Responding to Charlottesville
The scenes gracing my computer screen last week – snapshots of torch-bearers raising Nazi salutes and strings of white supremacist rhetoric to the smoke-filled sky – looked like something out of a movie where Hitler teams up with the KKK. Indeed, the images news agencies showed of college-aged men holding torches and shouting hate-filled, racially-charged statements at those who were opposing them were – and are – a truly frightening prospect. Charlottesville’s “Unite the Right” rally was the scene of yet another brutal vehicle-induced slaughter of those protesting hate speech, in addition to brutal beatings of counter-protesters. At this point, these sorts of events are so common that I am almost tempted to scroll past when my newsfeed blows up with videos and pictures of such moral and physical carnage, but in scrolling past, I would become one of the millions of bystanders who watch the world scream with grief and hate, only to ignore it in favor of mindless videos. But as a generation, we must try to push down those urges to ignore such disgusting behavior and join the fight towards a more equitable world for all; a world where we are judged “not by the color of our skin,” or our religion, or our citizen status but by the “content of our character,” our grit and merit which have brought us success, gotten us and our families out of war zones to begin better lives, and protested the oppression we have found ourselves under. However, this fight is not built on violence, and never has been, from the moment that Mahatmas Gandhi stood with the Indian peasantry against British rule, to the last gavel hitting the judge’s bench announcing the induction into law of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, respectively. Resistance is built on civil disobedience, research, and education in order to gain empathy that was lost in the fray of “progress.” Ignoring hate does not help, but neither does inciting it through hatred, ignorance, and violence of our own.
The United States is built on the premise that here, one can reinvent themselves, can begin a new life with new opportunities, no matter their race, religion or country of origin. And while we cannot ignore the sins of racism and white supremacy in the brief history of the United States, a history which has denied that dream to so many Americans, we can remember the goal of attaining that liberty. Especially in this time of turmoil at home and abroad, with groups emboldened to speak their gospels of hate, we can remember those who have fought and died to end oppression, and we can carry their message into this generation to create a more equitable world. Now is the time to reflect on our purpose as young students with the privilege of attending university, and think: what is it we will do with our knowledge? With knowledge comes power, and with power, used in a way that benefits all people, comes light. In times when our own president is carrying the banner of darkness and hate, we must be stronger; we must bear our torches of knowledge with pride and gather them one by one, until they become a beacon of hope in the night. As a student body, we must find the courage and the willingness to stand up to hate through the spread of knowledge.
But how should we attain this goal, when one side is not open to reason? At first, I figured that the only solution is to understand the perspective of the opposing side, as difficult as that may be. However, I’ve realized that many people uniting under hateful rhetoric are so steadfast in their beliefs that they are not open to understanding. This is where the difficulty lies.
Although the general public may not agree with their ideas of white exceptionalism, the people propagating these ideas do not deserve violence. They are human beings with flawed ideas that have been deeply ingrained into their histories and societies, and if they didn’t grow up with those ideas, they may have found them online or heard them on the news.
When police protected white nationalist protesters in Boston, they were not protecting the idea of white nationalism; the police saw a human being who was in danger of getting mobbed and protected him. When people gather in the streets to bring awareness to their cause, they believe they are in the right, and are therefore exercising their right, as citizens of a country that supposedly supports freedom of speech, to speak. And even if some perceive their beliefs as hateful and appalling, they do not deserve to be dehumanized. Reacting violently to violent behavior, whether by speech or action, only fuels their preconceived notions that people of color, minority groups and allies, are looking to hurt them.
The problem is that as a generation we expect simple problems and immediate conclusions; we are satisfied with the bare minimum and have thus become ignorant of the human experience. We have accepted and perpetuated stereotypes, both of white nationalists and of ourselves as representatives of minorities and their allies, whether through tangible violent action or through radicalized movements on social media and other internet platforms. People have forgotten how to inform themselves, instead trusting randomized “social justice rants” that show up in news feeds as informants of their opinions. This lack of education leads to something far more serious: a lack of understanding on both sides. A president is not the only one to blame for the faults of a nation. The closed-minded nature of people on both sides of this issue, whether because of deeply ingrained or learned behaviors, is only increasing the lack of empathy and violence that is infecting our nation. As students, we must remember the simple truth that violence and provocation should not be the first resort when it comes to disagreement. We must rise above the quagmire of hate that is threatening to engulf reason from all sides and strive for understanding. As students we have the power of diversity on our side; we have knowledge of the world and how we want it to be, and that is not a world where we are left without understanding one another, even if others’ views are contrary to our own.
We must carry our message of love into this breaking world, but without violence of our own. The small amount of people who are truly violent will always come to stir trouble, but we must not let ourselves get caught in that mentality. We must remember our message of love and diversity, and we must show those who are against us that love is more powerful than hate by refraining from violence of any kind towards them. Only then will those spreading hate truly grasp exactly what it is they are trying to destroy.
Eliza Partika is a second-year literary journalism major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.