They tried to stop it, you know.
Local business owners. City officials. The University. Thinking people. Compassionate people. Decent humans and citizens.
They all tried to stop, or at least re-locate, the grotesque display of hatred and racism from marching through the middle of their beloved town. But ultimately, a judge ruled that the group was within its First Amendment rights in staging this “Unite the Right” gathering wherever they wanted to.
I have mixed feelings about that. For my money, the lines around ‘rights’ are blurry when it comes to hate. Hate boldly expressed; hate that can quickly escalate to violence; hate that, historically, has bred violence and violence and more violence. Black bodies on the ground, black bodies hanging from trees, black mothers weeping, again, for their children… When you get right down to it, the constitutional ‘right’ to demonstrate enthusiasm for that world does not subvert the basic human rights of those who feel threatened by such displays. Nor does it negate the ‘inalienable’ truth that all people are created equal. Nor should the free speech activity of one person or group hold hostage the rest of us, who want to live peaceably with our neighbors. You know, free of the burning, shouting, chanting, ranting that goes down in the name of freedom.
But. All that being said– I look at those images of those who gathered and marched last night, in preparation of today’s gathering. I see their white faces, distorted with rage. I hear them chanting “you will not replace us;” shouting “blood and soil, blood and soil…” Which was the rallying cry of the Third Reich, in the horrific landscape of Hitler’s Germany. And yes, I’m appalled. I’m disgusted. I’m deeply worried about what comes next.
But I am also glad that I can see their faces.
It says something profound about where we are right now, this country we love, that such bold perpetrators of hate do not feel the need to take cover.
Even at the height of white supremacist activity, predating the Civil Rights era, the Klan of old would cover their faces. They wore hoods when they went lynching, and burning, and pillaging. They cut out those tiny eye holes so they could see their flaming crosses, their suffering victims, their fury on display. But now? These guys are out there for the world to see. No hood. No cover. Their images spreading like wildfire across social media outlets, their pride in their own whiteness the only mask they feel need of.
This is also what comes of silent complicity. Years of trying to believe that we live in some comfortable “post-racism” world, where those chants and cries and burning things are a thing of the ancient past. Our failure to recognize the still-living sins of racism has bred… this. This beast. This rabid, enraged animal that has no shame. That boldly marches through the campus, the town square, the front lawn of decent-people-America and speaks it bigotry, right out loud.
Show us your faces, then. Let us see who you are. Let your sneering, chanting, frothing mouths fill every newsfeed in America today. Let your neighbors see who you are, so they can cross on the other side of the street. Let your children’s friends see who you are, so that maybe they’ll plan their playdates at some other house. Let your pastor see you, let your mail carrier see you. Hold that burning torch up for us, because the kid who bags your groceries and the guy who cuts your hair–they want to see you too.
So does your employer. Smile big for the camera, so that your boss can see this side of you that, now that she thinks about it, is not surprising at all, based on the subtly racist comments you’ve made in polite company. Let your co-workers, and the company you work for get a good look at that close-up. Give them a reason to call you in on Monday morning, an invitation to say “you know, maybe this is not such a good fit. We really don’t think you belong in this work environment…”
Let us all see you. Let us know who you are so that we can be more discerning in the company we keep.
Let us see your faces, so we can see the ugliness that our silence, our passive politeness has rendered… and then maybe we can stop being so silent and polite.
Maybe we’ll be bold enough to look this monster in the face… only then we can be rid of it for good.