I have two concerns related to Charlottesville.
First, I fear that boundaries of acceptability are shifting. I am concerned that in the wake of this incident it will become even easier for white people to feel like they are innocent of prejudice – and thus unaffected by racial history – simply because they are not members of the KKK or neo-Nazi groups. We are all affected by racial history. White people, particularly middle and upper class white people, are beneficiaries of generations of white privilege. White Americans who do not see this reality should read and interact more broadly.
Second – and this point undergirds the first – I am concerned with Trump’s single statement: “You had a lot of people in that [white nationalist] group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest, because you know — I don’t know if you know — they had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit.” This statement is classic white man’s logic in two ways. a.) We craft unjust laws and rules to suit us, we follow those rules to the T, and pat ourselves on the back for our law abidingness. As if lawfulness were better than justice! b.) His argument takes the incident completely out of its historical and present context. The quickest way to put our shameful past behind us is to treat each incident as if slavery and systematic oppression don’t matter. But messes made over centuries are not quickly cleaned. If this incident simply consisted of two groups of rabble rousers - that is, if slavery, Jim Crow society, redlining, mass incarceration, the holocaust, etc. never happened - then Trump would have a point. Instead, our president has just clearly demonstrated that white folks are too eager for a post-racial society, and this eagerness ultimately blinds them (us) from analyzing current events in light of broader systems.
Our racial history is alive and ill. We may never come to harmony as a country. Where we will come to harmony, in our local schools, libraries, and workplaces, it will involve white people taking ownership for how we’ve benefitted from oppression.