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White nationalism is ‘ugly continuation of a brutal tradition’

August 13, 2017 at 5:37 PM EDT
In an opinion piece in The New York Times on Sunday after a violent weekend, Georgetown University sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson wrote, “We cannot pretend that the ugly bigotry unleashed in the streets of Charlottesville, Va., this weekend has nothing to do with the election of Donald Trump." Dyson joins Hari Sreenivasan for a discussion about racial rhetoric and its history.
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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: For more perspective on the events in Charlottesville, we’re joined via Skype by Michael Eric Dyson, a professor of sociology at Georgetown. His latest book is called “Tears Cannot Stop: A sermon to White America.”

Thanks for joining us.

Before we get to the events of yesterday, I want to ask you about the events of two nights ago. When you say young men carrying torches on the UVA campus, what went through your head?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, SOCIOLOGY PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN: It was extraordinarily dispiriting. Many people have said this is not America, this is not us. Yes, it is. This is an ugly continuation of a brutal tradition of white supremacy in this nation. The torches signifying those night riders who used to stalk black people with fury and vengeance, who refused to acknowledge our humanity, who ripped us from hour homes, who stole Emmett Till from his resting place in Money, Mississippi, and then tossed him into the Tallahassee River.

The reality is that those torches signify the worst emblem of American bigotry that this nation has confronted and the domestic terrorism that we refuse to confront threatens the very fabric of this nation. So, seeing those torches being carried on that proud college community, that university founded by Thomas Jefferson, there at the University of Virginia and then more broadly, a state that has ostensibly committed to the liberal values of one of our Founding Fathers, was especially troubling in our own day and age.

SREENIVASAN: There was a tweet by Congressman Seth Moulton. He said, the only difference between the KKK marches of 50 years ago and Charlottesville today is that now, they don’t even have to wear hoods. Scary.

DYSON: It is extremely scary. There’s no pretense of coverage. There’s no pretense of hiding themselves from the vitriol and bigotry that they intend to impose.

SREENIVASAN: You know, one of the things that you — you wrote a column today for “The New York Times,” “Charlottesville and Bigotocracy”, and you say, one of the things you point out is that the revisionist history overlooks some basic facts.

DYSON: That’s exactly right. The reality is, is that this country is still prosecuting a war that at its heart included African-American destiny. Many people in the South joining a faded southern aristocracy believe that they are still superior, that the war should be refought, that they won, that the real true justice that should have prevailed must now prevail.

So, the Confederacy is an emblem of a lost opportunity that should be reclaimed by especially working class and middle class white people who feel that they were denied a legitimate, if you will, inheritance of superiority in this country. This is nothing new. The alt-right is a revision and a revival of a much more ancient and hoary tradition where we see black people at odds because of their humanity, their very existence to a Southern aristocracy that believes that there ought to be a hierarchy, white over black, those who are white should be treated with equanimity and purposeful humanity, and those who are black should be seconded class citizens.

And the division they want to bring to this country, the secession from this country that they attempted and failed to do. Now, they have internal secessionism where they want to create radical divisions and separations between the races.

Again, this is nothing new. This is not the quaint folklorish notion of bigotry that is polite. This is the ugly, vile, protestation against the very humanity and unity that this country is built on. E pluribus unum, out of many one. And yet, we see everything but that in these protests.

SREENIVASAN: Michael Eric Dyson, joining via Skype tonight, thanks so much.

DYSON: Thank you, sir, for having me.

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