While we needn’t waste our best energies fretting about Donald Trump’s character defects, his efforts to avoid denouncing racism — white supremacy — as a morally repugnant foundation of our nation demands a response, especially from white people.
As a white Christian Southerner, I am appalled by the legacy of white supremacy that has shaped our nation. Racism has not only shaped our laws, our politics, and the shape of our economic system. It has also colored our religious beliefs and symbols and has infused our psyches with distorted, damaging feelings and assumptions about who matters most in the world around us.
The “alt right” white nationalists and neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville over the weekend were, by their own enthusiastic admission, “emboldened” by Trump, whom they lifted up as “their” President. They are right about this: Trump is their President.
By his own lack of any moral compass or commitment to a just, compassionate, and unified society, their President emboldens white supremacists to do their own hateful thing whenever they please. If they get too violent, as in Charlottesville, their President will just blame extremists “from all sides” — Civil Rights and Human Rights activists as well as white supremacists. Say Black Lives Matter? What about White Lives, to whom this nation actually belongs? These folks love their white President.
The voices of white supremacists are indeed emboldened by a President who doesn’t give a damn about anybody but himself: a rich white man with nothing to lose by encouraging other white guys to do their own thing too, applauding him and voting for him along the way.
As a white person, I condemn the ugly, vicious behavior of these white people, including the President of the United States. As a Christian, I am appalled that much of their shameful behavior is being done in the name of Jesus. This is a major political scam, a huge and damning spiritual lie.
As a matter of fact, Jesus of Nazareth embodied an ethic of Love. His entire life bore witness to the meaning of love: to do unto others what we would have them do unto us, to share whatever riches we have with those who have less, and to practice compassion and non-violence in every possible context.
Jesus taught the antithesis of white supremacy. Practicing the opposite of hate, Jesus showed that, when we love one another, we are loving God. His life revealed that, whenever we love, God loves through us. This deep love is the exact opposite of white supremacy, alt right arrogance, and Nazi ideology.
Finally, as a Southerner, I am ashamed of my fellow southerners who insist that our savagely racist history, our legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, lynchings and a racialized penal system, are behind us. Yes, we have made strides toward racial justice, including the election and reelection of an African American President, which evidently churned the racist waters in which our nation finds itself afloat.
Alas, white supremacy lives on not just through the Nazis and white nationalists, but through all of us. It’s in the air we breathe. All Americans are infected by racism in our minds and hearts and bodies.
The best we can do — especially we who are white — is live passionately anti-racist lives, understanding that while our racist legacy is part of the problem, our anti-racist lives can play marvelous, if often only small, parts in forging the solutions.