“We must always take sides,” stated Holocaust survivor and novelist Elie Wiesel. “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Last weekend I, like many of you, looked on as droves of White supremacists descended upon Charlottesville, Virginia, to “take America back.” Their repossession attempt involved a protest against the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The view of the enraged, Tiki-torch bearers was a bit haunting, though not at all surprising given the social climate of our country.
Yes, in 2017, despite the fact that both Nazis and the Confederacy ultimately landed on the wrong side of history, there remain sects of our society that seek to preserve the shameful legacy of both. One might ask, how is this still able to happen? Why, after the Black Holocaust (Trans-Atlantic slave trade), Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Jewish Holocaust and post civil-rights era, are we staring at devices that can do things the Jetsons only dreamed of, viewing racists, with their hoods off, brazenly shouting “Jew will not replace us,” “blood and soil,” and other hate-filled statements?
The answer, I believe, lies in the fact that this country has yet to deal with its race problem, its hate problem, in a deliberate way.
Racism is, like many experts have stated, a disease of the mind. It is a learned behavior, one that is embedded into the tapestry of this county in a seemingly irremovable way. And despite what those who advocate hand holding, hugging and kumbaya chanting may say … racism is about systems more than it is about people and personal relationships.
So again, why Charlottesville? Why countless injuries and three lives lost? Why Nazis and torches and hate speech? Systems and policy. It is impossible to denounce racist acts without acknowledging and denouncing the structures that allow for their existence.
Right now, leading our country are people whose statements and actions, both past and present, have allowed for this. I don’t need to go down the roll of indiscretions that plague this current administration, but up until Monday, when the current POTUS delivered obviously forced remarks on the Charlottesville incident, he hadn’t done enough to separate himself from the likes of outspoken supporter David Duke, former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, who says he was “fulfilling the promises of Trump,” by attending the Unite the Right rally in Virginia, and white nationalist Matthew Heimbach of Indiana, who helped promote the rally and claimed he was acting upon the wishes of the president when he assaulted a protester at a Trump rally last spring in Kentucky.
On Tuesday, when Trump decided to double-down on his original statement that there was blame “on both sides,” (among other deplorable remarks) he showed his true character and once again emboldened white supremacists and aligned himself with the wrong side.
It is for this reason and many others that I find any attempt at collaboration with this administration to be not only futile, but also unconscionable.
Kenneth Frazier, CEO of Merck pharmaceuticals and one of the most prominent Black executives in the country, became the first of four execs to leave Trump’s manufacturing council this week. In a written statement, he said his decision to leave “was a matter of personal conscience,” and that he feels “a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.”
I wish other Black leaders with connections to this administration would do the same and renounce their affiliation.
Last Friday, on the eve of what would shape up to be a horrific weekend, I attended Ten Point Coalition’s $250-a-plate fundraising luncheon in downtown Indianapolis. As I sat near the back with other members of the media, I listened as data point after data point illustrating the group’s effectiveness was shared. Though a number of community leaders have called into question the validity of the organization’s track record and the methods employed in securing funding, their efforts have amassed attention at the highest of levels. Last week, Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill announced that he would use $500,000 to expand Ten Point statewide. Plans are also emerging to establish organizations under the Ten Point umbrella in other states.
Despite what you or I may feel about Ten Point, the efforts of the organization have been and will continue to be influential, due in no small part to the political relationships they’ve fostered.
This is why a certain piece of former governor, now-Vice President Mike Pence’s keynote address at the luncheon troubled and puzzled me.
In addition to saying those fighting against youth violence have an “ally” in Donald Trump, Pence remarked: “We have a president who is deeply committed to the mission and values represented here today.”
Just what values are those? I pray not the ones Trump exhibited this week or in his racially charged attack on the young Black men of the Central Park Five, or the birtherism movement he championed against former President Barack Obama or his repeated misnomers about the people of Chicago or his “joke” about police brutality.
Overall, I found much of what the vice president shared to be tone deaf, especially considering his troubling stance on gun control and that homicides under his watch reached record highs in Indianapolis.
This is why I believe allyship should be taken a bit more seriously. It should be about more than who can help you gain access, funding, notoriety or whatever it is you seek.
Like Frazier, and the growing number of Republicans distancing themselves from Trump, groups like Ten Point should be careful to not align themselves with those whose actions clearly demonstrate they do not share the same values.
If history has shown us nothing else, it’s shown that in times of turmoil and injustice, lines must be drawn and sides must be taken.
Ebony Marie Chappel @EbonyTheWriter