I am not an American, but my father and my siblings were born and lived in the USA. I have visited the country a number of times. I have spent time in Virginia, notably Lexington, which is about 70 miles away from Charlottesville, the town that has been tragically in the news this past week. While I don’t have the level of connection to the place that a United States citizen has, I do watch with interest and feel that I have at least some level of understanding of the American psyche.
From my perspective, what I saw in Charlottesville was a collection of white men who have been radicalised to the point of fanaticism and enabled by political leadership to intimidate and strike fear in others to their own ends. In a modern country it should never be reasonable for civilians to put on body armour and walk the streets with automatic machine guns. Carrying Nazi flags, performing Nazi salutes, and walking with burning torches1 echoes many sad and inglorious historical moments, from Hitler and WW2 to the KKK and acceptance of slavery (and the power imbalance in favour of white people that that confers).
I can only imagine what would have happened if non-white people had walked the streets similarly armed and garbed. I think there would have been an even more extreme response; which in itself highlights a level of underlying, unspoken racism that permeates the culture. I can’t help but think that if roles were reversed, and it were black people carrying machine guns in the street, that it would be seen as an uprising. Based on recent US police behaviour it might also have been possible the police would have been willing to shoot to kill.
Next we have the horrible situation of a young man driving a car at speed into a laneway filled with people. Such behaviour cannot be condoned and the fact that some are attempting to mount excuses and justifications is frightening in itself, particularly if they believe their own professions. That was an act of terrorism, fuelled by hate, which i assume was itself fuelled by the fear of losing power and relevance in society. As far as I can tell, that man, and his equivalents, are fearful that their position in the world is being disrupted and their reactionary response is to imbibe hate and act with extreme prejudice.
As for the President, I am of the view that he has incited and encouraged this vein of hate, then turned a blind eye to the subsequent despicable actions of his acolytes. It took him three days to speak out against the actions (via a prepared speech), and then a day later he couldn’t live with that being his official position so he backtracked, showing his true colours. That he should be President of the USA is an entirely strange and sad situation.
A key reason (but not the root cause) for this uprising is said to be in honour and respect of General Lee, a man of regard for Southerners. Yet times change, and who we should and do venerate must also change. The problem is, enacting that change means rebalancing the power relationship amongst the citizens of the United States, and particularly the South. As a result those threatened most by such change2 and who are most at risk of ‘losing’ as a result of any rebalancing are lashing out with extreme aggression in a sad and sorry attempt to maintain the status quo.
Change will happen. The clock cannot be turned back. Time and culture moves ever forward, even though this Charlottesville incident represents a step back. In the end I believe the tide of change will win out. I genuinely hope that tide brings equivalency to all citizens of the United States, irrespective of the colour of their skin, and that peace wins out.