What we are witnessing in Charlottesville is nothing short of a brazen attempt to return America to an era of Jim Crow, separate and unequal for minorities and women, intimidating and threatening to those who aren’t up to the “white enough” test of alt-right rabble rousers like David Duke, Richard Spencer, and their sickening minions. They are racists, homophobes, anti-Semites, haters of women, transgender people, Muslims, immigrants, and people who don’t look like them, pure and simple. No need for qualifiers any longer.
The alt-right has moved right past free speech to indecency, inhumanity, and terrorism. Make no mistake, these so-called white nationalists are really white terrorists and traitors following in the footsteps of the Confederate secessionists who have been masking as heroes for bigoted white folks ever since the Civil War forced them to accept the fact that we are better and stronger as one nation. Now they are attempting to tear us apart again and they must not succeed, not now, not ever.
White people need to set aside their personal privilege, stand up, speak out, and stop being afraid to engage in the fight for equality and justice. People of color have been on the front lines fighting for a more perfect union ever since they were kidnapped, tortured, and brought here as slaves. The burden has been on them as we have mostly watched from the sidelines while they were lynched, beaten, deprived of their families, humiliated, and denied the most basic rights any democracy owes to its citizens. They began as three-fifths of a person in our founding documents and even today black and brown people are still being assassinated throughout every corner of our nation.
I am speaking to other white people when I say this fight is now on our doorstep. Will we continue to hide behind closed doors and decry the violence in the comfort of our homes? Or will we step outside and do our part to stand up for our neighbors and friends who are suffering the indignities and dangers of living in an oppressive world?
People of color and LGBTQ people (particularly those who are transgender and gender non-conforming) cannot walk down the street, shop in a store, go to school, eat in a restaurant, drive in a car, without risking harassment, abuse, arrest, and violence every day of their lives. Is this the kind of country we will accept and embrace? Can we afford to be silent any longer? Can you be proud of an America that treats its own citizens and millions of visitors each year as fodder for abuse and assault?
It is time for all of us to open our eyes and see what is happening to our nation. We cannot count on our government to support and defend us any longer. We must act as our own advocates and fight for the things we believe in as concerned and committed individuals: fairness, justice, respect, and dignity for everyone who lives in this country. And most of all, we must fight for the lives of those who are being targeted by small-minded haters who would destroy our democracy in the name of attempting to save it for only themselves.
Stephen A. Glassman is interim CEO of the Mazzoni Center.