We Haven’t Earned the Right to Call White Supremacy “UnAmerican”

Pslam 99:

The Lord is king; let the peoples tremble!
   He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!

2 The Lord is great in Zion;
   he is exalted over all the peoples.

3 Let them praise your great and awesome name.
   Holy is he!

4 Mighty King, lover of justice,
   you have established equity;

you have executed justice
   and righteousness in Jacob.

5 Extol the Lord our God;
   worship at his footstool.
Holy is he!

6 Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
   Samuel also was among those who called on his name.
They cried to the Lord, and he answered them.

7 He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud;
   they kept his decrees,
and the statutes that he gave them.

8 O Lord our God, you answered them;
   you were a forgiving God to them,
but an avenger of their wrongdoings.

9 Extol the Lord our God,
   and worship at his holy mountain;
for the Lord our God is holy.

This weekend, we watched in horror at the unfolding saga of a white supremacist and neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, VA. Hateful protesters marched onto the campus of the University of Virginia wielding tiki torches and shouting racist, homophobic, and antisemitic slurs and chants. Carrying flames, assembling in the cover of darkness, and intending to intimidate people of color in the university community, they were eerily reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan, with one crucial difference: they felt so emboldened and secure in their hate that they didn’t even feel the urge to mask their faces.

Soon, the racist protesters were surrounded by a crowd of counter-protesters, igniting a days-long standoff between the two groups that spread throughout the city and spilled into the streets. On Saturday, tensions boiled over when one racist sympathizer used his car to ram into a group of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring a dozen others.

Over the course of the day, public figures from across the political spectrum denounced the protests and the violence, drawing a clear line in the sand that racism and bigotry ought not be tolerated in civic discourse, and that violence is unacceptable, particularly when it is used to inflict terror upon the vulnerable and the marginalized. Not everyone got it right, such as the president, who glibly tweeted that the situation was “So sad!” and equivocated violent, racist protesters with non-violent, anti-racist counter-protesters by denouncing both sides as “hateful” and violent.

But, for the most part, public figures across the political spectrum were quick to stand up against white supremacy and call out this toxic ideology and the violence its adherents precipitated over the weekend. In particular, people of all stripes stridently classified the rally, its participants, its tactics, and its goals as “unAmerican.”

That’s a nice sentiment. One with which I agree completely in the abstract ideal. There is no room for white supremacy, bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, sexism, homophobia, or any other hateful ideology in a civil and compassionate society. And the values we claim to hold in the United States, such as life, liberty, equality, and justice, and many more, are totally incompatible with white supremacists, neo-nazis, and all other hate groups.

But just because we want something to be “unAmerican” doesn’t make it true. This is the simple truth: we have not earned the right to call white supremacy “unAmerican.” And until we earn that right, we have no business distancing ourselves from white supremacists as if we haven’t bought into the toxic and violent reality of racism.

No, most of us don’t knowingly and actively harbor hatred in our hearts. Those who do, and especially those who act upon it violently or prejudicially, are particularly broken and infected people who deserve both swift condemnation and sincere prayers for transformation and healing.

But each of us who benefits from being an American, and particularly those of us who are white, like me, have staked a claim in a society in which white supremacy is every bit as central and foundational as the Constitution itself. White supremacy is as American as apple pie, and we can’t effectively speak out against white supremacists for taking a slice because our cheeks are too stuffed to say a word.

We may not light up tiki torches and rally in favor of Confederate idolatry, but we do live in and love a nation in which white people are half as likely to be homeless as people of color. We may not chant racist slogans or use racial slurs, but we are comfortable with a national reality in which the average white household has a net worth twenty times that of the average Black household. We may not wave around Nazi or Confederate flags, but we seem perfectly happy with an economic system in which Blacks and Hispanics live in poverty at three times the rate of whites.

No, we don’t all beat Black people up in parking garages, but we do all accept public health outcomes that subject Black people and Hispanics to lower rates of insurance, less access to quality healthcare, greater environmental health risks, and, as a result, higher instances of chronic and deadly diseases, and shorter life expectancies.

We may not have gathered on the University of Virginia’s campus Friday night to voice our support for white supremacy, but we all give our silent approval to white supremacy when we fail to question an education system in which unequal investments leave Black students twice as likely to drop out of high school and half as likely to earn a college degree.

We might not commit violent hate crimes, but we seem fairly content with a criminal justice system that incarcerates Black people at five times the rate of whites and policing practices that rain indignity, exploitation, and brutality upon communities of color.

I could go on with hundreds of other statistics about entrenched racial inequities, but I think my point is clear: the United States is awash in white supremacy, brutally and sinfully enforced by the structures that guide just about every facet of our society. Let’s not pretend that we can do the politically and socially expedient thing by denouncing white supremacist marchers, thinking that we have therefore absolved ourselves of any culpability in the system, or any responsibility to change it.

Should we refrain from condemning and denouncing white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and other hate groups? Of course not. We must do so loudly, swiftly, and unequivocally.

But let’s not condemn white men carrying torches unless we’re also willing to condemn white men in suits scheming to suppress the voting rights of people of color.

Let’s not bother condemning white men chanting against Black lives unless we’re also willing to call out white police officers taking Black lives, and the white prosecutors and juries that let them get away with murder.

Let’s not condemn white men ramming cars into protesters until we’re also willing to condemn white folks who prefer comfortable silence over hard conversations.

Let’s not condemn white supremacists until we’re willing to name and repent from the ways in which we have benefited from systemic racism and institutionalized white supremacy personally.

It’s easy to denounce and decry white supremacists and neo-Nazis. That’s low hanging fruit. And it’s a convenient way to create distance between ourselves and any responsibility we bear to bring about change. But not being a white supremacist is a pitifully low bar. If we care about dismantling racism, we have to do better.

We have to earn the right to call white supremacy “unAmerican.” We haven’t. Not yet.

It is your responsibility to bring anti-racism into your church, into your home, into your community. It is my responsibility, too, and I haven’t done nearly well enough. I’m not going to waste any more of my breath just denouncing white supremacists without denouncing the deeper systems at play. That’s easy.

My breath is for praying for healing, peace, justice, and empowerment. My breath is for calling out hatred in all its forms, including its most insidious, silent, and structural ones. My breath is for calling legislators and chanting in the streets. My breath is for naming the ways I have failed and must do better.

podiumEmmett Eldred is a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University with degrees in Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of DunkerPunks.com and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! He also co-hosts the Dunker Punks Podcast. Follow Emmett on Twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and on Facebook.


One thought on “We Haven’t Earned the Right to Call White Supremacy “UnAmerican”

  1. John Bellanti says:

    In some way, saying “You don’t have the right to call a person who labels themselves, White Supremecists …unAmerican.”_ is creating a straw man. Perhaps we get in trouble when we label people and I invite each of us to look at this behavior more closely. We treat them as objects not subjects when we label. As I-It. Not I thou. We have a responsibility to call out racism. Where ever we see it we have a responsibility to confront it and because we don’t call it out in ALL placed doesn’t mean we don’t have the responsibility to stand against it in others. This is a big enough and more complex problem than we understand, we don’t need to make it more complex than it is. Perfectionism leads to paralysis, if you intention is what are we doing we might do better? That message sounds less self-righteous than how you have written your concern I am not asking you to change what you have done, but inviting you to examine how you presented your concern with more discernment. I shall do the same with my message too. John B


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