In all of the ugliness of the recent Charlottesville events, two statements jumped out and shook me. One was the chant of the Neo-Nazi and KKK group, “You will not replace us,” and a comment made by the White Nationalist, Steve Bannon, shortly after he was dismissed from the white house staff, “We have a nation and a culture, and that is what unites us.”
These two horrendous statements have a common basis, and it mostly involves the word “us”. Who is this “us”, and what do they mean by “replace”? Since I am intrinsically opposed to the stated values of both the Nazis and the KKK, the “us” clearly does not include me. So the “us” must refer to this group of people united by a common belief in the supremacy of people with white skin and a thorough-going hostility to anyone, white black or otherwise, who does not share that belief.
By “replace”, then, this group must be suggesting that they are, in some sense, a ruling class in America. They must, in other words, be stating that the culture of America is, or at least should be, that of domination by people with white skin, and servitude, or perhaps even expulsion, of those whose skin is any other color. That, I suggest, is where they join Bannon’s white nationalism. When Bannon said that we have a “culture,” he must have meant, essentially, to be an American means first of all to have white skin, and, secondly, to have some sort of dominance over anyone whose skin is other than white.
We cannot oppose this view lightly. We cannot simply point out the idiocy of making judgments about people simply based on the color of their skin. The real danger of these views is that it has a definite, well-defined starting point. Denying the value of that starting point is worthless unless we are able to state our own starting point, and unless that starting point establishes clearly and immediately the reason why a standard of racial superiority, or of any doctrine that divides humans into opposing groups, is false from its very inception.
So what is it precisely that unites us as Americans? It is, and can only be, our unshakable commitment to the principle that all human beings are born equal and that all human beings have been endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights, such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Not all white people. Not all men. Not even all Americans. All human beings.
It is this principle that makes America the polestar of the world, and it is also this principle that leads to some of our thorniest political problems. For one, what do we do with the starving and oppressed people of the world who see coming to America as their only hope? And what is our obligation to those people of other lands who would starve or be oppressed and even murdered unless we aid them? It was this great principle that led us to Europe for two world wars, and our liberation of Europe and Asia was perhaps the most shining example of our willingness to protect the rights of all human beings. It was, equally, a cancer at our birth as a nation that our founders practiced slavery and refused rights to women. We were not, and we are not now, in perfect accord with our ideal, but it is our striving toward that ideal that defines us as a nation.
So there lies the real horror of the Neo-Nazis and the KKK and all of white nationalism. They are the ones proposing a replacement, and that replacement strikes at our very core. They mean to replace the ideal of the rights of all humans with a defining principle of exclusion and oppression. This is not just a conflict between opposing views. This is a struggle for our very existence. This is truly a battle of good against evil. If, in any way, you think you see any kind of merit in that which white nationalism is asserting, you need to look very closely at how thorough your commitment is to the American ideal.