Where was God in Charlottesville?

By: Taylor Ott

The response that Mr. Trump gave to the events in Charlottesville ignited fury as it was rightly criticized for equivocation and being a pitiful, lukewarm response to racial injustice and hatred.  But as much as there was backlash, I’m guessing that the white nationalists themselves were not the only ones comforted by such a statement, because it sounded very much like statements that were made after the death of Michael Brown: some variation of “If it turns out it was wrong, his death was tragic; but the looting and rioting is unacceptable,” usually with much more emotion behind the latter half.

We seem to find it more comfortable to spread blame around equally than to acknowledge that violence and death are the product of systemic injustice.  It’s more comfortable to think that all opinions are equal, and that the conflict proceeding from a clash of opinion is just a failure to communicate.  That both sides do the other wrong.White Supremacists March with Torches in Charlottesville

To be sure, there are moral issues which demand nuance.  But God stands with the oppressed; and we will not find God if we cannot recognize, name, and condemn oppression when it so clearly rears its head.

The white supremacy we saw in Charlottesville was not new; it may not even be accurate to call it a resurgence.  It is the same white supremacy which led Europeans to kidnap and enslave men, women, and children in Africa without qualm for centuries.  It is the same white supremacy which allowed U.S. law to declare that anyone black was less than a full person.  It is the same white supremacy that led to Jim Crow, to redlining, to the practice of killing black men without trial and making the lynching a family event.  It is the same white supremacy that seeped into the mind of Darren Wilson and killed Michael Brown, and that led someone to plow a car into a group of counter-protesters because a statue that supported white supremacy was threatened.

C3We may not call ourselves white nationalists and march with torches, but the existence of those who do continues to be possible because those of us who benefit from a culture of white supremacy continually refuse to call out oppression without false equivalence.  There were two sides in Charlottesville, but only one of them was right.  One of them attacked the dignity and rights of the oppressed while the other struggled to uphold it.  One of them is founded in the evil and sin of racism and white supremacy, and the other is where we will find God.

Taylor Ott is a doctoral student in Theological and Social Ethics at Fordham University.