White Supremacy Is The Real Reason Why Republicans Are Mourning Heather Heyer
Note: This story originally appeared on my blog on August 15, 2017.
Yesterday, Donald Trump finally got around to using terms like “racism” and “white supremacy” to denounce the Charlottesville Terror Attack that left an anti-racist protester dead and nineteen others wounded. Trump did this after catching unexpected flack from members of his own party for refusing to “call evil by its name.”
This Republican chorus of condemnation leads me to ask: Why do they care about white supremacist hate crimes now? After all, these are very same people who said little or nothing during Donald Trump’s aggressive courtship of the very people who perpetrated the attack.
Perhaps these Republicans are simply trying to win brownie points with the general public. And by renouncing Trump’s refusal to say the right words, these Republicans are also seizing upon a legitimate excuse to distance themselves from an increasingly unpopular president. Because the murder of Heather Heyer horrifies Americans across all racial, ethnic, political, and socioeconomic strata, the Republicans can throw jabs at Trump without pissing off any of their constituents — constituents who still haven’t forgiven them over the “repeal and replace” debacle.
But my more cynical self, the self who has been dealing with American-style racism for the last four decades, tells me that the Republicans are shedding tears and wringing hands over Heather Heyer’s senseless murder because she was white.
Unfortunately, many Republicans do not place a high value on the lives of people of color. This is especially true if those people are doubly or even triply oppressed due to their gender, sexuality, religion, disability, or socioeconomic class. The Republicans in question would not vote the way they vote or espouse the beliefs that they espouse if they did. However, these Republicans save all of their sympathy for a young, conventionally attractive, gainfully employed white woman who expressed socially acceptable beliefs.
How would Paul Ryan have reacted to the Charlottesville Terror Attack if Heather Heyer had been Henry Heyer, a black man, a black man who’d previously been stopped by police nineteen times? Would Cory Gardner have spoken out if Henry Heyer had been shot to death by a white supremacist after allegedly stealing a pack of cigarettes?
How outraged would Marco Rubio have been if a group of white supremacists had pulled Henry Hayer out of his car and beaten him within an inch of his life? What would Orrin Hatch have said if Henry Heyer had been choked to death by a white supremacist after he got caught selling untaxed cigarettes on the street?
Would the GOP care if members of a white supremacist organization detained Henry Heyer against his will then caused a lethal spinal cord injury? Would the Republicans cry if Henry Heyer was shot by a member of a white supremacist group while walking up the stairs of the building where he lived? How about if Henry Heyer, hours away from marrying the mother of his two children, was shot fifty times by white supremacists while leaving his bachelor party?
What would the Republicans have said if Henry Heyer had been shot in the back while running away from white supremacists? What if Henry Heyer was murdered by white supremacists while he played with a toy gun or while he inspected a gun he planned to legally purchase at the local Walmart? Would the Republicans self-righteously denounce Trump for not denouncing those white supremacists who killed Henry then?
The Republicans who denounced Trump for not speaking up would not say one word, send one tweet, or shed one tear over our hypothetical Henry Heyer because they didn’t say one word, send one tweet, or shed one tear when all this stuff happened in real life. When police officers, emissaries of white male supremacist police departments within the white male supremacist power structure of America beat and/or killed Philando Castille, Michael Brown, Rodney King, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Akai Gurley, Sean Bell, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, John Crawford III, and too many others to list, these Republicans stayed silent.
For that matter, they wouldn’t even acknowledge that the shootings of unarmed black men by an organized group of people who hold deeply inculcated beliefs about the inherent crminality of black males are wrong, let alone acts of terrorism. In the cases mentioned above, the Republicans who so roundly attacked Trump’s tepid response to the Charlottesville Terror Attack, said nothing.
In fact, they probably engaged in the sometimes subtle (but usually unsubtle) victim blaming that happens after these incidents. Yes, the thinking goes, Philando Castile, a legal gun owner, was shot to death in front of a small child during a traffic stop but he had been stopped by the police nineteen times. He must have done something. And no, the thinking goes, selling untaxed cigarettes, shoplifting, non-payment of child support, and driving while intoxicated aren’t violent offenses but if Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Walter Scott and Rodney King hadn’t been breaking the law in the first place, the police wouldn’t have said a word to those guys, let alone beaten or killed them. Yes, the thinking goes, the shootings of Tamir Rice and John Crawford III were tragic accidents but what were the police supposed to think when they saw young black men with guns?
Now this constant rationalization of white supremacist violence against people of color has gotten a white woman, a “woke” white woman who spent the last few years of her all-too-brief life fighting for justice, killed. Until Republicans (as well as everyone else) start taking responsibility for eradicating white supremacy in all its forms and start mourning all its victims, white allies to the anti-racist struggle will continue to die.