When Nazis and white nationalists are marching openly on American streets, it's time to step up and stand on the right side of wrong.
Photo from the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia by Jessica Lehrman
In the fall of 1996, my family moved to a gated community adjacent to Orlando's premiere golf course, Bay Hill. After years of toiling in restaurants, my father's American dream was fulfilled. He celebrated by buying all-over print Versace pants, blue-lens Cartier glasses, and traded his Dodge Stealth for a current year burgundy Jaguar XJ8 with cappuccino guts and the Vanden Plas kit.
Outwardly, we were model minorities. Even white people in the neighborhood respected my father and invited him to their tennis league. He was a millionaire with an effortless topspin forehand in a new money gold rush town that didn't know to be critical of its own "success."
These towns were springing up all over the nation: Orlando, Phoenix, Houston, Dallas, Nashville, et al mortgaging the world's future for a quick buck in the mid 90s and early aughts. Tax breaks were widely distributed, land was nearly free, and there weren't the "eyes on the street" Jane Jacobs wrote so vividly about in The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Orlando lacked a critical mass of culture, identity, and community. It was a get money vacuum that offered opportunity beyond the reach of well-established American politics and values. I saw the fallout from an apathetic community that refused to be critical of itself and its politics that winter.
A few months after we moved in, my mom wanted to make a late night run to Publix before it closed at 11 so my brothers and I tagged along. I was 14, Emery 11, and Evan 8. We approached the gate of our neighborhood in a brand-new gas guzzling Land Rover Discovery rigged to the gills for the perils of suburban life.
We drove through the gate, made a left turn, and a few houses down, we saw more than a dozen robed people in conical hoods walking around a bonfire with torches. Even my mother, a Taiwanese immigrant who came over at the age of 17 knew what it meant.
"Oh my God!" she screamed
"Holy shit, is this a fucking Klan rally?" I asked.
The hoods turned their gaze toward our car and we froze.
"Drive! Drive! Drive!" I screamed.
My mother drove off, and we spent the rest of the night debating what we'd seen.
"That was definitely a Klan rally!" I insisted.
"The robes were red, though." Mentioned Emery.
"Yeah, aren't they supposed to be white?" inquired eight-year-old Evan.
"I saw patches, bro. They had fucking patches!" I screamed
"It's something bad. Don't go near that house," settled my mother.
I never knocked on the door to ask if they were Klan members. It just didn't seem practical, but I know what I saw with my eyes.
For weeks we thought about what we should do, but did nothing. What if other neighbors were in on it? Was Orlando really the South? We had an international airport; I thought that made us cosmopolitan! Even if we had social media, I don't think my family would have said anything. Especially as Asian Americans, we were always told to keep our heads down and count the blessings of invisibility.
It's always a mistake to ignore racism, whether it's active, passive, or "benign."
I told my one liberal white friend about the bonfire, and he responded the same way.
"Motherfuckers!" he said
"Do you think we can do anything?" I asked
"I mean we could TP their house," he responded
"They'd kill us if they found out."
"Yeah, the Klan doesn't play, bro. Plus, if they're really bad, the cops will find out."
And I agreed. I was a 14-year-old kid in an immigrant family that finally had a moment to count its blessings. Someone else would talk some sense into these neighbors. It was a mistake.
It's always a mistake to ignore racism, whether it's active, passive, or "benign." Every time you turn the other cheek tartar builds up, and eventually there are cavities like the ones we saw in Charlottesville. We've ignored Nazis and white nationalists in message boards, chat rooms, and possibly even your workplace. They were the political equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster. You'd heard of them and seen depictions in Hollywood, but who had ever seen one up close?
Prior to August 12, many Americans' last encounter with the Klu Klux Klan was probably Dave Chappelle's character, Clayton Bigsby, the blind black white supremacist he played on the Chappelle Show. The humor of the skit comes from the incredulous logic that a black man could be so blind to his own self-preservation that he would become a white supremacist. It's insane that you could hate someone or something so much that you'd hate it to your own detriment, but that's exactly what many Americans did when they voted for Trump.
They didn't want to hear the criticism against police brutality. They didn't want to acknowledge that it was an economy shifting from manufacturing to services that took their jobs as opposed to Mexicans. They hated Black Lives Matter, Colin Kaepernick, and the Women's March on Washington. They were so focused on undoing the Affordable Care Act, banning Muslims, instituting tax cuts, and deregulating our economy once again that they turned a blind eye to the rise of Nazis and white nationalism within their own party.
Centrists, moderates, fiscal conservatives, whatever you called yourself to justify voting for Trump, it's time to step up and stand on the right side of wrong. There are literally Nazis and white nationalists MASK OFF marching on American streets! You cannot continue to propel a so-called moderate Republican agenda by counting the votes of white nationalists and Nazis acting like you don't know the morally reprehensible place this support is coming from. By enabling white nationalism in exchange for blind supremacy of the White House, you have invited the Death of a Nation.
In the winter of 1996, I believe my family drove by a Klu Klux Klan rally. Twenty years later, on November 8, 2016, I watched as America did the same. On August 12, 2017, Donald Trump confirmed it from many sides.
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