., a stone’s throw from the White House. It is our hope that Sunday’s protests are not marred by the violence that defined Charlottesville.
Though some reports indicate that some of the white nationalist and extreme right-wing organizations have splintered over the past year partly over legal entanglements stemming from the Charlottesville debacle, many of us cannot help but feel as if time has essentially stood still since that day of unmitigated evil and rage.
POLL FINDING: Racism worsens
A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted this month in conjunction with the University of Virginia Center and released earlier this week also lends credence to the belief that racial attitudes have not improved over the past 12 months. It concluded that a 57-percent majority of Americans believe that race relations in the United States have worsened over the past 18 months of the presidency of Donald J. Trump. Thirty-nine percent say they’ve become “a lot worse.”
It’s no wonder why pollsters chose the start of the Trump presidency as the starting line for its comparison. Ever since the New York City billionaire and reality TV showman took office – and before and during his campaign for the nation’s highest office – he has exhibited a gaping void in moral leadership, particularly when it comes to race relations.
After all, it was Trump who hours after the violence and carnage played out stepped up to the podium with a disturbing message. He said, as many vividly recall, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides, on many sides.”
The president clearly missed the mark. His repeated emphasis that the turmoil in the college town the size of Warren was caused by “many sides” failed to make the clear and obvious distinction that the neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan’ers and white nationalists took the lead in instigating the rancidly racist violence and bloodshed that day.
Although in the days thereafter, the president tried to save face, his repeated words and actions before then and since then exhibit the same instinctive tendency to fire up a vocal and sometimes racist segment of his political base.
Examples abound. Just in the span of the past week, many can easily read racist undertones into his harsh critiques of CNN newsman Don Lemon, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters and NBA superstar Le-Bron James. In tweets and in speeches at rallies, he’s demeaned each of those successful and respected African-Americans as “low-IQ” or lacking in intelligence.
Dozens of other examples – from insulting the heritage of a Mexican judge to capturing and caging Hispanic children – provide ample evidence of his penchant for repulsive and arguably racist rhetoric.
It has therefore become painfully clear that Americans cannot look to the nation’s chief executive for authentic and compassionate moral leadership.
Instead they must turn to church and community institutions as well as positive inspirational individuals to drown out the vicious messaging and racist appeals that sprang from Charlottesville one year ago and continue to emanate from the White House to this day.
Responsible role models and a well-disciplined focus can help pave the way toward the widespread racial healing our nation so desperately needs.