As conflicts escalate nationwide over racial issues, local residents gathered in a peaceful march Tuesday in Gainesville. They chanted “love not hate will make America great.” We applaud and agree with that sentiment, and we’re proud to see our community stand against white supremacy.
Yet we know the unity portrayed in that march is not true of our community at large; a quick scan of comments on a live video published by The Times on Facebook reveals some who are skeptics at best and haters at worst.
One commenter suggested people “should mind their own business.” Another wrote “shut up and go back to work.” Despite the marchers’ declarations that their gathering wasn’t political, others could not separate what they saw from a liberal agenda they oppose.
That’s unfortunate. The spectrum is wide between Unite the Right and Antifa, two groups involved in the violent protests in Charlottesville, Va., but those issues aren’t necessarily political in nature.
We can disagree about what should be done with Confederate statues and monuments. We can disagree about how racism manifests itself in our society. But we cannot disagree or entertain debate about whether one race is superior to another. That’s an illegitimate premise that has nothing to do with liberal or conservative, but simply right and wrong.
This is not a right and left argument, which is in essence about the size and scope of government’s role in our lives. Those who want to characterize legitimate ideological positions based on race are likely to paint everyone who holds conservative views into a corner with neo-Nazis and skinheads. That plays into the argument of those who claim all disagreements with Barack Obama’s policies were based on his race, and that all conservative leaders are to blame for the rise of Donald Trump. All the gray area has been erased from the picture by extremists on both sides because they want to have this fight.
Everyone of all political views should unite against white supremacy. In fact, we have to. Marchers shouldn’t sit down simply because their message makes others a bit uncomfortable. Racism sometimes exists openly and sometimes is more subtle — in the employer who doesn’t look as seriously at the application because of an ethnic-sounding name, or the parents who prefer their daughter not go to the prom with someone of a different background.
Rather than face these issues, too many prefer to repress them. It is the dark family secret no one wants to talk about at the holiday dinner table. Many refuse to face it and divert the conversation to other matters.
For some, it’s simply because they don’t care about the struggles people of color have endured throughout history. For most, it’s likely the desire to forget a past that conflicts with the image of our country as we wish it to be. That’s because we know down deep that the execution of what America is and should be hasn’t always lived up to the ideal.
The Founding Fathers got an awful lot right in drawing up blueprints for a new kind of nation, one where class and nobility didn’t guarantee a seat at the governing table, where freedom to follow one’s fate wasn’t determined by an accident of birth. But they built one huge, inherent flaw into the foundation: This great ideal didn’t treat all people equally, allowing some to be treated as livestock and less than human.
Yet America’s original sin plagued the nation throughout the 19th century, leading to a civil war that took more than 600,000 lives. It took another century of segregation before the end of government-supported apartheid got us closer to being a whole nation.
But there remain serious systematic problems in many aspects of society that need to be addressed and repaired to bring us closer to becoming a truly free nation. We can’t fix a problem, though, until we acknowledge it exists.
This denial by otherwise good people delays that effort. Those who claim “racism is dead, slavery is dead, get over it” can’t see things from the other perspective. It took the country some 200 years to work on tearing down slavery, segregation and discrimination, yet many seem to think African-Americans should “move past it” in a fraction of that time.
Those who still face racial bigotry know it’s still there. We owe it to our fellow Americans not to turn away when the subject comes up.
Tuesday’s marchers spoke against hatred, a message that should never be silenced. We hope those of color in our community see that most of us support their dreams and stand against any effort to take away their rights and freedoms or diminish their role in American society.
Perhaps instead of belittling peaceful marchers, our commenters should close that Facebook page and go back to work themselves. Better yet, they should try listening to varying viewpoints before jumping into the fray — preferably in person.
Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a a letter to the editor; email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas, plus community members Susan DeCrescenzo, Cathy Drerup and Brent Hoffman.