This past Friday and Saturday, America had a distressing moment of deja vu. Torches were lit by white men dissatisfied by the results of the Civil War. For anyone who knows their history… there is no doubt what message was being sent. As if the past one hundred fifty years decided all at once to remind us of all of their darkness and pain, many of us watched in horror as Swastikas flew beside Confederate flags in protest of a statue being moved… not destroyed… moved.
I have heard more than once from commentators and conversations the question, “What year is it?” Some WWII veterans that we have left and children of WWII veterans are wondering, like Captain America in Winter Soldier, whether the war they fought and the sacrifices they made had any lasting impact. Those that lived through the tumultuous 60s are wondering if their marching and activity left any lasting impact and whether or not they’ll need to head out again in defense of those without power.
I… Honestly I am just heartbroken and dismayed to the point of near-despair over this one. I look at the faces in the pictures and I see young men my age or even younger. I see young men who have had their college paid for by loving families with enough means. I see young men who have had nice clothes purchased for them by others. I see young men who, in many respects, have had everything handed to them, whether they realize it or not… And in these ways, I see myself… I realize that I have not had to work as hard as others to get to where I am today. I am grateful. Truly.
But what also breaks my heart is the phrase, “both sides.” In this instance… there aren’t two sides. At some point this may have been about free speech, but part of free speech is also facing the dialogue and realizing the wrongness of toxic ideas that will only poison society. White nationlism/supremacy is and has been a dangerous idea. At the same time it claims a position of power and powerlessness. It willfully ignores the privileges it has while denouncing the ability of the other to reach for those same privileges.
Is this about Confederate history? Not anymore. When actual Nazi flags are being flown in front of General Lee, General Lee no longer stands for honor, states’ rights, and a bygone era. He now stands for a philosophy so ugly and damaging that the world went to war with it. A symbol’s meaning is not static. Symbols are dynamic, meaning that they change and shift over time depending on the culture surrounding them. Just as the swastika was originally an Asian symbol of peace, enlightenment, and the sun, many cultures in the West today see it as a symbol of genocide, hatred, and domination.
Part of what I saw at this rally was a collection of embittered young men who have lost all direction to their lives. They were sold a bill of goods that society couldn’t follow through on. They were told that they could get a degree, start a career, purchase a house, and stay in their career until they retired at 55… no, wait, 65… no, wait, 75. But today’s world isn’t working that way. Most people in my generation will change careers at least once, maybe two or three times. The economy is shifting due to technological advances that have very little to do with immigration. Suddenly, the bill of goods falls through an hundreds of disaffected, drifting men descend on a town in Virginia to feel like they are part of something bigger. (
I’m not making excuses for this behavior, though. Turning to racism to justify one’s own insecurities is inexcusable. Turning to violence to squelch dissent is also inexcusable. Despite cries of “this isn’t racism,” I have to disagree and say that, yes, it is in fact about racism.
I’ve also heard the phrase “this isn’t America.” I’m sorry to burst that bubble, but this is America. This is the dark America that has been festering underneath the surface since our inception. I will agree that this isn’t our ideal of America. No, America ideally is a place of equality in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Instead, we are a people, sorely divided, broken, sinful, and selfishly clinging to our own view of the world in order to feel at ease with the world around us.
This also goes back to my post about gender. Consider that most men are taught to feel only one emotion: anger. Any other emotions besides victorious joy and shame are implied to be “incompatible” with manhood. So when faced with the sadness, frustration, and confusion of a rapidly changing world that promises nothing, these men fall back on their one emotion, anger, and channel it into a cause.
It’s taken me a while to formulate this post, and even now I still feel like it’s a jumbled mess of thoughts tossed out in frustration
Your children will probably hear about all of this one way or another. Have you thought about how you will talk about it? We can all agree, I hope, that we should name and shame white supremacy, white nationalism, Nazism, and racism in general. After that conversation, maybe put to rest their fear and comfort them that they are safe. Maybe discuss your views on how protesting works. Discuss your views on how to love your neighbor and what that looks like. Maybe plan a service project where you go out and help others.
And for future conversations down the road: Have you figured out your own viewpoint on the Civil War and its main players? How will you discuss racism with your children? How are you preparing them for entering the adult world, and what promises are you repeating?
These are not easy conversations, because often times it requires us to remove the plank in our own eye before addressing another issue. It requires us to do some self-reflection and really sort out how we view others and what we expect out of life. It also requires us to run to God, to pray, and then pray some more.