Monday, August 21, 2017

How do I address Charlottesville when school starts?

Charlottesville 2017

I never could believe how many people that teach history had bought into the idea that radical ideologies somehow disappear.  Lest we forget that official segregation still existed in the rural South as late as the mid-1970s and that anyone with an Internet connection can see that the vile hatred has a home on the Web.  Nazism never went away, it simply laid dormant.

And now we have the White Supremacist protest in Charlottesville and the death of a young woman when a Nazi ran her over in a car.   This event is going to come up in class and it’s going to raise plenty of passions about things that have come from both sides of the political spectrum, including the lack of a serious response from the Chief Executive.  I’m watching the stunned reactions from many former students who grew up thinking Nazis and White Supremacists went the way of the Dodo because of World War 2 and the Civil Rights Movement, and the shock and anger are quite real.  I’m thinking about addressing a couple of different angles.

-Do the Nazis have the right to protest?  At this point we can talk about Supreme Court cases and the idea of the First Amendment, and when the First Amendment line is crossed.

-Is the White Supremacist movement on the rise in the United States and how does it compare with past U.S. or global movements?  At this point we can look at data over the last 10 years (it is on the rise) versus past White Supremacist movements in the U.S. (it’s not even close to past movements) and trends around the world (it’s comparable).  We can also look at economic conditions and the weakness of political institutions in allowing the rise to occur.

-Should Confederate statues in cities and towns be taken down?  The protest started as a march against potentially removing a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, allegedly.  This is a nice point to introduce federalism and national governments deal with pockets of local ideology. 

These last two issues are tougher.

-Is there a connection between the current Chief Executive and the rise in White Supremacists?  I do my best to stay above the fray of politics and be an objective observer of the process and the institutions.  At this point the only conclusion I can come up with is that Donald Trump has some sympathy for White Supremacists either for ideological or political reasons.  Neither are acceptable.  I would not be acting responsibly if I didn’t say “No modern President has been this complacent to the acts of Nazism”, and that the current president has top political advisors with clear connections to extremist white nationalism.  It’s sad because it’s regressive.  It’s also the truth. 

-How do we defeat Nazi ideals?  This is where the diversity of opinions and the siloed tribalism starts to set it.  Nazism is a fringe ideology that is extremely small.  Many opinions out there are lumping all white people, all men, and anyone not a “marginalized” person as the problem.  This is exactly what enhances feelings of anger and animosity that lead to the growth of extremism.  The other side is the growing culture of violence that is becoming pervasive overall.  More and more of this generation of student is becoming ok with the ideas of violence and censorship to combat extremism.  That’s frightening.

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