John Colson: One man’s view of the Charlottesville saga
Hit & Run
A nice little city, home to a couple I’ve known for close to half a century, and who once took me on a driving tour of some famous battle sites from the Civil War as well as a museum of Civil War artifacts.
It used to be known as a relatively progressive city in southern Virginia — a college town, one that went strongly for candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race.
Today, though, it is solidly positioned in the ranks of a growing number of American cities whose streets and collective psyche have been marred by hate.
Specifically, the hate in Charlottesville was being spewed by white supremacists carrying torches and clubs during a far-right-wing political protest Saturday. The day turned deadly when a young woman was killed and some 19 others were badly injured, an untold number of them mowed down by a car driven by a man who reportedly has ties to neo-Nazi thugs and racists.
According to a blizzard of news stories about the mayhem, some of the opponents of the racist rally, apparently including members of the Antifa group that has been organizing against facism around the country, also were ready to rumble in Charlottesville that day.
But the underlying event — a purported protest against removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a site known as Emancipation Park (it used to be called Lee Park) — was named “Unite the Right,” and was organized by what appears to have been a rather loosely affiliated bunch of neo-Nazis and white supremacists (who now call themselves white nationalists, under the mistaken impression that it sounds better, I guess).
The organizers were acting on their misguided notions about why they can’t get ahead and why our nation seems to have taken a wrong turn somewhere and left them behind.
All of this came about thanks to a loud and pathetic collection of aggrieved white men who feel their lives have been ruined, and their manhood besmirched, by the rising tide of multiculturalism in the U.S.
Never mind that the very idea of white Americans being on the losing end of the race wars of this country is patently ludicrous.
Let’s digress a moment into a bit of a historical review, as seen through the eyes of a white guy who only happened on the scene about 65 years ago and has been appalled by our distorted national priorities through most of the time since — that would be me.
White U.S. citizens, by and large, have no damned idea what it’s like to live as a black man or woman in this country. That, of course, is due to the undeniable fact that whites, by definition, are not black — and thanks to this rather obvious difference, whites cannot say with any truthfulness that they understand what it’s like to be black — or brown, or yellow, or red, for that matter.
Whites have been at the top of the social, cultural and economic ladder ever since this country got its start, when the first pilgrims came over fleeing religious persecution and seeking economic freedom, at about the same time that the first slave traders started supplying a ready-made labor force kidnapped from various parts of Africa and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean under hellish conditions.
In the centuries since that shameful forced exodus, black Americans have been subjected to a kind of systematic mistreatment that whites could not possibly, realistically imagine, starting with slavery and a national racist frame of mind in both the North and South that seemed to accept the institution of slavery without many qualms.
After all, at the same time as we were subjugating black men, women and children, we also were systematically wiping out the Native American culture that preceded us on this continent. So, compared to how we were treating the “Indians,” as we mistakenly called them, our treatment of the blacks was downright benevolent, in the twisted logic of far too many of our citizens.
True, there were some who resisted both these genocidal pogroms, and by the middle of the 19th century the abolitionists had grown to sufficient numbers that they elected a president, Abraham Lincoln, who ultimately freed the slaves and kept the nation from being torn in half by the Civil War.
About 40,000 black men died fighting in the Civil War, out of roughly 170,000 who served (about 10 percent of the Union army, according to the National Archives website). That number is nearly a third of the total number of soldiers who died in both sides of the conflict.
So African Americans did their part in that horrible war, but though their literal enslavement had ended, their lot as citizens had not improved much in the immediate aftermath, and it still has not. Being a black man or woman in this country remains as fraught with difficulty, as deeply mired in racist mistreatment, as ever.
The very idea, then, that white citizens have been held down by minorities is, to me, completely irrational.
Oh, it is undeniable that the lot of most white citizens in this country has not been an easy one over the past half century. But the real culprits, the ones who have kept the vast number of U.S. in thrall, are our corporate elite and the relatively tiny, uber-wealthy class that goes with corporate hegemony, not the blacks, the Latinos or the Asians who have ended up here looking for a better life than they had back in their home countries.
The corporations and their minions, though, have done a masterful selling job on poorly educated, angry whites, convincing them that their enemies are people of color and anyone who sides with minorities in any way.
That is a large part of why we have a childlike plutocrat for a president, not to mention his henchmen and henchwomen who deliberately lie about the state of our nation every day, all day, to keep the status quo in place.
And that, to a large degree, is at least a partial explanation of why Charlottesville erupted in tragedy and death last weekend.
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