From the Clocktower – Charlottesville could happen anywhere
By Kathi Bliss
For days, my social media feeds have been blowing up with many of my friends, both Liberal and Conservative, black and white alike, wondering, “How could Charlottesville have happened? How could that happen in America in 2017.”
Naturally, people have laid the blame at the feet of everyone from
the President to Al Sharpton, from George Zimmerman to Philando Castille, and Hillary Clinton to Westboro Baptist Church. And it’s all true.
The simple truth of this complicated reality is that Charlottesville happened because the rest of us didn’t do enough to stop it.
When the “Alt-Right” was commandeered by white nationalists, traditional conservatives didn’t do enough to say, “hey, guys, your attitudes are sick and racist and please stop pretending like they’re indicative of the Republican Party, because they’re not.”
When the “Alt-Left” started setting fire to college campuses, rather than allowing speakers with opposing viewpoints to speak there, the Democratic Party didn’t say loudly enough, “hey, y’all, you have the right to disagree with what’s being said, but we don’t support destroying private property as a form of resistance.”
Christians didn’t stand up en masse and tell Fred Phelps, “you know, the New Testament really sort of invalidates everything you’re trying to portray as Christianity.” They should have.
When innocent people are gunned down by police officers, we don’t say loudly enough, “yeah, no, that’s not okay and you should be prosecuted.” However, when dangerous people are gunned down by police officers, we’re often quick to judgment and refuse to admit that they might have been doing something to get themselves shot.
We form our opinions and dig in our heels, and refuse to talk about nuances or shades of gray.
I think that’s how we got to Charlottesville.
When people begin painting those who are “other” with a broad brush, based on the behaviors of the most extreme among the “others,” we’re headed for trouble. When that happens on a grand scale, we’re headed for disaster. And when we do nothing to stop it, regardless of what side of the aisle we’re sitting on, we’re headed straight for Charlottesville.
I think it’s easy to say that white nationalists are responsible for the violence in Charlottesville last weekend. And that’s true. A white nationalist was responsible for mowing down counter-protesters, and for killing Heather Heyer, and he should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of state and Federal laws. Because he’s a criminal.
I think it’s also irresponsible to overlook the fact that the counter-protesters were as responsible for the brawling as the white nationalists were. The counter-protesters were right there, throwing punches along with the self-proclaimed Nazis, and in many cases, throwing the FIRST punch. And that’s not okay, either. We who are closer to the center need to be willing to say that, to the fringes on both sides.
I am in no way defending the thoughts or attitudes of the white nationalists. Their attitudes are disgusting, and they have no place in a civilized world. Racism and bigotry on any level are absolutely indefensible.
I also think it’s important that our young people get educated about the realities of those attitudes – especially about the fact that, in most cases, those attitudes are NOT in the mainstream, and they are neither endorsed nor embraced by the bulk of Mainstream America. And Mainstream America needs to make that fact abundantly clear.
At the same time, it’s important for Mainstream America to be taken at their word when they renounce the David Dukes and the Dylann Roofs of the world. I like to think that most of us, when we say, “that belief system is disgusting and destructive and I want nothing to do with it,” we actually mean that.
It’s only through understanding and education that attitudes like that can be eradicated. Unfortunately, when you’re busy shouting someone down, it’s difficult to educate them about anything. All they’re going to do is shout louder, which is exactly what happened in Charlottesville.
Alternatively, no one gets educated when they choose to shut themselves away from differing viewpoints, either. No one learns anything in an echo chamber; far too often, we isolate ourselves from people and ideas we consider “other,” and that hasn’t helped with the current state of divisiveness in our national culture, either.
I had the honor last week of sitting with the granddaughter of the first free-born man in St. John Colony. She and her generation have a perspective and a life experience that I will never be able to understand. But it’s a perspective and a life experience that I value, and that I was grateful to hear about, if for no other reason, than it made me question some of my own perspectives and ideas. That’s how we learn, and that’s how we grow.
Charlottesville has given us a lot to talk about. I’m hoping that as a society, we can actually have a conversation, with give-and-take, listening and learning. Because if we don’t, we’re just going to find ourselves right back in Charlottesville.