White supremacy in today’s culture is an issue that requires a look into the history of the United States. The events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August of 2017 re-opened the conversation on this racial issue.
On Oct. 4th, the Multicultural Center at Central Oregon Community College presented “Unpacking Charlottesville: The History and Perpetuation of Hate” as part of the “Hate Has No Place at COCC” series on campus.
During the conversation, three professors—Murray Godfrey, Jessica Hammerman and Tom Barry explored the multifaceted issue of white nationalism, including the history of the Confederate flag, anti-Semitism, and the emergence of the Alt-Right.
Karen Roth, director of multicultural activities at COCC, organized this event. “It was sort of a convergence. I was thinking about what we could do, what form would it look like,” she said.
Before the panel, Roth explained that it is of the utmost importance that COCC remain a “safe space” for students and faculty. At the end of the panel, students and faculty were encouraged to sign a Pledge Piece to demonstrate integrity and respect for the community.
“Research shows that when you and I are working and learning in a space where we are free of discrimination, bullying, or fear of some kind of violence happening, we are going to do better,” Roth elaborated on the idea of a safe space. “We are going to be more successful in school. It’s inherent that we provide that kind of space for students. It’s in all of our best interests and it’s the moral thing to do also.”
For more information on “Hate Has No Place at COCC,” contact Karen Roth at 541-383-7412 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Context and history of the events in Charlottesville explained by Murray Godfrey
Murray Godfrey, a history professor at COCC, provided his social science expertise to help explain the context of the timeline of events that occurred in Charlottesville, specifically the historical symbolism behind Confederate images.
In February of 2017, the city council of Charlottesville voted to remove the Robert E. Lee statue in Emancipation Park, which was previously name Robert E. Lee Park. How and when this statue was going to be removed was still up for discussion at the time.
A planned rally called United Rights, organized by Jason Kessler, ran in August of 2017 in protest of the removal of the statue. Kessler is a current member of “The Proud Boys.”
Godfrey noted that a lot of the participants in the protest were not from Charlottesville, but social media was used to spread the word of the event.
Many participants were shouting phrases like “White Lives Matter”, “Blood in soil”, and “You will not replace us” during the protest.
The next morning, the city announced a state of emergency due to the uncontrolled security situation. A woman’s life, Heather Heyer, was taken after a car rammed into a crowd of counter-protesters. The crash also resulted in a couple dozen injured people.
The whole controversy about the events that occurred in Charlottesville revolve around the symbolism of the Confederate flag.
“There is a lot of controversy on what the flag means, such as ‘It’s heritage not hate’ and that it’s a symbol of rebellion and pride in the south, or pride of America’s history,” Godfrey explained during the panel.
Many people who support the use of the Confederate flag and the symbolism do not understand the history and the meaning that the Confederate veterans put on the flag after the civil war.
“The actual Robert E. Lee was one of the primary commanders of the Confederate forces in the civil war. He was devastated by the civil war. He lost all of his wealth. He lost all of his slave wealth,” Godfrey explained, going on to add that Robert. E. Lee did not want to memorialize the Confederacy after the civil war.
During his funeral, five years after the civil war, he asked not to have any confederate flags at his funeral and that is was not something that he wanted to continue.
Godfrey explained that the rise in Confederate monuments in the U.S. was due to the generations that came after the Civil War veterans. “Most of whom [civil war veterans] had a lot of difficulty processing what happened and they saw their homes destroyed or burned. They didn’t like to remember it. But their kids and grandchildren memorialized what had happened in different ways,” he said.
This confusion with this part of American history is also known as “The Myth of Lost Cause,” in which the children and grandchildren of the Confederate veterans memorialize what happened during the Civil War in different ways.
The long-term effects of “The Lost Cause” results in situations and events like what happened in Charlottesville in August due to generations of individuals being uninformed about the reasoning behind the civil war.
An examination of the origin and history behind anti-semitism by Jessica Hammerman
Jessica Hammerman, a world and European history professor at COCC, spoke at the panel about insight into a commonly known form of prejudice: anti-Semitism.
Hammerman mentioned how for historians, it is difficult to discuss history in the making such as Charlottesville: “Historians like to have an end point, and what we are talking about is very much today. That makes a historian unsure of her footing.”
Anti-Semitism came about in 1879; this period of time was “the scientization of everything and a lot of faulty and racial science.” Wilhelm Marr, a German writer, sought to condemn people of Jewish descent, liberals, and other marginalized groups. This hatred of these groups became known as anti-Semitism.
After introducing the origin of the word, Hammerman examined the term “Blood and Soil” (the same term being used during the Charlottesville protests) and how it relates to Nazi ideals from the 20th century. When used during that time, they were saying that individuals had to be of a certain heritage.
She explained that the term “blood” refers to someone’s biology, , and “soil” is referring to the nation.
“When these men in Charlottesville were trying to resuscitate this, it is an overt reference to Nazism,” Hammerman explained.
Something that Hammerman brought up that has also not received as much press are the events that happened at the Congregation of Beth Israel, a Jewish synagogue, the day after events in Charlottesville.
As these people in the synagogue were going about their day, they noticed that they were surrounded by men with weapons cornering the building and shouting obscenities.
The President of the synagogue had tried to warn authorities of the threatening presence, but they were forced to escape out the back of the building without harm.
Anti-Semitism has become “the oldest form of hatred there is” according to Hammerman. “Anti-Semitism is part of the foundation of our society as racism is. White supremacy relies on anti-Semitism in order to differentiate purity,” Hammerman noted after explaining what had happened the day after Charlottesville.
To prevent this type of hatred and condemn it when it does happen, Hammerman encouraged the audience to speak out when they hear prejudice of any kind and educate yourself.
Hammerman ended her part of the panel by saying “Always question what you see. Figure out the truth behind things. Report incidents. Speak up on behalf of the marginalized. Marginalization is part of the fabric of our nation, to part of what made the United States. We have to do extra work for those who are marginalized”
A Focus on System Issues and the development of the Alt-Right by Tom Barry
Tom Barry, a sociologist on campus, spoke at the panel to help understand the history, origins, and intent behind the term “Alt-Right” and how our society and systems have dealt with it.
Barry explained that the term “Alt-Right” is a recent term as of 2008. The founder of the language is Richard Spencer, a known white nationalist.
“It speaks to a voice of a community of people who are in a lot of disfranchisement and frustration and he helped organize a voice, the Alt-Right is that voice, ” Barry added.
White nationalism coincides with this term as well as how “white identity” is being attacked in this day and age.
Barry mentioned that these groups and individuals feel like they lack privilege: “[Their] belief in this idea that they are standing up for things that are very deeply rooted in their conception of Americanism and nationalism.”
The groups who are supportive of this Alt-Right movement tend to be critical of government, science, and critical thought. White nationalists are also critical of democratic and liberal values as well as government and social policies.
A sociological explanation can help people understand why this term is just coming about. Recently, there has been more of an active and positive voice to marginalized groups, the LGBTQ community, for example.
“Their [Alt-Right] system of privilege and voice in society is being challenged,” Barry added.
According to Barry, this “context of emergence” within these Alt-Right groups commonly include economic disenfranchisement, less advanced education, less social support structure, a fracture in what was known as the American dream, and an increased presence of social media.
These new and emerging groups can leave many people in a gray area in relation to what the next step is for preventing these groups to act out.
Barry explained that it is important to become more informed about marginalized groups and question censorship to get through “Fake news”. ■