The racial tensions and violence on display in Charlottesville, Virginia, recently were neither the beginning nor the end of an ugly chapter in American history. While it may have been a half-century since racism dominated the political conversation to this extent in this country, at no point did racism ever cease to be one of our nation’s greatest flaws. It is a wound that has never healed for many reasons.
Until recent days, many white people tended to view large-scale racism as primarily a thing of the past, a foe defeated or at least severely weakened by the activism of the 1960s and ’70s. Sure, there have always been tiny enclaves of KKK, white supremacists, neo-Nazis and skinheads out there, but they existed on society’s fringe where their hate was mostly walled off from the rest of us.
Unfortunately, minority populations in our country have never had the luxury of such a convenient illusion.
With his campaign that began with a racist promise to build a wall on the southern border to keep out the mythical, drug-smuggling, white-women-raping, murderous Mexicans he claimed were invading our country, Donald Trump was actually tearing down a wall — the one that had been mostly hiding our nation’s darkest secret for decades.
It seems that there are tens of millions of people willing to impose draconian restrictions, via violent means if necessary, on their non-white neighbors in an effort to somehow protect themselves from their fear of shifting demographics and an evolving and more inclusive culture that has only just begun to claw at the gates of white privilege.
We need to have a conversation in this nation — a serious, informed conversation. There are reasons this is happening and ways it can be stopped.
Justified or not, depression and fear have gripped a large swath of white America. As we have written about previously, (see “The new harvest of rage,” Oct. 27, 2016) white men age 50 to 55 are now committing suicide at a faster rate than any other demographic group because, according to researchers, they now realize the American dream is dead for them. People lose hope and sink that low for many reasons but none more prevalent or powerful than economic hardship with no end in sight.
When depression finally takes hold, folks tend to do one of three things: a few get help but most either kill themselves because they blame themselves for their failure to provide for their loved ones or they blame shift as a defense mechanism — pointing the finger of guilt at somebody else for their inability to be successful.
Trump is the blame-shifter-in-chief. The president of the United States is actually the principal supplier of the unfounded conspiracy theories that allow white people to blame blacks and Latinos for their economic struggles, Muslims for their growing fear of the world around them and the LGBTQ community for what they perceive as the loss of their traditional culture.
We have never seen this. Fear in white America is burning out of control while the leader of our nation throws more gasoline on the fire each day. This modern day Nero must be stopped.
What happens next will likely decide the fate of our nation.
So that’s what we think about recent events and what needs to be done about it. But since we are all in this together, we decided to ask a lot of other people from all walks of life — elected officials, artists, academics and other thought leaders on all sides of the political spectrum, including the “alt-right” — what they think about what occurred in Charlottesville and what can or should be done about it. The following, in no particular order, is what they had to say.
—Joel Dyer, editor, Boulder Weekly
When I was a kid in the 1960s, I held two views of American race relations: an intense recognition of inequality and injustice, and an equally intense sense of optimism resting on the belief that citizens and legislators were seeking — and sometimes finding — remedies for the burdens of the past. While I believe that the nation has made genuine progress, I have fallen considerably short of wisdom in figuring how widespread — and how lasting — this progress has been. The events in Charlottesville have made me more humble in thinking I have any of this figured out.
I dream of a world in which young people who love the study of history are guided in acquiring a deep knowledge of the past and provided with skills and techniques for engaging the public. I imagine hundreds of young historians thereby empowered to convene their fellow citizens to explore — with clarity, evidence and good nature — the history that brought us to our current circumstances, and to direct that exploration toward positive action. In 2017, the University of Colorado has nearly everything needed to make this vision a reality.
—Patty Limerick, Colorado state historian, faculty director at the Center of American West at CU Boulder
We should respond, as many have, by calling it out and not hiding it with distraction or false equivalency. Long-term, on-going responses should be focused on equitable investments in public education and economic opportunity as well as reversing the systematic disenfranchisement of voting rights for people of color.
In our schools and our community, we need to encourage genuine, age-appropriate conversations about racism and white privilege, past and present. We need to support programs at area nonprofits like the YWCA’s Reading to End Racism as well as Intercambio’s work to foster cross-cultural understanding through language and friendship. As individuals and in our own families, we should push ourselves to put ourselves in unfamiliar situations with people who come from different backgrounds and ethnicities — I think this helps with understanding and empathy. Isolation and racism often go hand in hand.
—Sam Fuqua, Boulder Valley School District Board of Education president
We moved to Boulder from Charlottesville. Rollie was on the faculty of University of Virginia, so when I first heard it was happening I was incredulous and saddened.
In the end, it’s like the Dali Lama said: “Peace begins with every one of us.” We have to examine whether or not we’re doing all we can to model the kind of justice and behavior that leads to peace. We’re all distressed about the level of conflict everywhere and the lack of respect for what we thought were American values. I wish I could tell you I have a wonderful remedy but I think it’s up to everyone of us to examine if we’re doing all we can in our individual lives, in what we say and what we do, to really bring about the kind of justice that is important to us.
—Josie Heath, former president of The Community Foundation
What ensued in Charlottesville, Virgina, this past weekend with loss of life, injury and unrest was unfortunate, unsurprising and ultimately opportune. America showed its horrible ugliness to the world, which has been hiding underneath the surface for many decades, and thought to have disappeared with the civil rights movements, at least from an Anglo-American perspective. From the point of view of a person of color who was born in the ’80s and whom experiences racism to this day, I can tell you with all honesty it has always been there; as recent as my 2-and-a-half-year-old son being discriminated against from participating in kids’ activities at a prominent Boulder festival because the ride operator told me that he needed to know how to speak English. My son is bilingual.
I mentioned opportune because the focus on this incident has opened a rare window of opportunity for us as a nation to start having honest conversations about race and begin action on growing more mature as a society. This growth involves recognizing our flaws and strengthening our virtues by restructuring into a society equitable for everyone regardless of our differences. It also involves dismantling systems of oppression and a true and deep understanding of the struggles of the oppressed. Finally, a path towards a more just society involves intolerance towards racism and bigotry.
Of course, this is a grand wish list from my part, but if we can come together and start looking for actionable solutions to fix our neighborhoods, towns, cities and our nation, we will be much happier and respected for doing so. If the City of Boulder can take steps to become more diverse, inclusive and intolerant to hate by recognizing its flaws and standing by our Native American brothers and sisters as reconciliation happens — if our city makes a conscious effort to celebrate its immigrant roots, to protect its out-of-status residents, if it celebrates MLK by having thought-provoking events, if it says yes to love in all its forms by celebrating pride and takes care of its vulnerable — then our country has hope.
Charlottesville is both our national reflection of pain and hope. Let’s hope we can do the right thing before that window closes.
—Jose Beteta, executive director of the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Boulder County
No one should be surprised. What we witnessed has long been a current in the United States. It was enabled by one of the most vicious political campaigns in memory and subsequent seven months of Trump’s administration. Trump has surrounded himself and has been inspired by the likes of Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorkha.
Racism in America cannot be remedied solely by legislation and litigation. The country is overdue for an honest dialogue about deeply rooted institutional racism.
—David Barsamian, founder and director of Alternative Radio
I was outraged by the violence and am disgusted by white supremacists and hate groups. Hate and racism has a long history in the U.S. and in Colorado and poses a significant risk to public safety. Law enforcement, and especially district attorneys, had a large role in eventually breaking up the KKK in Colorado. We need to continue to be vigilant to protect our communities.
We need to continue to debate and discuss issues of fairness, equality and opportunity, patiently and with tolerance. It is the American way. We have done it before and can do it again. When our president seems to support hate groups, or to show no understanding of their history, the rest of us in lesser elected offices need to continue to lead and speak out.
—Stan Garnett, Boulder district attorney
More dismaying than what happened in Charlottesville were President Trump’s remarks on Tuesday. It was stunning. Regardless of what Donald Trump says, I think that he has fed into and manipulated people’s basic fears of other peoples. We have created, with the advent of Trump, the normalization of racist behavior.
[Charlottesville] was just the most glaring example of what’s going on since the man first started running. It’s not that it wasn’t there before, but it was not acceptable. … Now people just think that they can say anything or do anything.
The other thing people don’t want to acknowledge is that our government, our presidents condoned the systematic genocide of Native Americans. And our government condoned slavery. That’s a legacy.
Too many people say, ‘Well, I didn’t have slaves. I didn’t kill the Native Americans. I’m not prejudiced. I’m not biased.’ It doesn’t matter because you still have privilege from your ancestors who committed these acts. If they had not killed all the Native Americans or enslaved all the black people than your world would look totally different.
I think we have to acknowledge the true legacy of this country. People keep saying this is not American values, but in actuality it is, because it’s how the country was founded. We can say, “We don’t want this to be our continued legacy. We want to move beyond and learn from what happened before.”
I am heartened and inspired that so many people in this country have been shocked out of complacency, and across the board, Republicans, Independents, Democrats, religious people, non-religious people, are saying, “No, it’s gone too far. We’re not going to tolerate this behavior in our community.”
We all have an obligation to be engaged to make this community a better place. People need get out and vote. You can have all the protests you want but if you can’t protest yourself to the ballot box and vote for people who really care and want to create a better world, then all the protesting doesn’t matter. You better vote.
—Brenda Lyle, founder and executive director of The Family Learning Center in Boulder
Charlottesville is the zenith (so far) of the ugliness that Mr. Trump has helped bring back to the surface of our society. One is heartened only by the news that so many good people are rising up against this ugliness. The scenes from Boston last weekend were remarkable. That peaceful but resolved resistance needs to keep building.
—Bill McKibben, author, educator, environmentalist
My teenage years were spent protesting the broken system of apartheid in South Africa. I moved to America because it stands for freedom and equal opportunity for all. White supremacists believe they should be treated better because they’re white. This thinking has destroyed countries like South Africa and Germany and countless millions of lives have been lost or ruined by this hateful ideology. As an adopted citizen, and having lived in multiple countries, I’ve seen personally that America is the greatest country in the world.
I call on all Americans to peacefully stand up and be counted in the fight for equal opportunity and freedom for all.
—Kimbal Musk, co-founder, The Kitchen
My response to the protests is that it gives me a terrible frustration to see how we’re receding to the past, again condemning these cowardly people who shield themselves behind ridiculous ideals. To me that speaks to weak people who are in groups insulting, hurting and intimidating others. They believe they are superior but they are not. To see this president not even condemn these acts like a good president would’ve done was like saying, “Go ahead and show them we are superior.”
I would like the country from here on out, despite those actions, to have united minorities and unified communities. Let’s not act the same way as them. We should practice tolerance and find pacifistic solutions. Above all, Congress should create legislation that protects communities that were affected in Virginia. At the same time we need to protect one another and look for legal options that punish people that commit racist acts so that they think before they act.
—Jeanette Vizguerra, community leader and activist (translated from Spanish)
The terrorist attack in Charlottesville was the direct result of the emboldening of racist bigots. My heart goes out to the peaceful counter protesters and to the friends and families of Heather Heyer, Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen, and Trooper Berke M. M. Bates. We are at a crossroads. I believe we have a responsibility as citizens of a country founded on freedom to unequivocally denounce any attempts to perpetuate injustice and inequality.
We must stand alongside communities of color and all those targeted by hate to actively confront the normalizing of xenophobia, racism, sexism and other-ism. I have joined my colleagues in Congress on a resolution urging President Trump to disavow white supremacy groups, and have co-authored more than one letter to Attorney General Sessions asking him to combat domestic extremist groups, and ensure their actions can still be monitored by the Countering Violent Extremism program. Our diversity is our strength. It’s incumbent on all of us to call out bigotry and prejudice where we see it and continue to stand up for what’s right.
—Jared Polis, U.S. House of Representatives
What is clear about Charlottesville is that both sides came spoiling for a fight. It’s no surprise they found one. It’s also clear that the mainstream media and every left-winger around have aligned themselves with the “alt-left” in the form of antifa. Not to forget John McCain and Marco Rubio! To see the media and elected officials take the side of communists who meet free speech with violence, as antifa did when I planned to speak at Berkeley in February, is mind-boggling.
The definition of “Nazi” has been so abused and expanded by the media and the “alt-left” that it currently means ‘anyone right of center.’ These same people will be shocked when they wake up to be included in a still wider definition of Nazi, finding bottles of human waste thrown at their heads, instead of at the heads of police officers and Trump voters.
The answer to America’s problems is always more speech, never less. Violence will never be an acceptable form of political discourse in this country unless we let antifa and their friends take over. To keep that from happening, I’ve organized Berkeley Free Speech Week, during which a wide variety of speakers, including every speaker banned from Berkeley in the last year, will come together on the campus of UC Berkeley for four days of peaceful speech, non-violent free expression, and a celebration of everything that makes America the best country in the world.
—Milo Yiannapolous, controversial right-wing commentator
Our hearts are breaking from witnessing white extremists launch violence and spew hatred in Charlottesville. Our congregation joins with many others around the country and the world to condemn these acts of violence, racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism.
What can a rabbi share that will shed light on the horrible, deadly encounter from this past weekend? Light.
I hope we will respond with light. We must shed light on what is happening: acts by neo-Nazis and white supremacists promoting hate and violence, an increase in hate speech and hate crimes, and an increase in the organization of white supremacist and hate groups over the past year.
Posting about these concerns is not enough. We need to find opportunities to stand with others as we have done for so many years in the past, communicating that true unity brings people of different backgrounds together to advance compassion, understanding and respect.
Yes, we can pray. We can pray for the resilience, fortitude and commitment to be God’s partners, to not be indifferent to these actions from others who have hardened their hearts and committed acts of aggression.
When the president added that there is hate “on many sides,” he diminished what had happened in Charlottesville, blamed the targets and victims of the assaults, and emboldened the extremists.
We advocate for appropriate funding to monitor and fight hate groups in our country through the Department of Justice (President Trump was going to cut the work of the Countering Violent Extremism program). We provide financial support to organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which have teams who research and investigate extremist groups in America. We speak out and join with others in messages and statements of faith, hope and mutual respect.
May the Holy and Compassionate One bring consolation to the families of Lt. H. Jay Cullen, Trooper-Pilot Berke M. M. Bates and Heather Heyer. We hope God’s presence in our lives will strengthen us to be present for others who feel vulnerable and insecure, and renew in us the resolve to pursue justice and righteousness.
—Rabbi Fred Greene, Congregation Har HaShem
I stand against hate, racism, bigotry and violence of white supremacy in our country. I sympathize with all individuals impacted by these hateful acts. We must take a firm stance against hate and violence, leading and modeling positive change, enacting ordinances, laws and policies and being powerful champions of diversity and inclusion.
—Renata Robinson, diversity officer City of Boulder
Neo-Nazi scumbags are just that, scumbags. The First Amendment applies to even scumbags and I’m proud of the ACLU fighting for the principled stand of protecting the right. I’m reminded of the old anti-war bumper sticker, “What if they had a war and nobody showed up?” What if the white supremacists held a rally and counter-protesters didn’t show up?
I believe this is a dying gasp from a fading, ignorant mind set. Racism isn’t growing, it’s fading. Just look at the rates of inter-racial marriage and children. The real issue is economic stagnation. For a decade economic growth is just about the rate of inflation. People aren’t getting ahead and their frustration manifests in people like Trump and Bernie Sanders. I’d like to see a focus of re-igniting the economy, so people are earning more and feeling less threatened. Let’s learn from history.
—Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute
Like most Americans, I was distraught and angry by the violence in Charlottesville. It was senseless, and nothing came of this rally besides division, injury and death. We disavowed the rally two months before it happened, and were not involved in the rally.
I’d mirror the views of the President on Charlottesville. While there were some good people, on both sides of the event, the vast majority were either there to spew racism and anti-Semitism, or to engage in acts of violence. Proud Boys are not alt-right, and this event is truly telling about how weak the alt-right actually is believe it or not. The alt-right spent months planning this as their big public show of force. Instead, all they did was have a few hundred people show up and make fools of themselves.
Look at this event next to a Donald Trump rally, or next to the 2 million people who marched with the Tea Party in 2010. The people at those rallies are the right, and they shouldn’t be slandered due to the events in Charlottesville, even if it was called Unite The Right.
—Pawl Bazile, production director of Proud Boy Magazine OfficialProudBoys.com
I was horrified to see that kind of racism and violence, the flagrant intimidation of citizens and city police through the open carry of weapons by white supremacists, and the reaction of our president. It further saddened me to see Charlottesville — an open-minded and progressive college town that I love — involuntarily pulled into this situation. These racists selected Charlottesville precisely because of the city’s liberal politics, and I am concerned that the same thing could happen to Boulder.
Unfortunately, the tone from the top (President Trump) has created an environment that encourages racism and non-peaceful protests. Federal and state legislatures need to step into the void and create a safe and welcoming environment for everyone, as well as devoting the resources to this issue consistent with resources dedicated to other threats to public safety and national security.
—Andrew Shoemaker, Mayor pro tem Boulder City Council, graduate of UVA School of Law
The violence and protests that took place in Charlottesville make one thing clear — in the fight against racism and fascism, there is no middle ground. Silence is support. You either stand on the side of equality, tolerance and diversity or you do not. And as to the craven politicians — nay, traitors! — who refuse to call out the truth or the moral equivocation of their own, the ballot box and history books will be their comeuppance.
Where do we go from here? I’m actually hopeful. Until we speak about the genocidal crimes of the past, there’s no reckoning with the present or looking towards the future. With the rise of the revanchist right, we’re forced (yet again) to confront our nation’s original sin — slavery. The bad news? We’ve unleashed the darkest shadows of the American psyche. The good news? Most Americans are taking a stand and directly confronting our history of oppression — this feels like the first time since the late ’60s that an honest conversation around race is front and center for all of us. If the fables of the “noble” Southern aristocracy and the “War of Northern Aggression” fall with all the statues that celebrated the death of Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow, then free speech has truly served its purpose.
—Mark Williams, former chairman of Boulder County Democratic Party, considering a run for 2nd Congressional District
The members of the Lemon Tree Group find the racism and bigotry that has been unleashed since the elections of Donald Trump scary and counter to the expressed values of our country. We are a group of Muslims, Christians and Jews and have come together in dialogue to learn from each other, respect our differences and embrace our similarities as members of the human family. The hate and divisiveness expressed in Charlottesville is destructive to the soul of our country and moves us in the wrong direction.
What should happen? At this moment in our history, communities need to come together in dialogue with the belief in unity while embracing, understanding and respecting differences. Schools, churches and other local organizations need to support events that encourage these values and experiences with people who are different from us.
—Regina Gray, founder, The Lemon Tree Group Boulder
We denounce the acts of violence and the abhorrent white supremacist ideology that fueled them. While the ACLU has a nearly 100-year history of protecting the First Amendment and the rights of all people, even those with whom we vehemently disagree, to peacefully assemble, the Constitution does not protect and the ACLU does not condone violent, hate-fueled acts. The First Amendment should never be used as a shield or sword to justify violence.
As a country, we should come together to confront and reject white supremacy, bigotry and racism. Freedom of speech has to be valued and heralded as the cornerstone of our democratic society. Political leaders must shape the political discourse to underscore what binds us together as people, rather than exploit our differences. And government officials must neutrally apply the First Amendment and ensure the safety of all Americans when they take to the streets to exercise their constitutionally protected rights.
—John Krieger, spokesperson ACLU of Colorado
This is unacceptable from every point of view, using tactics that historically are intimidating that justify the violent actions. More than anything I’m disappointed to see that the progress that generations have achieved during the civil rights movement is not even mentioned by this government. Unfortunately what I see is that the current president has giving racism and xenophobia a national audience and is becoming an issue of impunity and corruption in the U.S.
[From here I’d like] for legislators to enforce the anti-discrimination laws in this country and for our communities to work together unifying a human and civil rights movement again by educating, mobilizing and acting as a community.
—Jorge De Santiago, executive director El Centro AMISTAD
Horrified. Heartbroken. Outraged. Resolute. Those are just some of the myriad emotions I felt in the wake of the Charlottesville violence, feelings that were further amplified by the morally vacuous response from the White House. There is only one side to be on in the debate over racism and bigotry. White supremacy is domestic terrorism and there should be no tolerance for it in America or anywhere. Period. It’s on each and every one of us to find our voices and denounce it before its evil seeds can further flourish in the dark soil of the current administration. Instead, we must work to cultivate a culture that celebrates diversity; in Boulder County we know firsthand the richness and strength of community that comes from creating an inclusive space for all.
While condemning the hatred and violence in Charlottesville is necessary, it isn’t enough. Racism has been an ugly, warped thread in the fabric of American history ever since white settlers massacred Native Americans and stole the lands they called home. The path forward lies in calling it by name and recognizing its pervasive and systemic nature in our institutions, our behavior, our unspoken biases. By reaching out, building bridges and righting injustices, we must replace it with an accepting and equitable society, starting in the communities where we live. As individuals and as a country, we must foster love and compassion as fervently as we denounce hatred and violence. Together, we can create an America that is welcoming and inclusive to everyone.
—Elise Jones, Boulder County Commissioner
We need to teach our kids, from the earliest possible age, that the idea of racial superiority is opposed to everything the Bible teaches and an affront to the Gospel itself. We can start with perhaps the most familiar verse of all, John 3:16 — “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” We have to help them understand that “world” in this verse means everyone — people of every nation and skin color. And “whoever” means whoever — God’s offer of salvation is not limited to certain ethnic groups or racial backgrounds. God does not discriminate based on race, and neither should we. We are all made in His image.
Sadly, the issue of racism in America isn’t going away anytime soon — and if current trends are any indication, it’s only going to become more volatile in the coming months. We need to come alongside our children during these difficult moments to calm their fears, answer their questions and present them with a biblical perspective on race. As moms and dads, we have the privilege and responsibility of pointing them to the One in whom “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
—Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family
I applaud the true Americans all across our country who have stood up, marched and denounced the hateful messages and violence of wrong-minded people. Once again, Denver and Colorado choose to stand on the right side of history and state irrevocably that we will never accept this resurgence of intolerance, hate and now violence in our community, or any community, in this great nation. While some seek to poison our national discourse and pit neighbor against neighbor, Denver will remain on the side of righteousness and the belief that there is unbound strength in the diversity and pluralism underpinning our American exceptionalism. And we will continue to stand steadfast and united against those that seek to divide us.
President Trump’s equivocation in response to the recent tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia, is nothing short of a tacit condoning of those who have been emboldened by his rhetoric. I — and all decent Americans — have one demand of the President: plainly and without qualification condemn and disavow these actions of bigotry, white supremacy and domestic terrorism once and for all as anathema to the very core of our American ideals. And cast these fringe fanatics back to the fringes where they belong.
—Michael Hancock, Mayor of Denver
Worldwide there has been a notable increase in racist, nativist, anti-democratic and fascist movements. The reasons vary, but key factors are a stagnant capitalist economy that offers less hope combined with a political system that is mired in corruption, dominated by big money interests, and incapable of effectively addressing the great problems before us. In the United States, we still have to deal with the massive role of white supremacy throughout our history, including today. Another crucial factor is the freefall collapse of the news media, which has opened the door for all sorts of lying and propaganda, sometimes bankrolled by billionaires like the Koch brothers and Robert Mercer who are doing everything in their considerable power to undermine any possibility of having an effective democracy.
These are extraordinarily dangerous, even frightening, times. Just the thought that Donald Trump has the nuclear codes should scare any sentient being. It is imperative that we invigorate all the necessary institutions for viable democracy: universal suffrage, public education, jobs at living wages, independent and competitive journalism, universal healthcare, free trade unions, de-emphasis on militarism and war, a commitment to building an economy that is environmentally sane and that puts the needs of the people of the nation ahead of the needs of the billionaires. The ability of the wealthy to dominate our elections and government must end. The only privileged class, as the saying goes, should be the children.
In other words, we should pursue policies that are pretty much the exact opposite of what the Trump administration and those in power are presently doing.
I am perhaps absurdly optimistic, to a large extent because I saw the extraordinary support for Bernie Sanders in 2016, where he dominated among all voters under the age of 35. I think the crisis we face in America is that the far right has managed to seize control of government at almost every level — and unleash the dark forces we saw in Charlottesville in the process — while not coming close to having majority support in the nation. That has to end.
—Robert McChesney, author, professor of Communication, Center for Global Studies at the University of Illinois at Champaigne-Urbana