Last weekend in Charlottesville, the country witnessed as white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and KKK members were emboldened to remove their masks and march in broad daylight, inciting and calling for violence against anyone who is not white. While many people expressed shock, we know that this violence is in fact old as this country itself.
Since the early Jamestown settlement in the 1600s, the Commonwealth of Virginia has nurtured the principles upon which White Supremacy stands. Sebastian Johnson, an author of the blog Unfettered Equality, wrote about this connection in January 2017 when he said, “no state boasts a better claim to being America’s birthplace than Virginia. It was in Jamestown that leaders first made white supremacy a matter of public policy. Leaders in Virginia promulgated the racial caste system that softened class divisions and made possible the notion of an egalitarian, free white society. Virginians reconciled the notion of universal equality with the persistence of chattel slavery. And it was in Jamestown that the logic of white supremacy was hitched to global capitalism through plantation agriculture. Massachusetts birthed the revolution. But Virginia, mother of presidents, sired America.”
And since the launch of Trump’s presidential campaign in 2015, the country has witnessed a bold resurgence of of hatred, racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism. Instances of hate crimes have skyrocketed since Trump’s election last November, including in the DMV. A Black man, Richard Collins III, was lynched at the University of Maryland in College Park in May. 17 year old Muslim teen, Nabra Hassanen, was murdered in Sterling Virginia in June. Anti-Semitic graffiti is visible to this day on Georgia Avenue, and nooses have been found hanging around the District from the National Museum of African American History and Culture to Beer Elementary School in the historically Black neighborhood of Hillcrest.
While some people consider DC to be a bastion of progressive politics and people, we have to examine how systems of white supremacy produce both the extremism of the KKK and the systems of racial inequality that are upheld in the District. The same ideology that cost Richard Collins III his life also murdered Terrence Sterling and let his murderers off free. It’s the same ideology that demolishes the homes of Black people to build luxury condos for white millennials. It’s the same ideology that builds a Whole Foods at the corner of 9th and Sherman NW but keeps grocers away from Skyland in Ward 7. Its an ideology that’s rooted in the prioritization of white comfort over the lives and communities of Black people and other communities of color.
We cannot call out the racism in Charlottesville but stay silent in Brookland Manor, Barry Farm, and as Black people continue to fill the cells of the dilapidated DC jail, and the rooms of the crumbling DC General family shelter. Dismantling white supremacy will take more than toppling Confederate statues and marching against Nazis. It must be dismantled in the public policy that governs our schools, banks, grocery stores, homes, shelters and streets. It also must be dismantled in the budget and the ways in which our resources are disproportionately concentrated in predominantly white communities and neighborhoods.