Who We Are, Who We Want to Be

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In the aftermath of the Charlottesville tragedy, amid the outrage and grief and disbelief, I had to re-learn a painful lesson for a white American.

Most of the people I follow on Twitter are African-American journalists, politicians and activitists: Charles Blow, Bree Newsome, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Vann R. Newkirk II, Jamelle Bouie.

Ms. Newsome, the woman who climbed the flagpole in front of the South Carolina statehouse and took down the flag, put what the others were saying in one form or another most succinctly.

As white Americans cried, “This is not who we are!”, in fact, this is exactly who you are and have been and all black people know it, she said.

I know it too; I’ve been writing about it for some time now, but it hasn’t stayed at the forefront of my attention. White America is a racist society and has been since the first white European stepped foot on this continent and had the arrogance to claim it as a white man’s (and I do mean man’s, not human’s) paradise.

To make that paradise, however, meant neutralizing one way or another the indigenous peoples. Usually by slaughter, often by treaties that were never meant to be kept and to this day are not honored.

Then came the importation of Africans to actually do the work of building an economy. Next came the battles to seize land from the indigenous Mexicans, Polynesians and Inuits and Aleuts.

In every era, white “Americans” have taken something away from someone else, right up to the present time. Now, it’s not only enough to take something away, but white American society wants to bar others from coming in, based solely on religion. And even the liberal arguments in favor of immigrants more often than not points out their economic worth rather than their worth as human beings.

What happened in Charlottesville is not new to its black citizenry; Mr. Newkirk’s most recent article in The Atlantic spells it out briefly and powerfully.

We cannot say, “This is not who we are!” We can, and must, say, “This is not who we want to be,” but only if we’re willing to follow up words with action. Mr. Newkirk quotes Charlottesville-Albemarle NAACP President Emeritus M. Rick Turner: “People want to have a conversation . . . But see we’ve had conservations, ever since the Civil War, every time something happens. That’s why nothing ever gets done beyond that, because the courage stops right there.”

I could say that the counter-protestors in Boston and other cities this weekend prove this thesis wrong. But we have not heard the last from the white supremacists. Do we, who consider ourselves non-racist, have the courage to go beyond the conversations?

Heather Heyer did.

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Refugees – 0; White Supremacy – 14

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It started this way:

I follow Amarnath Amarasingam on Twitter. He is a senior research fellow at the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue. On July 19, he posted part of an article that he and Jacob Davey wrote for The Mantle, a newsletter of mantlethought.org about Generation Identitaire.

Among other things this group does is hire ships to go to sea and interfere with humanitarian efforts to rescue refugees.

“They are vehemently nativist, anti-immigration, anti-Islam, anti-liberal and anti-left wing. Individual members of the group express support for white supremacism, and their anti-globalist rhetoric is often dog-whistle anti-Semitism,” wrote Mr. Amarasingam and Mr. Davey in their article.

I responded to Mr. Amarasingam’s tweet: “Heard about them about a month ago. Scariest thing is how young they are. What makes people so evil?”

I got many likes and retweets and one comment agreeing with me. Two people took exception. Here’s the first one:

“And let’s be clear, they are human beings that fit your narrative. If Donald Trump and his family was in a boat you’d be happy to see it sunk.”

Not sure how this person knows that I would do that. In fact, I would try to save them if I were in a position to, but I’m sure the Trumps would take over my boat and toss me off.

Someone else was much more exercised and sent several tweets between July 19 and July 24. This is the order in which they came. I am omitting quotation marks now and have not edited the tweets for spelling or grammar:

  1. A majority of the people in Italy are pleading to stop these NGO’s are 62% of the Italians Evil?
  2. Are the Dutch, Austrians and Poles assholes because they do not want to subjugate their country to Africans?
  3. Africa a continent 5 times the size of Europe, full of minerals and resources abundant agricultural opportunities? Why Europe??

(I responded that perhaps the answer is karma because Europe had raped Africa and plundered its resources.)

  1. The white Europeans are the destiny for millions Africans, while Africa is 5 times Europ, full of resources and agricultural posibilities.

(I responded that this is the original racist argument and doesn’t fly.)

  1. In 1900 a large part of Africa did not have a written history, they literally lived in the pre-history
  2. Colonization lasted 60 years, compare that with Polish plight, It was invade in 1939 and freed in 1990. Befor 1914 itwas 200 year occupied
  3. Africans had cordial contact with Europeans since 1450, but somehowe they did not learn anything from the Europeans
  4. It was in 1900 that Europeans started to abolish slavery in Africa.
  5. Europeans did not need much resources during the period of Colonization
  6. The population explosion in Africa is thanks to Europeans, Nigeria can only feed its population thanks to oil export!
  7. By blaming the Europeans for the plight of the Africans you are inciting hate and conducting hate speech.
  8. 11 mln black slaves were transported in 200 years all sold by black Africans, 11 mln white males were slaughtered in 4 years Worl War I
  9. (This is paraphrased) You don’t know your African history.
  10. Strong line of reasoning: “they are white supremacist”. brilliant!

Well, I guess they told me! In all this tweeting, however, I can’t help but think of the boatloads of Jews who were turned away from safe shores in the late 1930s.