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At Large

Racism in America

The death of one woman when a vehicle plowed into the crowd at a protest rally in Charlottesville and the deaths of two state police officers responding to the unrest in a helicopter crash hours later, have moved the resurgent conflict between civil rights supporters and white supremacists from angry rhetoric to real-life tragedy.

Heather Heyer, the lone fatality among many others injured, was hit when a 2010 gray Dodge Challenger sped into the crowd confronting the “Unite the Right” rally mounted by Confederate supporters and neo-Nazis. Video taken at the scene “shows (the vehicle) accelerating into crowds on a pedestrian mall, sending bodies flying—and then reversing at high speed, hitting yet more people.”

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“Hate came to our town today in a way that we had feared but we had never really let ourselves imagine would,” rued Maurice Jones, Charlottesville’s city manager.

Caleb Ecarma, a Filipino-American intern at USA Today’s opinion section, reports that while he didn’t witness the car attack, he did see “hysteria and violence firmly take hold… I was tear gassed, pepper sprayed and hit with flying objects — and I consider myself beyond lucky compared to the many I witnessed get beaten into a bloody mess.”

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Ecarma, who grew up in North Carolina, firmly ensconced in Confederate territory, writes that he has long been familiar with the lingering racism among his neighbors. “So while the growing all-right movement may be new,” he says, “it is important to remember that racism in America is not. This new brand of white nationalism is merely one chapter in the book of racism that goes back to (the) very beginning of our country, and the tendency to cling onto ugly bigotry of the past is all too common.”

Not too far from Charlottesville, about an hour-and-a-half’s drive away, is Prince Edward County which I used to know only in relation to Potomac Mills in Woodbridge. Before they left Virginia, my sister and her family had stopped going to Potomac Mills, which is a huge outlet mall, after one of her boys was stopped by county police simply because they had profiled him as a “foreigner.” (Ironically, he is the only one in the family born in the States.)

So I wasn’t surprised when I read in the book “Hidden Figures”—which tells the story of the African-American women mathematicians who helped send Americans to the moon—how they struggled with the still-prevailing racism in Virginia in the 1960s.

It was the height of the struggle to integrate segregated public schools in the state, and while the governor capitulated to civil rights activists and officials, Prince Edward County resisted. Instead of accepting children of other races in their schools, county officials chose instead “to defund the schools rather than integrate.”

This led then Attorney General Bobby Kennedy to comment: “The only places on earth known not to provide free public education are Communist China, North Vietnam, Sarawak, Singapore, British Honduras—and Prince Edward County, Virginia.”

While the Civil Rights Act forced all schools around the US to integrate their student populations, the lingering passions, biases and hatred engendered by America’s history of slavery and white supremacy stayed on.

The Charlottesville protest was sparked by the decision of city officials to tear down a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee, who remains a powerful symbol among those still smitten with the Confederate cause. In protest, “hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members” congregated in Charlottesville to “take America back.”

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In the face of violence in response to the pursuit of the American ideal of democracy and inclusivity, one would think the Leader of the Free World would respond immediately to calm the anger and fear. Instead, President Donald Trump, “known for his rapid-fire tweets,” kept quiet, making himself felt only much later in the day.

In a news conference hours later, he told the media: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides.”

So whose side is he on?

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TAGS: At Large, Caleb Ecarma, Charlottesville protest, Heather Heyer, Maurice Jones, Rina Jimenez-David, US racism, white nationalism
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