Let me clear something up.
Just before the start of the Civil War, Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy, in what is called The Cornerstone Address, said of his “new government” that “its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition.”
The Civil War was about slavery. There is not now, nor has there ever been, any real question of that. It’s inarguable. Those who do argue, like our governor and the president, that it was about something else (that brother faced brother in bloody warfare over a boring political issue like states’ rights) are revolting bigots too cowardly to admit to their own shiftless racism.
Now that I’ve cleared that up, let me tell you about my friend Dennis. I’ve known him for almost 15 years. He’s white and he’s big — real big. He looks like a cross between an NFL linebacker and another, bigger NFL linebacker. He’s big enough that when he says, “I’ve got your back,” you feel a sense of relief. He said that to me as we drove down to Boston on August 19 to counter-protest the white power — excuse me, “free speech” rally — and I did feel relieved, at least in one sense.
We didn’t know what to expect. There was a press conference the day before during which the Boston police chief had said there would be nothing even resembling weapons allowed at the rally. Some people had signs on sticks. The cops made people throw the sticks away. It felt like the city was doing its best to keep the protest safe, but we knew there was a chance of violence.
I heard reports of violence, but I can only speak to what I saw, and, luckily, what I saw during the march was an incredible coming-together of people from all walks of life. I saw people uniting against hate. I saw black and brown people leaning out their apartment windows, cheering us on. I even saw an old white man holding hands with his old white wife, chanting in his Boston accent, “Black lives mattah! Black lives mattah!”
That was all wonderful, but that was not all I saw.
When the march was over, as we were walking back through the crowds, Dennis put his giant hand on my shoulder and spun me around. He did this to draw my attention to what was happening six feet to my left: a white guy in a MAGA (Make America Great Again) hat was surrounded by five or six cops. The guy was clearly agitated. The police were all calm and cool-headed. They slowly closed in on him until he couldn’t move. One cop pulled up the Trumpster’s shirt and there in the waistband of his shorts was some kind of semi-automatic handgun. An officer removed it and yelled at Dennis and me and the rest of the crowd to back up. Then the police escorted the potential terrorist away. The whole thing happened fast — five seconds, maybe.
I’m 38 years old and this was the very first time in my life that I felt protected by the police. Credit where credit is due: those cops very well may have saved my life, and many others’ lives, that day. As Dennis pointed out, the MAGA man “might’ve just been coming down here to show off and prove he’s a big boy,” but it also could’ve gotten out of hand.
That being said, if six cops surrounded a black man and discovered he had a gun, all of American history tells us the situation would’ve gone very differently. And unfortunately, more of those situations are coming.
As a person of color, I know white supremacists live their lives in hopes of seeing me dead. I know white-supremacist organizations have killed around 450 people since the 1990s. I know that when I go to protest these white supremacists, the only group keeping them from killing me is the police. I also know the police have killed many more people of color than white-supremacist organizations have over the same period. And I know about the Venn diagram that links both groups.
I know the president just pardoned a sheriff who is just about as evil and racist as any man who has lived in my time. And I know what message that sends to other racists in positions of power.
I know we need white people to stand with us. And I’m seeing it.
I’m seeing this hatred mobilize good people, like Dennis. So if you’re sick of the racist hatred you’re seeing, stand up and be counted. And remember, we’re not only still fighting Nazis — we’re still fighting the Civil War.
Samuel James is an internationally renowned bluesman and storyteller, as well as a locally known filmmaker. He can be reached at email@example.com.