By the time dusk fell on the 12th of August, Alex Fields had assumed the face of one of the ugliest days in the American history. Hordes of white supremacists had gathered in downtown Charlottesville following the march through the University of Virginia the night before. The protests were aimed at the planned removal of Robert E. Lee’s memorial statue. As the heat rose and the chants took a racial swing, the protestors – mostly white males – came up against an anti-KKK counter-resistance activist force, brandishing “Black Lives Matter” signs. The escalation of the clash led to bloodying of both faces and fists. Sticks were yielded by both sides and damages were accrued at both ends. By the time the violence subsided, a woman had ended up dead while 14 others were left injured.
Criticism at this extremist incident and the messages meant for healing and peace, flowed into Charlottesville from everywhere. But moving on was not such an easy task for those who had witnessed the alarming scenes in person or on-screen. Recordings reveal a 2010 Dodge Challenger ramming through the crowd and leaving bodies flying in its wake. Fields, the hitman driver, was taken into custody by the local police; not before the damage had already been done.
With a history blotted by racial discrimination and black subordination, the regime of US President Donald Trump has put new life into the white supremacist movements across America.
Going beyond these extremist rallies and attacks, one can identify a deeply-rooted cancer at the very heart of the American society. With a history blotted by racial discrimination and black subordination, the regime of US President Donald Trump has put new life into the white supremacist movements across America. The new sense of bravery is evident in this new wave of white revolutionaries. They believe themselves to be a part of the mainstream US political landscape and do not seem to be concerned about being branded as racists or Neo-Nazis.
The freedom from collective guilt and a mistaken assumption of self-innocence are probably the defining features of the white privilege. This privilege was showcased in Charlottesville by the seemingly bold white supremacists who hurled racist slurs and brandished weapons openly without the fear of repercussions. Rather, they were up-front about their hate-group affiliations and ready to rid “their country” from the African and Muslim immigrants, and anyone else who stood in their way.
Any remnants of the fear for punitive action were extinguished by the tacit approval from within the Trump administration. But this phenomenon is not new either. White supremacy precedes the current administration and is strongly embedded in the American structure. After all, the protests and rallies in Charlottesville were the conspicuous face of a much broader movement; including prominent CEOs and statesmen along with other eminent personalities hidden from plain sight but well-established in the American society.
The Charlottesville fiasco revealed a more troubling set of ground realities where the extremist foot soldiers are linked, directly or indirectly, to state power and policies looking vying for supressing the coloured communities in the United States and enforcing bans on Muslims and “non-Americans.”
It is, therefore, illogical to dismiss these white supremacists as just ideological deviants or the fanatics, on the periphery of the society, nostalgic for American apartheid. And while such movements have long been branded as such in the political discourse, the Charlottesville fiasco revealed a more troubling set of ground realities where the extremist foot soldiers are linked, directly or indirectly, to state power and policies looking vying for supressing the coloured communities in the United States and enforcing bans on Muslims and “non-Americans.”
It is rather unfortunate that the historic and current treatment of white supremacy gives a free licence to individuals like the Charlottesville protestors in their racial campaigns. The United States, as a country, has not taken any steps to disintegrate the foundations of white supremacy. Rather, this ideology has been allowed to fester unabatedly within the country.
The Confederate flag can be taken as a good example. The flag was brandished proudly by white supremacists, by the Charlottesville protestors. Indeed, the flag was a symbol for the defectors, who left the union and went to war in order to preserve their way of life which included subordination of the blacks and the supremacy of the whites. Despite this backdrop, the flag is allowed to fly openly without a second thought. It is in such contrast to the way Germans dealt with the Nazi flags and symbols after the Third Reich fell in the Second World War.
This general acceptance of the Confederate flag mirrors the failure of the American society to deal with white dominance. This tolerance of the past has extended to the present times as well.
This general acceptance of the Confederate flag mirrors the failure of the American society to deal with white dominance. This tolerance of the past has extended to the present times as well. This is evident from the time when Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) warning of a white supremacist terror spree was met with criticism and incredulity. Although the DHS had to back off under political pressure, the scrutiny was ramped up once again during Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. And eventually, the term “alt-right” entered the American lexicon instead of “white supremacists” or “Neo-Nazis.” Ironically, the white supremacists who should be branded as racists and extremist elements, are instead humanised and grace the front pages of mainstream press.
It is a great American myth that racism erodes with time. However, reality suggests that racism has instead spread its roots deeper and farther into the very fabric of the American society. The Charlottesville fiasco, that represents the swelling white supremacy movement, just goes to show that modern-day racism is just mutating back into the open and bold racism of old. It is surely a tradition that needs to be disowned, and an evil that needs to be vanquished.
is a graduate of School of Economics of Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. He has specialized in the field of development and political economics with additional non-credit courses of Environmental Economics and Monetary Policy. Currently, he works at the CSCR.