Max Reichardt is a communications senior and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed in this column do not reflect the viewpoints and editorial coverage of Mustang News.
More than a month past the violent clash in Charlottesville, Virginia and while the news cycle abandoned the story, the scars from such naked, vitriolic hatred still sting.
Many people are left wanting starker condemnation from the United States president, since both his initial response and revised statement rang hollow and disingenuous. Other people are confused what constitutional rights, such as freedom of speech, are really afforded to Americans. For most, there is a sense of uncertainty like no other.
Lingering questions circle the aftermath like vultures. Was there ultimately violence on both sides? Yes, absolutely. Was one side unequivocally in the wrong from the very beginning, before the violence began? Absolutely. It takes two to tango, but one cannot reasonably expect brash displays of racism, white supremacy and Nazism to be peaceably absorbed by passers-by. Torch-lit marches, Nazi salutes and slogans like “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us” test the sheerest limits of free speech, and these symbols of abhorrent hatred will always be provocative in the worst way.
For those Americans who have been historically marginalized, hated and discriminated against, I can only sadly imagine that this is not new. This is but a flare-up of bigotry that has existed in the United States since before any reader of this article was born, and the collective shock of many of us is a testament to our ignorance. It might make some sick to imagine how or why one could feel so terribly toward another person for something as seemingly inconsequential as the color of their skin or which god they pray to, if they pray at all.
The religious landscape of the U.S. is indeed changing. A 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center reported 70.6 percent of Americans identified as “Christian” and 20.9 percent as “Catholic”.
The same survey reported 1.9 percent “Jewish” and less than one percent “Muslim”. However, recent findings from Public Religion Research institute (PRRI) indicate a decline in overall percentage of white American Christians/Catholics (wit, 74.8 percent of respondents to the last U.S. Census self-identified as “white”) and an increase in young people who are unaffiliated.
Despite the decline, white Christians remain the plurality. Though white-Christian heteronormativity is the “normal” in many places and forms of media, that does not mean it is not okay to be white or Christian or straight. You are not a bad person for being a white Christian, cisgender or for having privilege — though you might be if you abuse that privilege.
White Christianity is represented in much of Congress and the majority of law enforcement. Such a dominant presence only exacerbates existing biases and entrenches them in law, though not always explicitly. By many demographic and institutional measures, the racist protestors in Charlottesville do not have to fear for their identity or dominant position in the current status quo.
Yet, they are afraid. These bigots are afraid of a population that continually diversifies, however incrementally. “Jews will not replace us?” Please. The same PRRI data shows Jews represent 1.5 percent of the U.S. population. They are afraid of equity because they are not up to the task of fair competition. Instead of resenting the rising influence of minority groups, we should celebrate it.
The inherent responsibility of a dominant party in a society is to leverage dominance to bring up the disenfranchised, not to abuse that domination and subjugate them further. We, the privileged must first recognize that privilege, then work to close the gap for the non-privileged until we are all equal in every sense of the word.
The U.S. is a coalition formed on ideals, not identities. We are bound by tenets of a grand democratic experiment. We do have a wonderful country despite some of the outdated, racist people and institutions that persist. We have to believe in that, and we must never forget the price that was paid over the years to keep this experiment afloat.
We might know people like the bigots we saw in Charlottesville. Some of us might even be related to people like that, but we cannot stay silent, even if it’s for the sake of family, respect or taboo; for all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.
Get educated. Pay attention to history, politics and current events. Respect other people and cultures. Expose yourself to people who are different from you, then befriend and learn from them. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do know this; respect and love are the only things keeping us together. Give them freely and don’t take them for granted.