The “Unite the Right” protest against the removal of a statue depicting Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, VA was always guaranteed to be contentious. When violence between protesters and counter-protesters broke out, the event quickly turned deadly. The ensuing firestorm of media coverage and public outrage immediately focused on the racist stances of the groups involved then suddenly shifted to what Donald Trump had to say. Although the President’s silence and muddled message can emboldened hate groups, what Donald Trump had to say is the least important issue surrounding the tragic event.
The racist views of the so-called “white nationalists” have obviously taken the spotlight, but there is also merit in preserving history, even if the truth offends. For these activists, racism is a secondary concern. Robert E. Lee was a man who tried to tear the US apart in order to secure the Southern slave economy. He and other Confederate figures should be remembered and their monuments preserved, because their actions affected the Nation in a terribly profound way, but that is why museums and history books exist. That said, a true culture clash was on display in Charlottesville that needs to be explored.
Violence occurred in Charlottesville, because there were violent people involved in the rallies and the organizers helped prime violent reactions through their confrontational tactics. For violence to manifest itself in an environment like the one seen in the Charlottesville protest, it simply requires one or more individuals to decide violence sends a far louder message. In turn, a “mob mentality” is simply needed to spark far-reaching violence. If the violence was part of an effort to silence people over ideological differences, it was terrorism. If the violence was simply the byproduct of individuals who decided to use the protests as cover to commitment violent acts, it was still unacceptable.
Beyond the outcome of the protests, the actual sentiments motivating the protesters matter. Although there are groups that want to shame and silence those involved in the protest, it is actually better for the Nation if those involved in these sort of events express their true views. If someone feels the removal of a statue is simply a way to whitewash history, they should be able to express their views. As a democratic society, the US needs to address the collective interests of all Americans, which is only possible when Americans can express their views openly and honestly. Pressuring people to repress their true feelings is counterproductive and eventually leads to massive culture clashes.
That said, it is far easier to respect someone’s views on something like a statue than it is to respect someone’s hatred of a person based on race. Silencing and shunning people will not, however, change their views. Doing so will probably just help legitimize their views and intensify their hatred. In many respects, the violence in Charlottesville was the byproduct of division. Much of the news coverage has focused on how hate groups have been emboldened by Donald Trump’s Presidency. They may feel it is “safer” to reveal themselves, but that is not why they feel the way they do.
Great progress has been made for minorities in terms of civil liberties and cultural integration. Social inertia, however, dictates that all changes in society will creature backlash. The sentiments of the “white nationalists,” who organized the Charlottesville protest, represent that sort of backlash. With that in mind, many of these “white nationalists” have been disenfranchised by numerous social and economic changes, which have also affected minorities. Because minorities have gained greater influence and seen their lives improved, these newly disenfranchised “white nationalists” wrongly blame these silently empowered minorities.
Racism was supposed to be dead in the United States. The legacy of racism continues to exist, e.g. economic disparities and violence-plagued communities, while racist individuals will always exist, yet racism is no longer an institutionalized part of the American culture. For younger generations, racism and racial differences are simply things to be mocked. The violence in Charlottesville, however, reminds Americans that racism continues to be a serious issue. Instead of trying to divide and disenfranchise those who support racist views, it is essential to bring people together and encourage them to unite in their common struggle to build better lives.
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