By Hart Reynolds
If you’re surprised then you aren’t paying attention.
On Saturday August 12th violence erupted between protestors and counter-protestors over the removal of a statue of a Confederate general. During the clash, a Nazi sympathiser deliberately drove into a crowd, leading to the death of one woman. Shock and horror echoed across the globe in response to the acts of hate and terror that occurred. People questioned how someone in the United States, in the 21st century, could be murdered in an anti-Nazi protest.
But how could anyone really be shocked? In the Western world, the so-called “alt-right”, or white supremacists, as they should be called, have been growing in number. The display of hate seen over that weekend did not emerge from nothing. It has been fostered and allowed to grow by the actions and rhetoric from governments and politicians across the world. If you are surprised by the events that took place, then you have not been paying attention.
This is not to say this death and the other injuries caused in the terrorist attack should be normalised or we should be accustomed to it. The unnecessary death of anyone should never be normal. I argue that we have passively allowed this hateful rhetoric to be legitimised. And it should not take the death of an innocent party to wake people up to the violence and discrimination experienced daily by minorities.
Heather Heyer was killed in a terrorist act. This must not be forgotten. The definition of terrorism has and continues to be debated extensively. The current U.S definition is “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” Heather Heyer was intentionally killed using a car in order to further the political goal of reclaiming a white America (a goal which conveniently overlooks the fact that America was under the stewardship of Native Americans for most of history). This terror act must be treated with the same outrage as one done by any other perpetrator.
In the wake of the attack and rally, Twitter and othermedia were awash with statements of abject horror and disgust. But also surprise. How did this happen in the 21st century? How did this happen when the United States fought against Nazism in World War II? This racism and hate has been festering for some time. Groups like Black Lives Matter, the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League have tried to bring our attention to the discrimination that is a daily part of the lives of black and Jewish Americans, among other minorities. They were not surprised by the hatred on display at the “Unite the Right” rally.
Youtuber Pewdiepie made headlines in February after losing his Disney contract due to making Nazi jokes. His released a video in the wake of Charlottesville saying he will no longer make such jokes. Stating “I remember back when everything happened in February, I was sorta [sic] like, ‘I mean, they’re just jokes. There are not actual Nazis out there. What are you talking about? And then I look at this, and I’m like, ‘Oh! Oh, OK. I see.’” While I applaud him and many others for finally seeing the harm in these jokes, it is a tragedy that it took the death of someone for this realisation to occur. For us to see that people hold these harmful beliefs and do commit these acts.
People have universally criticised President Trump for failing to condemn the acts of the white supremacists. In fact, rather than condemnation, Trump has said there is fault on “both sides” and tweeted that he was “sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.”
In times of social turmoil society needs moral guidance from leaders to illustrate that these acts are deplorable. But more than that, we need actual policy to prevent these kinds of acts from occurring in the first place. President Trump condemning the terrorism would have little impact while he still pursues racist policies. Policies such as the travel ban, which fosters Islamophobia and the othering of Muslims. The plan of Department of Justice under Jeff Sessions to stop affirmative action in universities. The actions of numerous legislatures to curb access to voting rights. His support of unconstitutional Stop-and-Frisk policies. These policies and laws are state-sanctioned racism and violence against minorities. Have you not been paying attention? Racism is what carried Trump to the White House.
This debate is not confined to the United States of America; similar discourse can be seen all across Western nations. Nor is New Zealand exempt. While we pride ourselves on being a multicultural haven, the Human Rights Commission has received 3041 complaints alleging racism in the last 10 years. Recent campaign “Give Nothing to Racism” led by Taika Waititi highlighted the importance of not allowing casual racism.
What can be done to prevent this horror from reoccurring? First, we need to pay attention. There are people all over the world highlighting the discrimination present in our society. We need to listen to them and help make their voices heard. We need to call out and challenge racist or discriminatory rhetoric and actions when we see them, be it from our friends or politicians.
People are finally waking up and realising that discrimination is harming people. What is shocking is that someone had to die in order for us to do so.
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