In what year did each of the following happen?
– Tensions with North Korea are at an all-time high
– Threats of nuclear war loom
– Prominent African American athletes protest race inequality during the national anthem
– Demonstrators are injured and killed at a rally denouncing white-supremacy
If you answered 1968 to this question, you are correct. If you answered 2017 to this question, sadly, you are also correct.
Over the course of my life, I’ve seen a lot of things. In many areas, there has been tremendous progress. In 1933, when I was born, 3M introduced scotch-tape to the market place. In 1936, the first regular high-definition television service began broadcasting (it looked a LOT different than today’s hi-def!). In 1938, Ruth Graves Wakefield invented the chocolate chip cookie. Look how far we’ve come since then!
But in other areas, progress has not been what it should. The headlines from 50 years ago nearly repeat themselves today. How has this happened? Why is America still divided on race issues? Why, nearly 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, do we still have white supremacists rallying in our streets? Why are civil rights protesters still being killed?
I suppose we thought that racism had left us. Sure, there were some backwards folks from the sticks that still held racist beliefs, but racism is dead in the popular culture, right? Wrong. The events of the last week in Charlottesville confirm the sad reality that racism has never really left us. It merely evolved.
The civil rights movement and cultural revolution of the 1960s made racism publicly unacceptable. From that point on, racism began to recede into the shadows. Angry racial epithets leveled over loudspeakers transformed into soft, disparaging whispers communicated in the presence of like-minded company. But racism never truly went away. Recent events have proven that, sadly, it is still with us.
For several reasons, racist ideology has emerged back from the shadows into the sunlight, where it can be seen in all its ugliness. This week, Ku Klux Klan members and other white nationalists demonstrated in Charlottesville, Virginia. Thousands showed up in counter-protest. At the height of the conflict, James Alex Fields Jr.—a white nationalist with a fondness for Adolf Hitler—drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. 19 were injured, and 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed.
In our scramble for answers, some people have pointed out that there was “violence on both sides”—that somehow, the unruly behavior of counter-protestors proves that blame could equally be laid on both the white-supremacists, as well as the counter-protestors. Nonsense. As a general rule, the majority of the blame can usually be placed on the group waving Nazi flags—the group that believes that one race is superior to all others.
“We are here to take our country back,” they say. Back to what? Back to slavery? Would they have preferred to be ruled by the Third Reich? How is it, that 72 years after the Germans were defeated in WWII, we have people in our country flying the Nazi flag alongside the United States’ flag? As a Jew, as an American, and as a human being, I find this extremely repulsive. Six million Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis in WWII—two out of every three that lived in Europe. The Nazis did not stop there. They put disabled people and homosexuals to death. They sterilized black youth. This is not something that we ever want to go back to.
So how do we move forward? The first step is to understand once and for all that, with racism, there is no “on the other hand.” We can never excuse racist behavior, for any cause. Equivocation is our enemy. Bold moral leadership is our ally. And we can’t wait for others to do it. The way to a brighter tomorrow begins with each of us leading today. More than half a century has passed since Dr. King painted a picture of his dream for America. It is time now for the leaders of a new generation to make that vision a reality. May each of us demonstrate leadership in our own lives to move us forward into a brighter tomorrow.