It is a pleasant sunny day in San Francisco in 1964 or ’65. My mother and I are walking westward on Market Street. Walking in front of us is a young family – mom, dad, boy of about eleven or twelve, slightly younger girl.
My mother pronounces the family communists.
I ask how she knows.
The boy, she says, is wearing a striped t-shirt. That means the parents are Democrats. Democrats are Socialists, and Socialists are Communists.
Another pleasant day, same era, my mother is driving the car down Freedom Boulevard in Watsonville, and I am riding shotgun. She is angry about the civil rights movement. She believes that black people have been put up to it by clever evil people who are trying to achieve domination of the world.
And who are the evil people?
I can’t believe what I’ve heard so I ask her to repeat that. “Are you saying that the Jews are behind everything?”
“Yes,” she says.
So that was my mom. She was racist, and she bought into all the extreme right-wing beliefs and conspiracy theories of that day, which seem to be circulating still.
My mother was an intelligent person. I don’t know what happened to her. Maybe it was being abandoned in that Texas orphanage when she was six. I don’t know.
Seeing the KKK and Nazis marching in Charlottesville, hearing them speak, reminded me of that part of life with my mother. I had not blocked the memory but had blocked the feeling of how profoundly insane it felt living with my mother in those days.
After one of the Nazis drove his car into a crowd of marching protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring others, one of the white supremacist leaders called the protesters, “Stupid people who don’t pay attention.” In his version of what happened, the protesters wouldn’t let the driver come through, so he was forced to run them down. It was their own fault and they deserved it.
I noticed in interviews with that Nazi and others that they called anyone who opposed them commies, or Communists, and they spoke of their hatred of Jews.
Not much has changed in the attitudes of racists, except the technology and the weaponry and the fact that there is a president in the White House whom the KKK and Nazis believe is their good ol’ boy. He has not done much to disabuse them of that notion.
There are survivors of the Holocaust during World War II still living, and they are speaking out. They say they cannot believe they are seeing people marching with torches and Nazi flags again. They are telling us, this is how it happens, it is happening again, it is happening now, and we must not remain silent.
We must not remain silent.
There are those who say we should laugh at the Nazis and KKK, and throw glitter on them. Perhaps because I grew up being hit regularly, I would not do that. You need to know what you are doing when you are dealing with people whose thinking is delusional and whose behavior is violent.
Other people advise that we have counter-rallies, somewhere away from wherever Nazis and KKK gather. They want attention, and reaction. If they are unable to get a response, they will be thwarted in their aims. I like this idea. If I had a better idea, I’d tell you now.
I see this as the latest development in America’s eternal struggle over race. Before we were a country, there was slavery. When this country was founded, it was done with a compromise: the non-slave states had to accept the slave states to form the United States.
The acceptance of slavery, of the dehumanization of human beings based on the color of their skin, at the beginning of our existence as a nation has been our downfall, our cancer, our paralyzing, strangulating, murderous birth defect.
We are all living in the profound insanity of being told lies all the time. We are all exposed to the corrosive influence of people telling us not to trust our own perceptions of what is real and true.
This isn’t new, but it is right out in the open now. We, as a people, have a little more power than I had as the youngest child in my family. We can disagree. We can call our Senators and Representatives to make our wishes and feelings known, for all the good that does us. We can call bullshit.
We cannot remain silent.
We must not remain silent.