We find ourselves in something of a dilemma lately. We have a president who is incapable of leading the nation in any real sense of the word. Political parties have grown only more homogeneous. It hasn’t been a good year for tolerance in America. It seems doubtful that if the country as a whole is living up to its ideals. This Friday, on the 38th anniversary of the “Greensboro Massacre,” we should ask ourselves if Greensboro has.
In 2014, Business Insider published research that ranked Greensboro as the most liberal city in North Carolina. Mayor Vaughn has said, “We are… probably the most diverse city in the state.” Perhaps most significantly, after much deliberation, the city placed a historic marker near the site and to use the word “massacre.” On Aug. 15 of this year, the City issued a formal apology for allowing the massacre to happen. This is all well and good. But marker or not, the massacre as history is consistently downplayed, and in the current climate, that is a mistake with potentially fatal consequences.
On Nov.3, 1979, the anti-Klan Workers’ Viewpoint Organization, later called the Communist Workers’ Party, held a “Death to the Klan” rally in Morningside. A caravan of Klan members and Neo-Nazis came driving by the protesters on the street. The protesters challenged the people in the cars; some shouted for them to get out, others threw rocks. And they did come out — with pistols, rifles and shotguns. Some of the protesters were shot in the back while fleeing. Five died, ten were injured. The Klan then fled the scene; Greensboro Police, curiously absent from the rally, responded too late to give chase. Instead, they arrested remaining protesters with bodies still on the ground.
Regarding the inaction of the authorities when they were needed, 38 years haven’t changed much. Police acquitted for killing unarmed black men and the lack of protection for anti-klan protesters in Charlottesville amount to the same thing: there are people for whom terror is not just a means to an end, but a life-affirming pleasure, and the law will not always protect us. Many of Greensboro’s white residents didn’t notice what happened in Morningside, and that complacency is representative of what’s wrong with the politics today.
We can’t pretend that political violence or controversy is something that happens elsewhere. Greensboro’s very founding is the result of a Revolutionary War battle. This city is the epicenter of the Sit-In movement. Klansmen shot down protesters here in broad daylight only a few decades ago. Charlottesville isn’t an isolated incident. It’s easy to be indifferent to horrors in far-off places, but remember that it’s happened here too, and it can happen again just as easily: living in a “good” town is not a license for apathy.
All they need to win is a little public recognition, a little exoneration: that’s what they got after the Massacre. Any time we just laugh off fat men wearing hoods in public, we ignore real rage. But certain among us don’t want to acknowledge the severity of the problem because it implicates us as well. Greensboro in 1979 was “divided” on the issue of the “Death to the Klan” rally’s killings; the US in 2017 has been far more divided on similar issues than it should be. We have been toeing the line of an outright acceptance of extremism.
Antifa may not be the way to go, but neither is classic American liberalism. The pen is still mightier than the sword; the cliché mightier than the neologism. A mural is made of stronger stuff than bullets. If the best thing we have to fight extremism without losing our decency is a wicked pen or killer keyboard, then so be it. If we’re going to fight the spread of misinformation, then we have to go for the throat. A horrible fight, in which much ink will be spilled.
So don’t be satisfied with the knowing New Yorker smirk. Don’t just leave it up to John Oliver and Trevor Noah to tell the jokes you want to hear. Every day, live the ideals you claim to respect. Especially on a university campus in a supposedly liberal city, you have to speak your mind in the real world. Interact with the people around you. Get into an argument. Read widely in many fields for pleasure. Extremism thrives on misinformation and fear, and the only way to fight those things is with knowledge. Don’t be fooled by the artificial light of electronic screens — evil men can just as easily warp truth there as in the real world.