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Charlottesville: America The Real Versus America The Ideal

It is a held American belief that racism disintegrates as time passes. The reality constantly reveals otherwise.

08/18/2017 10:31 EDT | Updated 08/18/2017 10:31 EDT

America's historic embrace of the Confederate flag is indicative of a collective failure to eradicate white supremacy as an ideology, and is in great part contributory to the recent attack in Charlottesville.

The violence that erupted at the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last Saturday can clearly be seen as a wake –up call for America, especially those who repeatedly avow that the world has changed and America is a post-racial society. Despite the absence of white robes, nooses and burning crosses, the largest organized gathering of armoured and armed white supremacists in almost a generation, in the aptly named Emancipation Park, confirmed that the terrible red record of racism in the southern United States is not a thing of the past.

The flames of racial hatred are once again lit and need to be extinguished. As the marchers' torches blazed brightly, the presenting image drove gut-wrenching fear and terror into the minds, hearts and souls of African-American citizens, as they came face to face with a modern day vision of the past.

Joshua Roberts / Reuters
Members of white nationalist protesters hold shields as they clash against a group of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., Aug. 12, 2017.

The U.S. has openly failed in disrupting or dismantling white supremacy as a prominent ideology. Support for white supremacist philosophy has historically been allowed to fester almost unchecked. Case in point is the Confederate flag — a symbol that was proudly displayed by white supremacists during the Charlottesville protests. The historic implication of the flag is that it typifies a sect of turncoats who left the Union and went to war to secure a way of life that included white supremacy, black subordination and chattel slavery.

Today, even in the face of this notable history, and General Robert E. Lee's appeals for the alienating flag to be put to rest, the Confederate flag is still allowed to fly freely, with some form of it even embedded in certain state flags. In contrast, in Germany, Nazi flags, symbols and insignias were banned following the collapse of the Third Reich in the Second World War, and currently it is a criminal offence to display Nazi symbols.

America's historic endearment and embrace of the Confederate flag is in part contributory to what recently took place in Charlottesville. The chickens came home to roost.

Since its founding, America has been guilty of intellectual dishonesty, perpetually prepared to seek refuge in go-to clichés: "This is not America." or "We are better than this."

Seemingly it is far much easier to denounce neo-Nazi protestors than to enact policies that destroy and deflect from the structure and policy of white supremacists. There may certainly be more to America than Saturday's ugliness that left death and injury in its wake, but what is not acknowledged cannot be fixed. There are those looking at America the ideal rather than America the actual. We must first see America as it actually is.

Modern racism is converting to its former out-in-the-open form.

Unheeded forewarning

In 2009, the Extremism and Radicalization Branch of the Homeland Security formulated a report warning of the significant terror threat posed by white supremacist groups.

This report received harsh criticism and disbelief. Giving in to political pressure, the Department of Homeland Security eventually backed off on the report and dispersed the team that produced the report. The threat of white supremacist ideology received kid-glove treatment, even when it attracted increased scrutiny during the last presidential elections.

Name change

A name change occurred, and the term "alt-right" started being used to describe a movement including white supremacists, racists and neo-Nazis. The non-profit news agency Associated Press had to eventually disseminate guidelines governing its use, as the term was so baffling and lacking in proper context.

U.S. President Donald Trump was called upon to do much more than ambiguously disclaim hatred "on many sides." He was expected to denounce the act as terrorism, and to remove from his team of advisers, well known white supremacist leaders such as Steve Bannon, Steve Miller and many others. In further accord with the president's action, mainstream popular press outlets are also having the likes of white supremacists like Richard Spencer grace their pages, extolling his eloquence and suave appearance, rather than labelling them as pariahs or components that stimulate racial violence.

It is a held American belief that racism disintegrates as time passes. Be that as it may, reality constantly reveals that racism fluidly conforms to the existing political norms, thereby debunking the idea that it is continuously lessening and diminishing. However, the events in Charlottesville, and the growing movement of frank and brazen white supremacy that it symbolizes, clearly shows that modern racism is converting to its former out-in-the-open form.

Nevertheless, even if America is the symbol of hatred that the world witnessed on Saturday, at the same time it is also in part the bravery we saw — epitomized in Heather Heyer, the young white woman who lost her life when a suspected white supremacist allegedly drove his car through a crowd of counter protesters. Looking at the bigger picture, she did not have to be where she was, doing what she did not have to do, losing her life as a result. Instead, she stood up for what best in America and by extension is calling on us to do the same.

Sadly, America is what it is: certainly not post racial.

Y. Sam

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