Riding the subway on Saturday to meet a friend, I googled “Charlottesville” after seeing several social media posts about it. As I swayed with the train, I read what I can only describe as a sickening explanation. I skimmed several articles about the tiki torches, the chanting, and the state of emergency. I wondered to myself: Are we experiencing the start of shameless racists and white supremacists being fearless in their hate? No hoods, no masks, just a sea of angry white faces? Is that what America is going to be?
Later that day I saw dozens if not hundreds of posts about the “Alt-Right rally.” And what I realized with sudden clarity was that these people are Nazis.
With chants such as “Blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us,” both Nazi slogans used to extol racial superiority, it is hard to deny these people are Nazis. Not to mention “White lives matter” and “One people, one nation, end immigration.”
For people like me, who have just graduated or are still in high school, the connection between Americans who look down on people of color and Nazis is an easy one to make. World War II lessons are fresh in our minds. It’s only been a few months since we covered it, since we had a test on fascism and know the signs of it. But for those who have not been in school for decades, perhaps that connection between American white supremacist and Nazi is not clear, or maybe it is more difficult to accept that Nazis are here in the U.S. Whatever the case is, we as a nation need to understand that what happened in Charlottesville is not acceptable, and that unless we want a genocide on our hands, it can not be allowed to continue.
This country was built on the backs of those who white people enslaved, corralled, abused, and used: indigenous peoples, Africans, and Asians. People like to say we’ve come a long way — and it’s true, we have. But that, under no circumstances, means we can stop our progress. A long way is not long enough. While there are still people who truly believe that they are better simply because of the pigment of their skin, there are generations of change and evolution in thought and opinion needing to be made.
Now is not the time to sit back and watch things unfold before you. Now is not the time to listen to white supremacists. The best thing you could possibly do is condemn them. If you hear someone agree with the Nazis in Charlottesville, argue. If you know someone who is a white supremacist, separate yourself from them. If you fear for the safety of people of color in the workplace, inform the white supremacist’s employer that they may be a danger. And most of all, if you are white, recognize the privilege you have because of the corrupt system you are in. Close your mouth and listen when people of color are telling you something about their experience.
If a person of color calls you out on a behavior they perceive as racist, don’t shut them down. Be receptive, take criticism, and understand that, because of the place and time you live in, you almost definitely have an unconscious racial bias. It is not your job to suppress that part of yourself that has been fostered by a racist system and through racist media, but rather to correct those secret racist thoughts or ideas. Don’t just feel guilty about any racism you may harbor; fight against it.
It is not easy to accept that there is no perfect embodiment of “not racist,” but it is so important that you see yourself as you are and not the person you wish to be. To get closer to who you strive to become, open your mouth against those who support the Nazi and Fascist agenda. Use the privilege you have to do good. And acknowledge that making a conscious choice to “not be political” is in and of itself a way privilege is manifested in your life. The burden to end racism and white supremacy does not fall solely to people of color; it falls on all of decent society.
Zillah Elcin is a 17-year-old Turkish-American, living in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood, and a senior at Academy at Palumbo. She has been published by Youth Radio, and Teen Vogue. She plans to pursue journalism and editing at university, and has been interested in government, politics, and analysis for the past three years. She is a scorpio and her favorite color is green.