The white supremacists have been trying to make this about statues, but it simply is not. We can take a note from Germany that does not have or allow Nazi flags or statues because the Nazis lost. They are confined to museums and textbooks for good reason. Personally, as a Jewish woman, who has experienced plenty of antisemitism, if I saw Nazi flags and statues everywhere, it would make me ill and I would never feel like I truly belonged. I can only imagine that this is how African Americans feel when they see confederate statues, flags and KKK rallies, especially when they are already left out of plenty of textbooks. As much as white southerners would like to make this about some dying culture, it simply isn’t. The “confederate” flag was the battle flag of Northern Virginia which eventually became the second confederate flag. How much more treasonous can you get then celebrating a flag that represented a traitorous battle against your country? Even Robert E. Lee said “I think it wiser…not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered” (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/robert-e-lee-opposed-confederate-monuments/). He believed these statues would only cause pain if left up and that is what they have done. Secondly, many of the statues were added during the 60s when the south was protesting civil rights. If a southerner says this is about their culture, I have to ask “What culture?” Is it a traitorous culture or one that celebrates white supremacy and slavery? It’s only one or the other and with either you are not a patriot. The soul of our country certainly does not exist in a statue.
However, this is not about statues, it’s about an incipient disease that’s been in our country for a long time. While many folks may have been surprised, there was no surprise for me when I found out Nazis were marching on American streets. Antisemitism has been rampant for a long time in the United States. It is just that in the past it was whispered in the dark. While there were many nice families in our neighborhood growing up, we experienced antisemitism moving to Naperville. The most benign was sending Jews for Jesus to our door and another was having their children put smoke bombs in and smash up our mailbox with baseball bats. These parents were clearly talking to their kids when I was in first grade. In 1986, one of my classmates told me I was going to hell because I didn’t believe in Jesus. Then came high school where I found swastikas and “kike” in my yearbook at the end of freshman year of high school. When we brought in the two girls responsible to the dean’s office, they said they “didn’t mean it.” There was more, but as I became an adult, the prejudice was more insidious, coming in the form of Jewish jokes. I always call religion the hidden prejudice, because yes, people don’t always know I’m Jewish when I walk in the door, but instead they’ll talk about Jews in a very negative way and make me feel horrible. When I would confront people, they would tell me to take a joke. I’m sorry when your jokes are making fun of my tribe with many untruths, it’s not funny. I even had a friend once tell me “I don’t like Jews, but I like you.” I asked her how many she knew and she said I was the only one. I did help change people’s views one person at a time, but this was after the fact, not before. This prejudice is certainly not the soul of our country, but it was always there weaving its way through society.
I have heard many people give hypotheses such as economic or lack of critical thinking as to how individuals end up with these stereotypes and prejudice. However, I honestly feel it’s experience. If you have only heard the stereotypes and never met a Jewish person and the truth is not encouraged, how do you know it’s not true. I am befuddled at the evolution of antisemitism in my lifetime. I hear fewer Jewish jokes, but I hear more ideas about Jews being the real people in charge of government or somehow greater than everyone else. It’s interesting because growing up Jewish, most Jews are incredibly liberal, speak out against atrocities in the world and certainly are far from cheap. What I have found is that Jews value education. There was no doubt that I would go to college and I’m about to get my second master’s degree. That’s not to brag, but the Jewish refugees came to America often with the shirts on their back, many becoming entrepreneurs and wanting the next generation to do better than them. This refugee idealism has been and always will be deep in the soul of our nation.
Many people had the privilege of time to process this and did not feel like they knew how to speak against it. I have been doing it my whole life. People of color have been doing it their whole lives in ways I can’t even imagine. This is why we protest. This is why antifa and Black Lives Matter were formed, to protect disadvantaged people from the prejudice and racism they face every day.
Protesting and free speech have been protected since the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were born from the Revolutionary War. Women and minorities protested to get their right to vote. This is how we progress and it has always been encouraged to fight back against tyrants and oppressors. However, it does not include any groups that incite violence against others. The counter protestors were speaking for the soul of our nation, where everyone is accepted and protects others from harm.
The question then becomes why is the expression of bigotry and racism tolerated now? In the past, it was always taboo to be a Nazi or to be in the KKK. The white supremacists have now been emboldened and given a safe space by one man: Donald Trump. He can claim that he is not a racist. However, from the first day of his campaign he called Mexicans rapists and thugs and promised to build a wall and keep out those taking jobs. He also had a travel ban targeting people from Muslim-specific countries. On a deeper level, he spoke in code to those hiding in the shadows. Mr. Trump is not talking about sweat shops and pollution when he says he is going to “Make America Great Again”, he is talking about undoing several decades of social progress and returning our society to the pre-civil rights era.
The thing is, though, that even though these individuals had a voice on August 11th, they weren’t met kindly by most of the nation, by those of us who won’t tolerate fascism. Many of those men showing their faces on television lost their jobs on Monday as people began to identify them. The white supremacists had over 9 so-called free speech rallies planned in the coming months in other cities with this new found space. Their first was in Boston on Saturday the 19th and they were vastly outnumbered by counter-protesters.
No matter what anyone says, these protests and making our voices continually heard are part of the permanent solution to this problem. Whether your voice is heard, in the street, or on Facebook or Twitter, keep fighting against fascism and what you know is right. Do not let these issues fall into oblivion. Keep the dream that we are all equal, a melting pot full of immigrants. While these white supremacists can be pushed into the shadows, never let your privilege allow you to forget they are there. In addition, it’s time we labeled Nazis as terrorists and allow them to be arrested for spouting their violent rhetoric and behavior. The Illinois Senate has already passed a bill to call Nazis terrorists. This is a beginning and if we keep telling them it is wrong, this will continue. Actions in response to Charlottesville are already being taken, in the removal of offensive statues because the people spoke so loudly. So, too, our voices can keep hateful terrorizing voices from ever gaining power again. Therefore, the soul of the United States will remain “One Nation…Indivisible.”