There is so much to say about Charlottesville and racism in America. I feel a need to speak out and write something, to lend my voice, to not remain silent or indifferent in the face of evil. I also recognize that many people much wiser than me have already said so much about the limits of free speech, the difference between Nazis and other groups, and the importance of unequivocally condemning white supremacy. If you’ve not already, I encourage you to watch this video to see first-hand the white supremacists in their own words. You can read a profile of one of these people to better understand the tactics they’re using, as well as an interesting read on how the concept of freedom of speech differs from America to Europe. You also may be interested in this sharp article from my favorite NPR host responding to Trump asking if we’ll be taking down monuments to Washington and Lincoln next, as well as this similar article about how this rhetorical strategy fits with a history of “whataboutism.” It may even interest you, in fact-checking the “many sides” idea, to read this piece on left-wing violence. If you take the time to read these, you’ll probably also rightly draw the conclusion I often rock out to the smooth sounds of NPR in my car on the way to and from work, as I’m ‘bout that public talk radio life (a phrase I’m likely the first, and hopefully last, person to ever write).
So, much has been said and written already, better than I can say or write. However, there is one thing I’ll ask you to allow me to write on for one moment. Can we please stop with the disingenuous “Remember, the Democrats were the party of slavery, the GOP and Lincoln freed the slaves, and the Democrats were staunchly opposed to civil rights in the South” counter-arguments when someone brings up slavery, racism, taking down Confederate monuments, etc.? I have seen multiple attempts to shut down discussion using this strategy. It is often presented as essentially claiming the Democrats are the true racists and the GOP is the true party of equality, and that Dems who support getting rid of Confederate monuments and are upset by this counte-argument are being hypocritical because of their own history.
For those who can’t see how incredibly flawed this reasoning is, let me please lib-splain. And, before we get much further here, please note that I’m lib-splaining, not Dem-splaining; I’ll readily cop to leaning liberal in much of my politics, but my party registration is unaffiliated. So if you’d like to call me names later based on my ideas here, make sure to call me a pedantic & elitist LIBERAL scumbag, not a pedantic & elitist DEMOCRATIC scumbag. Ideological name calling is more fun if it is accurate.
Anywho, back to what I was saying. The problem with this argument and reasoning is that there is a difference between things that exist only in the past and things whose existence extends from the past through the present and into the future. For example, the time I spent in school as a student is done. It is what it is: the grades I got (straight As, baby), the friends I made, the parties I (didn’t) go to (like I said, 4.0, baby: I didn’t choose the nerd life, the nerd life chose me). All that is done. I can see things differently later and wish I had relaxed more and studied less, but that does not change how much I studied and what a bookworm I was. On the other hand, my career as a psychologist and professor is ongoing. Although I can’t change my past actions as a mental health professional and academic, I can change my present actions. Times where I said the wrong thing to a patient or a student are over. I don’t get to take it back. But that doesn’t prevent me from doing the right thing now. And who I am now matters a lot more than who I was. It is why we love redemption stories. Just ask the city of Cleveland how it feels about LeBron. Or for those of you still salty about King James and/or more equipped to traffic in 19th century English literature, just think of what makes A Christmas Carol so appealing. We love that Ebenezer Scrooge can change his ways, and I guarantee Bob Cratchit et al thought who Scrooge became mattered a lot more than who he’d been, especially when they had a belly full of goose.
It is possible to make a good faith effort to honestly acknowledge history AND do better in the present. Were the Dems the party of slavery, of Jim Crow, of the KKK? Absolutely. It is a shameful past and one that must be recognized but not honored, studied but not revered. However, which party have white southerners gravitated towards since the 1960s? Which party has been able to rely on a Southern strategy for decades? Which party pursues an agenda that disproportionately, negatively impacts people of color, with things like gerrymandering, voter ID laws, and cuts to certain government programs? And before you start up with “identity politics” and lecturing me on how the Democratic party has tricked people of color into voting against their own self-interests, please note that I’ll be happy to sit through that lecture for as long as you’re willing to sit through a similar lecture from me on how the GOP has tricked the white poor and working-class into voting against their own self-interest. Although, I do try to incorporate fun pictures, memes, jokes, and videos into my lectures (I keep my scholar game on fleek, all day son), so if you agree to sit through it, you’d at least hopefully be entertained by my lecture.
Yes, the Dems have a racist past, but I wonder if you asked for the political party of many of the white supremacists that showed up in Charlottesville last week, what would it be? Perhaps many might not identify with either major party, but I wonder who they vote for in elections, and I am guessing it is not the progressive liberal candidate.
Alternatively, if you spend years fighting racism only to gradually develop, accept, and promote racist beliefs, should we be focused on your happy history or your shameful present? How should we view someone who pulls a reverse Scrooge (and I am now trademarking that phrase)? The modern GOP bloviating about the good old days of Lincoln, ending slavery, and beating racist Democrats sounds an awful lot like the sweaty, out-of-shape former star high school quarterback reminiscing about winning state years ago while currently sitting drunk in a bar on a Wednesday night while smacking the butt of a passing waitress because he is avoiding calling his kids since the divorce because he knows it bothers their mother more than it hurts him.
So, please stop with the equivocating history lessons. There is important work on racism in America that needs to happen for the benefit of those living in the present, and arguments that obfuscate the problem to focus on who freed the slaves don’t help. The present certainly occurs in the context of the past, but the past should not be used to trump the present. Unless you would feel comfortable saying, “Yeah, everybody says they love Scrooge now that he loves his fellow man and shares his wealth freely, but did you know he used to be part of the war on Christmas?” Hmm, hold that thought, I think I have to go make a call to Bill O’Reilly with an idea for a new book titled Killing Christmas.
Until next time, reader.