Essay On Racism Today Cnn

My family -- we are not the kind of family that is targeted by hate crimes. We come from a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant background with Appalachian heritage. We have never had to be afraid that someone would target us or lynch us because of the color of our skin.
We never had to worry someone wouldn't hire us because of the way we look. We never have to worry that our children might become victims of someone else's prejudice. We've never been told we can't live in a certain neighborhood or attend a certain school because of the color of our skin. Until last week, we had no idea what it feels like to lose someone to hate.
After the news of Heather's death, I attended a Charlottesville solidarity vigil in my hometown. I sat anonymously in the middle of the crowd, silent tears streaming down my face, as speaker after speaker took the stage. People held up pictures of Heather and signs called her a hero. But the moment that will forever be burnt in my memory was when a speaker asked the uncomfortable question. While she hailed Heather's courage, she asked something to this effect: "Why does a white woman have to get killed for you all to become outraged?" All I could think was, "Heather is sitting in heaven right now, shaking her head in agreement."

Why have we been turning our heads the other way?

Why is it that the death of a white woman at the hands of a white supremacist group has finally gotten the attention of white folk? Why have we been turning our heads the other way for so long? How many black families, Latino families, Asian families, Native-American families before us have been left broken from this ugly vein of hatred in our country? Too many. And to my non-white brothers and sisters, I am so sorry that many of us weren't paying attention before Charlottesville.
We need to stop referring to what happened in Charlottesville as a clash between the "alt-left" and the "alt-right." The majority of the counterprotesters were concerned residents of Charlottesville, not a fringe political group. The so-called "alt-right," or the white nationalists, have no place in America, and they don't deserve a place on our political spectrum.
There is no space at the political table for them. There is no common ground, and there is no compromise. America has fought and won two wars against fascism and white supremacy already. White nationalists are the KKK rebranded, and they lost their right to free speech the minute they tried to use it to intimidate and incite violence. Which, by the way, was back in 1865. So, stop giving them a voice. There is nothing in our Constitution protecting hate speech.
If anyone other than white people had been marching the streets of Charlottesville wielding tiki torches, carrying semi-automatic rifles, chanting racist chants, engendering fear at a house of prayer, and menacing its residents, we'd call them terrorists.
Less than a week later, a van rammed through a crowded tourist area in Barcelona, Spain, killing 13 and wounding many others. We had no problem quickly calling that terrorism. Yet, when I say my cousin was killed in the terrorist attack on Charlottesville, I see people visibly get uncomfortable. They'll call it murder. They may call it a hate crime, but they struggle to call it terrorism. That man was fulfilling a call-to-action from white nationalists. He was committing an act of terror.
White nationalists are intimidating and threatening the safety and lives of our friends, colleagues and neighbors. They are not a political party that we need to compromise with. It's time for the rest of us to stand up and say, "No, not on our watch."
Yesterday, my son asked me, "Mommy, what do terrorists look like?" I answered him, "Baby, they can look and sound like you or me, they can be like any one of us here." And that is the reality. White nationalists aren't some uneducated backwater clowns that are going to disappear. They're loan officers, they're service providers, they're professionals, they're public servants, they're college students, they're everyday people. Racism isn't dying out with an aging population. It's found new life, and it's going to get worse if we don't put a stop to it now.
We're all in shock, the whole world is. How did America go from a black President to white supremacist neo-Nazis marching in the street? That is the question we need to be asking ourselves. And if we take a long hard look at ourselves, we'll find out that it's because we went into denial. We elected a black person, we made friends with some minorities, and we patted ourselves on our backs, saying, "Well done self, we have eliminated racism." Clearly, we have not. It's been lurking in the shadows, waiting in the spaces of the words we say and the words we don't say. The actions we take and the actions we don't take.
For example, when someone says, "All lives matter," what they think they're saying is, "All lives are equally as important." However, they're failing to acknowledge that racism is still a real problem in America. "Black lives matter" isn't saying that police lives don't matter. No one is saying that white lives don't matter. Black folks are simply saying they are tired of being treated like their lives don't matter.
If there is one positive I have taken away from the loss of Heather, it is that it isn't the length of your life that is important, it's what you do with your life that matters. If you truly believe all lives are equally important, then make your life matter.

Harvests traditionally begin in August, and last month in Charlottesville the United States reaped the bitter product of its divisions. But as the month went on we also found ways to come together through a celestial phenomenon and a vicious act of Mother Nature.

Both the eclipse and Harvey reminded us how minuscule we are. And maybe we needed some perspective.

It's been a divisive spell in American history, a time when we've disagreed bitterly on the country's direction and shunned dialogue and debate, choosing instead to seek affirmation of our opinions in echo chambers.

There's been no middle ground, just quicksand. We were bound to boil over, historians might write.

Then we paused to marvel at the moon crossing the sun, which united us in awe. Five days later, a hurricane swamped Texas, and we set aside our differences to show empathy for our stricken countrymen and women. Neighbors came with rescue boats, houses of worship opened their doors to evacuees and Americans rushed to donate money.

Suddenly, Charlottesville seemed like a long time ago.

Torches and tragedy

When they look back on the 31 days that just passed, historians may first seize upon August 11, the day white nationalists stormed Charlottesville, Virginia.

On a campus founded by our third president and the author of a document proclaiming "all men are created equal," an angry mob, mostly white and mostly male, marched with torches to claim Thomas Jefferson's words -- seminal to our country's creation -- meant nothing.

They decried Jews, blacks, Latinos, immigrants, anyone who doesn't look and behave like them. For older Southerners, it resurrected memories of the night rides, when robe-clad cowards on horseback terrorized people of color below the Mason-Dixon line.

These so-called loyalists arrived on a campus and in a town where they weren't welcome, to pursue a cause as specious as their patriotism: defending a statue of a long-dead general who lost a rebellion against the country to which we pledge allegiance.

Fueled by perceived attacks on whiteness, they demanded a bleached homeland, free of the cultures and ethnicities that form America's backbone.

They were interrupted by a group of Americans of all creeds -- including the Anglo-Saxons they purport to defend -- who quite simply said, "Oh, hell no." For one group, anger was a reaction; for the other, a state of being.

While historians will write about the hate and violence -- the clubs, the tear gas, the crude shields with symbols of white supremacy -- there were heroes that weekend, too.

A 26-year-old landscaper was badly injured saving his beloved from a Dodge that roared into a knot of counterprotesters. Then, there's Heather Heyer. We should say her name often so we don't forget it.

Heather Heyer.

Let's hope historians remember her, too.

Heyer was a voice for the disenfranchised, friends say, but no one could push her out of the way of martyrdom. She died that Saturday defending people whose value, she believed, was not up for debate.

As anger over Charlottesville smoldered, Confederate monuments across the South began to fall, intensifying debate over notions many thought were settled.

Against arguably the most schismatic political backdrop the nation has seen in 152 years, white nationalists promised to usher demonstrations into more cities. Counterprotesters and self-proclaimed anti-fascists vowed to be there when they arrived.

On social media, the world wondered, "WTF?" Americans asked if their country was marching backward, seeking to repeat the mistakes that had been millstones on its progress. Racist memes littered Twitter, leaving some dejected souls to complain they'd lost faith in humanity.

A cosmic interlude

The country deserved a respite, and it soon received one, if for only the 3 minutes or so that the moon managed to blot out the sun. For that wondrous moment, and the giddy hours leading up to it, our differences were irrelevant.

It didn't matter if you were Democrat or Republican, black or white, Team Taylor or Team Kanye. Americans from South Carolina to Oregon gathered at rooftops, parking decks, campgrounds and patios to gaze skyward to a spectacle 240,000 miles away.

It was awesome, literally, and when we took off those goofy cardboard glasses, there were smiles all around, a collective appreciation of forces grander than us or anything, good or bad, we might create.

Historians might write it was the grounding America needed. They just might.

Because as our excitement over the eclipse waned, like the moon cycling to its own rebirth, a monster storm was building in the Gulf.

Harvey's heroes

When Harvey struck Texas, with a ferocity experts say the Lone Star State has not seen in more than a century, millions found themselves in its path.

It was dubbed a "1,000-year event," but scientists studying climate change -- yet another source of our division -- say a warming planet is propelling extreme weather onto the Gulf Coast with alarming regularity. Texas alone experienced 500-year weather events in 2015 and 2016.

Harvey's 130-mph winds lashed the coast, and rain fell in cascades. Like it might never stop.

Too many braved the deluge, believing the storm, like some before it, would bring more bluster than obliteration. Soon, officials across southeastern Texas said resources were stretched so thin that rescuers were being forced to make the most unenviable of decisions: who should be saved first.

A dozen years after Hurricane Katrina, the images were eerily familiar: People stranded on rooftops, some having chopped their ways out of attics; disoriented families wading through rib-high waters, towing their belongings behind them in anything that would float; bedsheets hanging from second-story windows where people had rappelled to safety.

Authorities pleaded with the stranded to put towels or other markers on their roofs because house numbers were no longer visible.

As the rains persisted and the flooding spread, the cavalry arrived in the form of American altruism.

Sure, there were villains -- looters and scurrilous business owners gouging victims for drinking water -- but the dominant storyline became the heroes near and far who answered calls to help.

Cities opened shelters and sent manpower, supplies and equipment. Rescuers dangled from helicopters and charged into rushing floodwaters to pluck Texans from danger. Corporations and celebrities used their power and platforms to raise millions in disaster relief. Journalists put down their notepads and microphones to lift folks out of the water.

In one of the most selfless acts of heroism, the Cajun Navy -- a band of regular ol' Louisianans who cut their teeth in the rescue game during Katrina -- jumped in their trucks and hauled a flotilla of boats west to save their neighbors.

Texas prides itself on going big, and the state will have to do just that as it begins a recovery effort that will last years. Butif there can be any silver lining to such a deadly and horrific storm, it's that in Americans' response to it, we gave those who lost faith in humanity two weeks earlier reason to believe again.

In the grand scheme, whatever that may be, we can be defined by what we do going forward and how we put aside differences to uplift our fellow Americans, no matter their race or religion or politics.

We should hope that's what history reveals about us in August 2017.

Charlottesville exposed our divisions. Harvey hid them. The eclipse showed us we are but tiny players in a vast universe, and we have more in common than we think.

This story has been revised for context and detail, and to correct nickname of Texas to the Lone Star State, not the Longhorn State. Apologies to Cougars, Aggies, Techsters, et al.

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