Last month, we experienced our first total solar eclipse since 38 years ago! The nerd in me was pretty psyched up for this event. At the same time, the humanist in me was angry and heartbroken by another blast from the past: hate filled neo-nazis re-emerging from whatever rock they have been hiding under to become part of the national discussion in a way I cannot remember during my lifetime.
Maybe I have been fortunate enough in the places I have lived that I naively believed overt, in-your-face racism was a relic of the past. Sure, as a woman of color, I still experience what I think of as "subconscious racism" on a very regular basis. However, what I saw happening in Charlottesville last month, coupled with the level and scale of the support that seems to exist for these people and their ideas, has forced me to reevaluate.
Over the last few months, people espousing utterly disgusting views on race, advocating violence against minorities, idolizing Nazis (!!) has become almost commonplace. What has concerned me even more is the way in which these ideas seem to be becoming almost normalized, as if they could be the subject of rational debate, that there are two "sides" to such a debate.
Obviously, it is easy to point the finger at Donald Trump and his cohorts who have been dog whistling to racists and fascists since the early days of his campaign evidenced most recently by his echoing the neo-Nazi talking points in his comments on Charlottesville by condemning the "hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides." It also seems to me to be a dangerous path to simply chalk all the recent developments up to the ascent to the Presidency of one idiot. Has it been a contributing factor? Sure. Does that mean these issues disappear for us as a nation when Trump (not a day to soon) exits the White House? No. So that means we really have to examine why and how we seem to be moving backwards on race relations and figure out how we fix it.
I certainly do not have all the answers as I am just beginning to wrestle with these questions myself. I do have a couple thoughts.
The first is that the many of the reasons for the rise of these beliefs can be found by looking at economics. Globalization has changed the world in profound ways and there were most certainly winners and losers as a result. Workers with lower levels of education outside of urban centers were certainly on the losing side of the equation so it is no surprise that we see these demographics heavily overlapping these movements.
The second is that the fragmentation of news sources has left us in a world where even basic facts are subject to virulent disagreement and people with what would have previously been considered extreme viewpoints can insulate themselves from dissenting world views and consume media in ways that create and amplifying echo chamber for their beliefs. The less talked about issue here is that those of us with mainstream views have no clue where those on the fringes are coming from because we are literally living in different worlds in terms of what we view as accepted fact and what we see and hear from our news sources on a daily basis.
So what I offer to the conversation in terms of solutions starts with those two issues I have identified. First, we as a society have to find a way to make sure we are not leaving people behind in the name of progress. A society only works if everyone feels they have skin in the game. While the conclusions they have reached as a result are clearly awful and wrong, the idea that the traditional political system has failed some of these people is not and that feeling is understandable. Next, I urge you to seek out new sources that do not agree with your world view. Take a look at Breitbart and Fox News from time to time to understand the soil in which these ideas take root, maybe we will have a better chance of ripping them out before they become full grown if we have a better idea where they begin.
I'm interested in hearing back from you about what you think? Do you see other causes? Solutions? Reach out and let's continue this conversation!