Racists aren’t born. They’re made.
So the challenge for all of us is how to unmake and stop the kind of racism that reared its ugly head in the most public way possible this week in Charlottesville, Virginia.
It will require examining our own prejudices, listening to those who disagree with us and engaging in civil discourse.
But it starts with naming – not defending – the actions of white nationalists.
No ideologies, including white supremacy, exist in a vacuum. The thoughts that came forcefully to the forefront of national attention Saturday (Aug. 12) — with images of white men marching, tiki torches in hand, through a university campus — didn’t mysteriously materialize the day of the rally.
Racism didn’t die after the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964 or after the first black U.S. president was elected in 2008. And the threats it poses have been growing since before Donald Trump was elected president.
The FBI and Department of Homeland Security knew the dangers of white supremacy, saying in a May joint intelligence report that the white nationalist movement was responsible for more violent acts since 2000 than any other domestic extremist group.
Many of the young white men who marched Saturday in Charlottesville grew up in the 21st century, a time in which many of us wanted to believe we’re more enlightened – or at least more decent – and just than ever before. Certainly, white supremacy isn’t the norm. But many of those people didn’t get their racism from their families; they found it on the internet, a place that, especially since the election of Donald Trump, they’ve found a community of like-minded people ready for action.
When the white nationalists left the Virginia rally, they went back to their daily lives. They went back to school, church, coffee shops and their jobs. And their racist ideologies – that suggest America isn’t a country for all people, but for white people – continue to filter into their daily lives.
Calling people out as racist and facing them with an equal amount of force may shove the racism back underground, but it won’t make them stop feeling the way they do about people of color or anyone else they have decided to detest.
Like us, they are Americans, but the ugliest representation of an America whose history is steeped and mired in notions of white supremacy that sought to keep anyone of color out of shared schools, sports teams, neighborhoods, agriculture loans and restaurants.
White nationalist defenders are as close as New Mexico’s Doña Ana County, where the chairman of the Republican Party said on Facebook that “violent, leftist protesters” had “created the divide” and got “exactly what they asked for.” Outcry from within his own party has forced him to resign.
Those who perpetuate racism are as close as Santa Fe, where the Hispanic leader of a new political group posted a photo demeaning a black congresswoman. She later apologized.
They’re as close as Roswell, where a 29-year-old former Marine has become the leader of a far-right group that romanticizes “white blood.”
In Taos, it would be easy to let the undercurrents of race and history drive a wedge between neighbors. After all, Taos is a place where three primary cultures ended up sharing a beautiful valley after battling and sometimes overthrowing each other.
But Taos, maybe more than a lot of places, has the ingredients for hearty, democratic and neighborly exchanges. We dance in the Plaza together. We watch movies in Kit Carson Park together. We’ve intermarried and been godparents to each other’s children. We drive past each other every day along the one main road in Taos. We have a “commons” that could well be the antidote to the bifurcated, politicized, hate- and ideology-laden depths of the internet.
Taos should serve as a model of how to listen and talk to others from across the racial, religious and political divides, how to respectfully disagree and how to support each other in the ongoing struggle to improve our communities regardless of our differences.
We can’t be resigned to racism or white nationalism. We have to envision something better. We have to believe we can make it happen.