“Racism,” the President droned in a teleprompter speech, “is evil … white supremacists and other hate groups are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.” Just days earlier, an anti-racist protestor was murdered at the hands of a white nationalist in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Donald Trump had condemned violence “on many sides.” After a backlash, he was playing clean up. But Trump’s remarks were so transparently disingenuous, and his affect so listless, that no one would be in danger of thinking he was invested in denouncing the white supremacists who make up a sizable portion of his base. Rather, they revealed the language of tolerance as first and foremost a script from which even our most blatantly anti-black politicians are obliged to read. He repudiated his own repudiation the very next day.
The Civil Rights movement made outright, avowed beliefs in white supremacy socially unacceptable. But racist mob violence has a long and robust history in the U.S., both before the 1960s and after. It forms a part of America’s political sediment, a foundation upon which our contemporary politics are built. Understanding what happened in Charlottesville requires that we contextualize the Unite the Right rally in a genealogy of post-Civil War racist violence intended to intimidate anyone who challenges white supremacy’s logic. (New Republic)