Holy false equivalencies, Batman! In the aftermath of the tragic events of Charlottesville, where white supremacists and Nazis descended onto the University of Virginia inciting hate speech that would eventually lead to death and numerous injuries, Donald Trump did not use this as an opportunity to truly condemn white supremacy and Ku Klux Klan terrorism. Instead, the so-called President of the United States buckled down on vilifying the media and his dangerous rhetoric claiming there was blame on “both sides” when it came to the violence. Trump, like many of his fellow right-wing politicians, tried to reinforce the false narrative that left groups and anti-racist organizations, like Black Lives Matter, are equivalent to the Nazis and white supremacists in their level of extremism. That is just not the case, Mr. President.
Rhetoric like this has an insidious two-fold agenda. First, it normalizes white supremacy as simply a case of one group (whites) seeking representation and fair treatment. It lets white supremacists off the hook. Secondly, it vilifies movements like Black Lives Matter and others who actually seek to protect the rights of the marginalized against real systemic oppression. Trump’s rhetoric says that struggling against racism and state violence is essentially the same thing as the hateful Nazi and white supremacist goal of wanting to place all other races of people below one so-called supreme race.
Neither point of this ideologically driven agenda can be accepted. Both are detrimental to movements that aim to combat unjust racial discrimination against people of color in our society. Thus, it is imperative that people reject this rhetoric, and see it for what it truly is. It is a backdoor way of condemning the much needed fight for racial justice being carried on by people of color and allies. To accept this false equivalency is to play right into the hands of Nazism and white supremacy.
In Trump’s initial statement regarding Charlottesville, he stated, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. [This has been] going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. A long, long time.”
Make no mistake, Trump is not referring to the “long, long time” of systemic racism against people of color in this country that has gone on in various forms, whether it be slavery, Jim Crow, or police brutality.
No, in this sentence, and the tone-deaf speeches that have followed, Trump lumps the calling out of racial oppression (what Black Lives Matter does) into the same pile as the call for subjugating other races under the so-called white race (what Nazis and the KKK call for). It is almost equivalent to one saying, “Those fighting racism are just as much to blame as those being racist.”
Trump is not alone of course in pushing of this false narrative. The vilification of Black Lives Matter and groups seeking racial justice for Black people and others of color is nothing new. In the case of BLM, since its initial inception around the deaths of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and too many other Black lives lost to police violence, a theme has emerged from the right regarding portrayal of this movement. The right depicts it as a movement of violence and so-called “anti-whiteness.”
The National Rifle Association, as recently as this past July, released a video heavily playing up the idea that BLM and other left groups cause disorder and division. The video stated, “All to make them march, make them protest, make them scream racism… To smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorize the law-abiding—until the only option left is for the police to do their jobs and stop the madness.”
After Charlottesville, Arkansas Republican State Rep. Bob Ballinger zealously joined Trump’s effort. He tweeted: “#WhiteNationalists, #BLM, #KKK, #Natzis, #Antifa, etc, all spew hate and violence. Reject them and their hateful ideologies. #DividedWeFall” These are only the most recent condemnations, but they are in the company of a long line of similar sentiments. Sentiments that don’t hold much weight when actual facts and statistics are placed against them.
The violence and chaos that have been attributed to Black Lives Matter and other left-leaning groups pale in comparison to violence rooted in white supremacy. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), as recently as 2015, 38 percent of all extremist killings were attributed to white supremacists. Left extremism accounted for just 1 percent of all killings. “Black extremism” wasn’t even a factor.
What this data means, as explained by the ADL, is that the 38 percent of killings could be directly attributed to people committed to the ideology of white supremacy. And no, detractors do not get to claim that violence perpetrated by Black people in large cities can be attributed to Black Lives Matter, because unlike the statistical data that can directly identify white supremacists in this research, it is nearly impossible to connect inner city violence to anyone aligned with BLM. The violence does not compare, and neither do the mission and goals.
The fight for racial equality of Black people is a struggle against oppression that has been rooted in the United States since its inception. Without slave labor, there would be no United States. After the Civil War, Black lives were negotiated away in exchange for political gains. The infamous Compromise of 1877, which resulted in the failure of Radical Reconstruction, ushered in Jim Crow segregation—a system that we continue to feel the remnants of today.
Add to that the prison industrial complex, which has Blacks and Latinos incarcerated at a substantially higher rate than whites, mixed with the disproportionate police violence suffered by Black people in the U.S., and it is clear to see why BLM and others are calling for justice. The slogan “Black Lives Matter” of course does not mean white lives and other lives don’t matter. The movement to protect Black lives is not in direct opposition to protecting white lives. The same, however, cannot be said for white supremacy and “white pride.”
Let us be clear, white supremacy and white nationalism are not about some sort of “white pride,” or speaking out against any real systemic mistreatment against white people based on race. That is not what is going on here, despite Fox News reporters like Pete Hegseth, claiming young white men are out in the streets because they feel persecuted and like “second-class citizens.”
White supremacy is rooted in the very idea that non-whites should not be afforded the same rights and privileges as white people. When white supremacists and Nazis are out in the streets chanting “Blood and Soil,” and “Jews will not replace us,” they are not calling for equality for all. They are calling for keeping the status quo—which means the systemic oppression of people of color and the extension of privileges for white people.
The defense of Confederate statues, some of which were only erected during the time of the Civil Rights era as a response to the fight for race equality, represents the glorification of a time when Black people were seen as three-fifths human.
The idea that white people are being persecuted under this system because they are white is a myth that needs to be rebuked. The advancement of racial equality is not a detriment to white people. White men and women in the streets fighting for some misguided right to be (or stay) the master race is fundamentally not the same as BLM and other groups fighting for marginalized peoples’ right to exist.
In a time when we have a U.S. president making erratic speeches claiming the media are the ones dividing the country, and that “our history” is being taken away, all while teasing that he may pardon a sheriff who practiced judicial discrimination against Latinos, it is imperative that people speak against racism and white supremacy.
That means we must be clear on what it is, and what it isn’t. And what it isn’t is the same thing as Black Lives Matter and anti-racism movements, or any movement fighting for true equality and justice. The Klan-sympathizing president wants you to think differently. He also stares directly into solar eclipses. Don’t trust this guy, or anyone who pushes his rhetoric. They’re the ones perpetuating fake news.