Indeed, by Tuesday, the president of the United States claimed many of those who attended a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia were “very fine people,” legally protesting, and were virtually the victims of counter-protesters.
The counter-protesters had been standing up against the hate being spewed by these “very fine” neo-Nazis. “Very fine” people who shouted racial slurs utterly shocking in these modern times and yet here they were out in the open, proud racists.
It was a stunning display of hate. And in the aftermath, the president’s humanity was nowhere to be found.
Let’s be clear. The two sides in question are: those who defend human rights and denounce racism, and the white supremacists. As many have pointed out, there is no moral equivalency here. There is hate and there are human rights.
There are those who stand up to hate as Heather Heyer did in Charlottesville and lost her life because of it when she was mowed down by a man who drove his car into the crowd of peaceful demonstrators, and there are the neo-Nazis, the racists, the white supremacists, the fascists, the hate-mongers.
The president of the United States has chosen a side. It isn’t the one Heather Heyer died defending.
Could anyone envision a president who went as far as this one did this week? Embracing (live on television), defending, emboldening and giving this segment of society space and legitimacy and blaming those who condemned the hate.
Americans have gone from a president who embodied the “audacity of hope” to one who embraces the audacity of hate. It is staggering.
For those who initially saw it as politically and economically opportune to be close to this president, serving on his manufacturing council, they are finding and learning that their silence is bad for business.
All week corporate CEOs have been cutting ties with Trump and denouncing the president’s failure to be on the right side. The only possible side.
In the aftermath of Charlottesville and Trump’s response, silence is not an option, for any of us.
Indeed it is dangerous. Trump has empowered those who hate. The comparisons to the 1930s and the rise of Hitler are frightening. Hitler depended on the silence.
That means those of us who believe in a different kind of world, a world of equality and fairness and justice, must step up our work in the fight for human rights. This is no time for silence.
Ask yourself what you can do to defend equality and human rights.
But don’t be silent.
Check and examine our own privilege.
Open our minds and imagine the oppression our neighbours face because of the colour of their skin, their sexual orientation, their religion, their gender. We must do everything we can to understand that oppression. And then do everything we can to change it.
It means learning. Learning about racism and reflecting on our own behaviours.
It means taking action, big or small, to call out racism, sexism and all forms of hate. It means opening our hearts to new friendships, to understanding and to love. Racism is learned, it can be unlearned.
And don’t for a second think we are immune in Canada. We have our own racism problems. And we have had politicians who have embraced hate and fear politics.
There are lots that we can do to make a difference.
Read the poems of El Jones or the critical analysis of Desmond Cole. Denounce hate in all forms, publicly. Continue to demonstrate against all forms of hate. Speak up and engage in the discussion online, on social media, in our workplaces and in our communities. Shut down the trolls, push no tolerance. Be visual and creative in displaying your support to end racism. Consider posting a sign in your window or workplace to say you have no tolerance for hate in any form.
Educate others on the tragic history of racism and why the events in Charlottesville are a cold reminder of how racism lives and breathes among us. Be an ally. Listen, listen and listen to the stories of racialized and Indigenous people to understand their daily lived experience. Amplify the voices of the oppressed to educate others. Support community groups and organizations that are doing anti-racism work. Ask governments and our elected leaders to take a stand to reject hate. Spread and send love and support to others who deal with oppression and racism every day.
And don’t lose hope. Our vigilance will make a difference. Never underestimate the power of what a small group of people can do to change the world!
But don’t be silent. Just as silence is the fuel for hate, love, understanding and justice will be its demise.
Lana Payne is the Atlantic director for Unifor. She can be reached by email at email@example.com. Twitter: @lanampayne Her column returns in two weeks.