This won’t run for about a week. I’m writing it now, even as the story develops. Not because I particularly want to, but because it needs to be done.
I’m a bit unusual for an editor. I don’t have a degree in journalism. I worked enough hours on the student newspaper to earn one, certainly, but the college I attended didn’t offer one. Most of my professors knew not to expect me to be paying much attention on Wednesdays, though. My mind was already on the paper I’d put together that night.
My degree is in history. Since graduation I’ve continued to study. That’s the wonderful thing about books. You don’t have to take a class to gain knowledge. All you have to have is the desire to find the work of experts and invest the time to understand it.
As someone with a background in history, the images from Aug. 11 were deeply disturbing. The idea that Nazis would feel comfortable marching in an American city in a torchlit parade is something I never thought I would see. Let’s not mince words. The people carrying the torches hold the same creed of hatred and fear that poisoned Germany. Whether they want to be called neo-Nazi, Alt-Right or anything else is irrelevant. Their ideology is indistinguishable from the men my grandfathers fought in Europe.
On Saturday I enjoyed a pleasant start to the day with my family. I arrived home to the sickening images of murder committed as a direct result of a warped ideology.
I believe the answer to speech like that of these bigots is more speech. So here’s my answer:
As an American, you don’t speak for me.
As a southerner, you don’t speak for me.
As a white man, you don’t speak for me.
My own family is proof that racist views don’t have to be handed down from generation to generation. I’ve learned some uncomfortable facts about some of my ancestors. And in one case it’s particularly hard to square the man I knew, the one who would do anything for his family, with the racist I have learned he was.
But his views were not passed down. I was taught to judge people by actions rather than race or creed. I do my best to assess people based on the content of their character, to quote someone with a great deal more wisdom than I possess. And I have tried to impress that requirement upon my children as well.
The people who marched in the name of racism have a right to do so. They have a right to speak. They do not have a right to have their views taken seriously. Their claims are ridiculous. Their actions are not.
When people act in the manner of last weekend, it is incumbent upon the rest of us to speak up, to make it clear they are not what our nation should be and that they do not represent what the majority of us believe.
When terrorists attack people in the name of Islam, you often hear people ask other Muslims to condemn the attack. It’s not an unreasonable request. When the terrorists look like me, it’s not unreasonable to ask that I condemn their actions.
So I do. We must be better than fear. We must be better than hate. We can be.
That is my response. That is what I believe.