On Saturday, in Charlottesville, Virginia, a group of white nationalists banded together and decided that they wanted to relive a time period that inflicted some of the most monstrous pain and torture against this great nation’s black people. This time, though, with Trump-era gumption at their helms, they decided to reenact “Strange Fruit” America, un-hooded. They decided to show their faces. The reaction, though? An overwhelming, not-having-this-shit.
Folks have been adding cell phone numbers to pictures of the unhooded monsters. They have been sharing images of the hatemongers, hoping they’ll result in some trips to the unemployment office. Folks are speaking out. They are roaring against the injustice. They are pissed, as they should be. They’ll be damned if America lives through this type of egregious racism and hatred once again. Americans, of all backgrounds, have been stopping at nothing to rid this nation of these neo-Nazi, white supremacist and white nationalist. And although they are right, although they are standing 10 feet tall against these agonizers, they are still missing the mark. Let’s talk about it.
To prepare myself for the reported disservice the movie Detroit has done to my city regarding the 1967 riots, I have been reading the book by the same name. In it, two quotes (so far) have struck me, one is, “Repeatedly the mayor and civic leaders insisted they were working not to simply avoid violence, but more important, to erase the inequalities in jobs, housing, education, and law enforcement that barred growing segments of the populace from full first-class citizenship” (Locke, 64-65). The other is, “As in other large cities, Detroit’s most pressing urban problem lies in the persistence of the Negro ghetto…” (68). These quotes, written about Detroit 50 years ago, are still applicable to almost any Big City,
America today. That is because they highlight the catalyst of (violent) racism in America. They say nothing about the bigoted hate-mongers that we see in the Charlottesville situation. Their power does not lie in the fact that they condemn torchbearers and “White Pride” shouters, the power of these quotes lie in the fact that they reveal the racism so neatly embedded in the material that creates the American flag that we forget it exists, yet, the big picture reveals the image clearly. Black people are still disenfranchised by systematic racism in the four areas that give their lives the most integrity: education, housing, employment, and law enforcement. And until we Americans loosen, or rip out the threads of injustice in these institutions, having the courage to really make needed changes, we will continue to relive our fateful history over and over and over again. We will see hate groups rise from the ashes of injustice and inequality, over and over and over again. And even with all the social justice crusaders against overt racism and injustice, we will continue to keep shooting the dart at the wrong target, treating the symptoms, ignoring the cause.
It must be said that I am deeply moved by the multitudes of white folks who are willing to stand up against this dirty crime of domestic terrorism, even losing their lives in the process; however, it must also be said that until those very same white folks are willing to act when it comes to ensuring education, housing, employment equality, and law enforcement reform, true changes will not be made. Engaging news stories will be broadcasted. Bloody marches will be had. But until some people are willing to give up their seats at the table, ensuring tax dollars are spent on making our schools better, revoking laws and the fine print that enable discriminatory loan and housing practices, and checking their own implicit racism, nothing will change.
The residual effects of slavery and Jim Crow have stained the fabric of our country. But these stains do not have to be permanent. We don’t have to be afraid to clean up the blood because we’re too afraid that it’s settled in too deeply. The same breath we use to blow out the fires of the Charlottesville incident is the same breath we must use to breathe life into the American ghettos. It’s time to pluck the root of the trees that bear the strange fruit of inequality.