The country has been holding its breath for nearly two years. Endless debates on network news, social media, and the family dinner table have raged on, each person developing their own opinions from only one side of the political spectrum. The sewings of mistruths, half-truths, speculation, and flat out lies have become a daily part of the zeitgeist of our world — one that is centered around reality television.
The Special Counsel’s Mueller report was delivered to the Deputy Attorney General Bill Barr just a few days ago, and, as we’ve all heard by now, the report “does not conclude that the President committed a crime” but “it also does not exonerate him.” While the findings of the report have still not been released to Congress or the public, Republicans feel vindicated — as does the president — that there was “no collusion.” Obviously though, Russia did have their hands in the cookie jar that is our “fair and free” election process, and Putin’s candidate of choice was elected… but at least now we know Trump didn’t actively work with them to make this happen.
Moving past the anxiety-invoking thought that Trump was a Russian agent, we still have a president who paid hush money to a porn star and then covered it up right before the election. To me, that appears like an obstruction of justice, however I’m no legal expert. Trump is a shady businessman and always has been — and the American people elected him knowing that. Bringing back honor and dignity to the Oval Office will be an uphill battle for anyone who challenges him. It has become abundantly clear that if we want things to change, we’re going to have to do it ourselves and stop waiting for the government to come around.
This leads us to another slow-moving behemoth. We’re learning this week that Facebook will remove all content that includes “praise, support, and representation of white nationalism and separatism” as of next week on both Facebook and Instagram platforms. This is a surprising move from a company that has seen a significant backlash over its languorous response in allowing fake news sites and stories to proliferate on their mediums. Users who attempt to post this type of content will be directed to Life After Hate, a non-profit organization whose programs are designed to “interrupt violence committed in the name of ideological or religious beliefs… through education, interventions, academic research, and outreach.” Prohibiting this type of content will be easier said than done as it will suppress explicit speech, however Facebook may have a harder time banning implied speech related to ideas of white supremacy.
All of this comes just weeks after a radicalized white nationalist used Facebook to livestream his slaughter of two mosques in New Zealand, leaving 50 people dead. Much of the response to Facebook’s move has been positive, but many believe it should have been done years ago.
This allowance of white nationalism, supremacy, and separatism to spread on social media is fueling the alt-right in America. But one must ask themselves, if it’s no longer allowed will it just bury itself deeper underground on sites that do allow it? Will it continue to fester?
In many ways the election of Donald Trump proved what many people of color already knew: America is racist. Most well-intentioned white folk (me included) had no inkling of what was stewing under the surface… but now we see it, and if we don’t confront it in the open it will just burrow back underground. Facebook’s tackling of the issue is a necessary first step in combating it, but what looms larger is how we as a nation are supposed to reckon with the foundation of our country that is rooted in white supremacy. If anything, the rise in white nationalism since 2016 shows that we have a lot of work to do.
Rallies like Unite the Right in Charlottesville in 2017 show that the rising tide of white supremacy, while still relatively small, is gaining momentum and amplification. It’s a bold move to show your face to the world while supporting such a toxic ideology.
While most white supremacists wear hoods or hide behind computer screens, people like James Alex Fields Jr. who plowed his car through a crowd of protestors at the rally, have become emboldened to inflict serious harm on others based on ideological differences. Fields pleaded guilty to 29 federal hate crimes this week after killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens on August 12, 2017. While prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty due to a plea agreement that dismissed the one count that could, Heather Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, believes justice has been served. “There’s no point in killing him,” she said. “It would not bring back Heather.”
When asked if she thought her daughter’s death served a purpose she said, “Sadly, it took a white girl dying before anyone paid attention to civil rights around here… Heather’s death is at least a catalyst for change.”
Ann Lewis is an artist, activist, and writer based in Detroit. Her artwork reflects upon social and environmental justice issues.