Speech, Action, and Inaction
What happened in Charlottesville this weekend was reprehensible and indefensible. It should be telling that a movement titled “Unite the Right” ended up only bringing together white supremacists of various creeds, including members of the alt-right (which, it should be pointed out, is a self-branded epithet chosen by members of the movement, unlike the imaginary “alt-left,” which is a derogatory title invented by alt-right enablers to refer to the general left-leaning population in order to dismiss and demonize the recent populations of progressive protesters by creating a false equivalency between them and the very real and hyper-regressive alt-right).
There were no “good people” (an intentional problematic phrase) involved in the Unite the Right rally, though Trump has fervently insinuated the contrary. Everyone who joined in that protest saw the confederate flags, the Nazi imagery, and other supremacist emblems and decided to march alongside those sigils of active hatred and violence. They heard the anti-semitic chants and racist rhetoric and decided to stand side by side those individuals. This is not to say that there were not those who–for reasons of misled nostalgia or some other naivety–did not show up hoping to protest in support of keeping a local landmark they grew up with (a landmark that certainly needs to be taken down, though that is another conversation entirely), but any of those decent-but-mistaken souls would have left upon seeing what the rally really was about. No “good person” stares into remnants of the reich and accepts such hatred as support for their own cause. If we are to argue for the presence of “good people” at that rally, it was the counter-protesters, who were brave enough to look the worst this nation has to offer in the face and speak and chant and shout on behalf of love and diversity, the true uniting forces of this nation.
But, beyond voicing my condemnation, what I really wish to speak to today is the freedom of speech issue that has been raised. Should these individuals be allowed to speak their poisonous opinions? The simple answer is, of course, yes. They have that right. That said, speech has too long been treated as an inconsequential happening–a hypothetical action that is harmless until it is manifested into deeds. But speech is a deed. Speech is action. And, like all actions, speech has consequence. And the speech presented by these hate groups–and they are hate groups, as defined by the SPLC and others–intend very specific consequences. It was present in their march on Charlottesville, and it has been present in their individual rhetoric historically. The alt-right is not the KKK are not skinheads are not neo-nazis, etc., etc., and it is important that their ideologies are not identical, but there is a lot they share in common, and each of their ideologies are predicated on the idea that some of us are inherently superior to others by birth, which is equally absurdist and dangerous, and their long-lived history’s of taking violent action against those who they believe to be inferior, actions that are promoted and celebrated by their ideologies, needs to be confronted. It needs to be confronted verbally and in peaceful protest by individuals and communities, and it needs to be confronted legally by local, state, and federal forces. Those radicalized Americans longing for a race war are not so different from the radicalized members of other nations that we see in groups like Daesh (ISIS) who long for a religious war. They are both responsible for wanton and reprehensible violence in this nation, and–if we look at the books objectively–we can see, in fact, that general white supremacy has caused this country greater loss and pain for a longer period of time than Middle Eastern terror cells have ever been able to loose upon us. And it needs to stop.
The solution, disappointing though it may be for many fired up progressives to hear, is not “punching Nazis.” And I hope we never again reach a point as a civilization where the average citizen must be called upon to actively enlist in actual war against an organized body of white supremacists who seek (inter)national dominance. But–again–speech is action, and just as hate groups with dangerous ideologies can rally like-minded regressives to do dark deeds, so too can those who stride for a more perfect unity and equality use their voice to rally those fighting to maintain and improve our diverse and democratic society, wherein all peoples ought to have equal stake and say, and encourage them to action.
We have, again, reached a boiling point as a nation, and–just like each boiling point before–it is a point of incredible potential. Whether it proves to have been potential for regression or progression is up to us. There is no room for silence. We cannot afford inaction.
Speak to your brother about his hateful views. Do so with love. Talk to your family. Your friends. Do not allow strangers to berate and insult others on account of their appearance, gender, sex, or beliefs. Post online and make your stances known. Condemn hate, celebrate love. Your voice will embolden others. Your silence will see their courage decay.
It’s a complex issue. There is no easy solution. But complexity is not impossibility. Complex does not mean “There’s nothing I can do.”
It’s something that haunts many of us and plagues us all, and the burden is on all of us, equally, to fight for what’s good and just.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” -Desmond Tutu