15 August 2017

Heather Heyer Didn't Deserve It. Nobody Does.

By now, you've no doubt heard about the awful events in Charlottesville, VA this past weekend.

If anyone didn't deserve to die the way she did, it was Heather Heyer, the young woman run over by  "white nationalist" James Allen Fields Jr.,  who drove his car into a group of protesters at high speed, then backed up to flee the scene.

Heather Heyer

His action is despicable and cowardly.  So is the reaction of Justin Moore.  In an e-mail, he said, "I'm sorta glad them people got hit and I'm glad the girl died."  He went on to denounce Ms. Heyer and the other protesters as "a bunch of Communists out there protesting someone's freedom of speech, so it doesn't bother me that they got hurt at all."

Such a tirade, shocking as it is, shouldn't come as a surprise from Mr. Moore, who is the Grand Dragon for the Loyal White Knights of Ku Klux Klan, based in the neighboring state of North Carolina.  Nor, I suppose, should it surprise us that he praised Fields as the sort of man who "made the great white race strong" and who will help to make it "strong again."

When I first heard the news about Heather Heyer, I immediately thought of the former Park Slope neighbor of mine whom I encountered in Paris last year, some two decades after we last saw each other.  Now she, her husband and daughter live in Charlottesville.  I knew her reaction would be strong, not only because the clash took place in her backyard (more or less), but also because of her convictions:  She has spent all of her professional life in the service of women and children who are vulnerable in physical, economic and other ways.

After corresponding with her, I checked some of my other e-mail.  I found a message from a professor who heads the Italian American Institute of the university system in which I teach.  He pointed out that because Italian immigrants (like my grandparents) experienced hate and bigotry--back then, they weren't considered "white"--we should stand with others who are hated for their race, ethnicity or any other intrinsic trait.  I responded to him with this:

The murder of a peaceful protester by a hater is tragic in and of itself.

The President's response is salt in the wound of our grief  At first, he denounced "all sides" which, of course, implies that the young woman was run down was somehow complicit in her own death  Until he was pressed to do so, he did not specifically name the sorts of people who foment the hate expressed by the driver of that car.  Then, he used only labels, some of which overlapped each other (white nationalists, etc.).

Even more important than denouncing the act of hate and the person who committed it--as well as whatever group(s) supported the hate he espoused--is to understand, and fight, the ignorance that makes it possible.  They do not understand the profound effect racism and slavery have had upon this country, and they seem to think that whenever someone different from themselves is finally gaining the same rights they've always taken for granted, they are somehow "losing out."  To them, blacks and LGBT people and whoever else you might name are "taking over" "their" country.  

Sadly, I have relatives who share this mindset.  Never mind that their parents or grandparents were among the people who earlier generations of haters and resenters tried to keep from "taking over" their country.  (My Italian grandparents were not considered "white".)  They say that blacks, LGBT people, Hispanics and others are getting "special privileges" at their expense.  (As a transgender woman, I can only dream of having such "privilege.!) Not surprisingly, they thought Hillary is the she-devil (I'm no fan of hers, but I also know she's not that powerful!) and voted for Trump even though much of what he promises can and will hurt them.

Some would say that such ignorance is a result of the way history is or isn't taught.  That is one part of the problem.  Another part is ignorance of what the definition of "American" is.  Nowhere in the Constitution is this country defined by a race of people or a culture.  To this day, we don't even have an official language.  I always had the impression the framers of the Constitution wanted it that way:  To them, the definition of "American" would change over time but still be bound by principles to which all who call themselves "Americans" would subscribe.  In short, this is a country founded on ideas, not on racial identity, national origins or religion.

In other words, white nationalism or white supremacy is nothing more or less than the expression of a notion that white people, however they are defined, are the only "real" Americans:  Never mind that blacks and Native Americans were here long before any of their ancestors--and that some of them were gay, lesbian, transgender or otherwise gender non-conforming long before anyone came up with names for them!


  1. Trumpty Dumpty sat on the wall. Trumpty Dumpty's going to have a great fall.

  2. DT is making our teeth grate again!

  3. Thank you for this, Justine. The only real Americans are American citizens. There is no other identity.


  4. Phillip--Let's hope so!

    Coline--Does he know how to do otherwise?

    Leo--If I am not mistaken, there are two ways a person can be an American citizen: to be born here, or to take an oath of citizenship. As far as I know, nothing else qualifies anyone to be an American citizen--or an American.

  5. Actually, children of American citizens are American citizens. There are many thousands of American citizens living abroad who have never set one cloven hoof on American soil. And their children are American citizens, etc.