“Now I’m afraid,” she said. “I wasn’t before. Too privileged to feel fear.” The protest at Trump Tower was loud, so we, leaned in to each other as if whispering secrets. Another war chant rose from the people at the barricades.
“After seeing the car hit the marchers. Kill that girl,” her eyes fixed on some distant scene before returning to me, “I’m a white, middle-aged woman with a union job and now I feel the danger Black Lives Matters faced.”
She looked at me, “It took so long.” Shame and fear and awareness wrestled in her face. Yes, she was shielded by privilege. Yes, it cracked. Yes, she felt death brush her and was scared. I was scared too. I had blocked traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge, holding up my sign to lurching cars. I sighed and opened my eyes again. “You’re here now,” I said.
The Great Fear
We all saw it. On our screens, we saw the car plow into a march, activists thrown like rag dolls as it reversed, leaving broken bodies in its wake. Then the woman killed, Heather Heyer, smiling in a photo. Her murderer, James Fields, grim in a police mugshot. Fascists rallying to defend him outside a courthouse. Fascists carrying torches through a college. And then we closed the computer screens, terrified.
They are rising. Angry white men, marching under the black banner of fascism. Not in great numbers. Not with great political power, yet. They rise from the cracked American landscape like molten lava, hot hate speech, burning crosses, burning effigies, firing rounds of bullets at “running nigger targets.”
They rose with the President. When he campaigned, he spoke for them. When he held rallies, he stoked them like smoldering coal. When he won, he promised to make America great for them. And now, they step into the open, proudly, boasting of the coming race war. In the news reports, I see their rows of helmets and “Heil” salutes and remember tracing my fingers along the panels at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.
Walking by the laminated newspaper copies from the 1930s, I felt like they were mirrors of today. The same liberal panic. The same self-righteous victimhood of the Nazis. The same ugly hate wearing a mythology of racial superiority. Synagogues burned. Shattered glass, sparkling in the street.
I thought I left the museum, but months later everyday life has become an extension of its halls. Again the Nazi salutes. Again the shattered glass, now of holocaust memorials. Again the triumphant declaration of racism. I try telling myself, no, it’s not the same. It’s not. America 2017 is not Germany 1930’s.
It doesn’t have to be. I flinch when I walk near a television screen and see another Nazi, yelling. Or the President, washing the blood off their hands with his rhetoric of false equivalency. I flinch and fear tightens my chest, turns my eyes into tight screws and I begin to hate. I watch them march and fantasize buying a gun to go meet them and sweep it back and forth, firing as they fall.
And I realize that’s the trap they are setting. Hate for hate until we all descend into hell together.
“Glock 19, nine millimeter,” he says and pulls out another gun from a leg holster. I watch the white nationalist damn near re-enact a scene from the Matrix, where guns are in each nook and cranny of his body. The pile on his bed like an armory.
I pause the video and lean back, knowing he’d love to aim those weapons at me. Especially, me. A college professor. A “cultural Marxist,” corrupting the minds of white youth. When I listen to him talk about Black savages and his friends, earlier, rail against scheming Jews, it is clear that they need caricatures to fight because the fight gives meaning to their lives. They are arming themselves against an enemy that doesn’t exist. Me. You.
The Race Warrior role play only works in a mythology based on a lie, the lie that our lives are determined by our bodies, that buried deep in our DNA is the natural rank of humanity that nothing can change. Blacks will be Black. Asians, Asian. Whites, white. To see yourself as guardian of civilization, manning the wall against the barbarians is to admit you’ve lost connection to the world.
In the real world, all around is evidence of the dynamic change driving history. I’ve seen my students come out of the closet shyly and by next semester proudly kiss their same-sex lover in the hall. I’ve seen friends take off their hijab. I’ve seen families take in an addicted son and help him become sober. I’ve seen interracial couples raise their child to speak three languages and watch him grow big enough to live above borders.
Every day, I walk out into New York City, where countless immigrants came and were Americanized in its relentless vortex. Here, masks are peeled off. Languages mix. Music is reinvented. Politics churn. Here we are forced to acknowledge a humanist truth that is in stark contrast to racist mythology, which is that constant change throws us out of ourselves. If we are to live in the real world, we have to remake ourselves with others and in doing that rediscover how open we are to the new.
Another protest is called for tomorrow. And another after that. It’s good. It’s our responsibility. We of the left are the only ones who can create new answers. Every other political movement is stalled or going backwards. Liberals are defending a collapsed center. The right tries to remake a past that can’t return.
When I get the call to march, I know we’ll have the momentum. The Nazis are blinded by their mythology and can’t see how repellant murder is to the majority, regardless of it being framed as racial self-defense. Even so, we’ll be attacked again. Even if we stay on guard, some of us will get killed.
In our next march, I’ll look around and know we’re not alone. We carry the history of everyone killed by hate. We try to redeem their loss with new freedom for the living and the unborn. And as we write new signs and yell new chants, moving through the streets with us will be Heather Heyer, holding hands with Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner. Next to them, men and women wearing yellow stars. Nearby, slaves wearing shackles. In our march are the living and the dead, one carrying the other forward, saying, yes, of course, we are afraid. But that doesn’t matter anymore. Because we’re all here now.
Photo: MAGNIFIED: Americans came together across the country this month to condemn the hate on display in Charlottesville and to condemn President Trump for sowing racial and ethnic divisions. Credit: Fibonacci Blue.