What happened in Charlottesville, VA was not Republican. The violent march was not conservative, and the assembly of outlandish bigots cannot even be fairly described as right-wing. What the participants of the “Unite the Right” rally can be fairly described as is racist—ignorant, poisonous racists. And it’s extremely important that members of the GOP call them out for what they are, because the Republican party needs to rid itself of the deadly toxin that is white supremacy.
For years, the GOP has struggled to shake accusations of racism thrown at it by the left. The problem for Republicans is that these are not just accusations—white supremacists often embrace the GOP platform. The name “Unite the Right” itself is evidence of this affiliation; the neo-nazis, white supremacists, and fascists in Charlottesville believed themselves to be touting the views of the right. It’s not the fault of liberals or the left-wing media that the GOP has a bad reputation for tolerating bigotry, it’s the GOP’s fault for failing to outright reject it.
Republican politicians have long steered away from the topic of racism, largely skirting a major issue in apparent fear of losing electoral support. It’s not an unfair charge to say Republican candidates in years past have sought out the votes of the likes of those who marched in Charlottesville. The GOP scooped up Southern Democrats who felt alienated by their party during the civil rights movement, and Republicans’ talk of states’ rights eerily rings of Civil War rhetoric.
I’m a proud Republican, but I don’t let my pride lead me to pretend what happened in Charlottesville says nothing about my party, and I don’t let it allow me to rewrite history. It’s true that the GOP was technically the party of Lincoln and of emancipation—but it doesn’t matter what the GOP used to be, what matters is how Republicans define themselves now.
Republicans need to stop pretending that they don’t condone racism and white supremacy within their ranks. And Americans everywhere need to stop pretending that discrimination and prejudice are long dead, even in towns like Charlottesville that seem so quaint.
As a recent alumnus of the University of Virginia, I’ve observed first-hand the racial tensions that exist in Charlottesville, and likewise observed how many people choose to ignore them. UVa students can be special offenders of this ignorance—we live in a bubble, and it’s hard for us to accept that the violence of the “Unite the Right” rally could have happened in the little college town we hold so dear.
But Charlottesville is more than a little college town, it’s a town riddled in history; a history that saw North and South and black and white clash. And a present that sees a discrepancy between so-called “townies,” privileged university students, and wealthy mansion owners on the city’s outskirts.
We don’t like to accept that neo-nazis and white supremacists still exist, especially in places like Charlottesville that seem to epitomize down-home America. But they do exist, so publicly that their views were openly the subject of a massive rally.
They exist openly in my party, and I don’t want to be part of a Republican party that wants the votes of despicable bigots.
My Republican party is one that embraces individual freedom and liberty, not for the few but for the many. My Republican party believes that being a loyal and true American isn’t based on your race, gender, or sexual orientation, it’s based on a commitment to succeeding and making this country succeed. My Republican party remembers that the Declaration of Independence says “all men are created equal”, and remembers that though this hasn’t always been true, it is and ought to be now.
The Republican party is facing a key moment. Though some GOP politicians have spoken out, they need to make a clean and final break with the type of racist, white supremacist rhetoric glorified in Charlottesville. It’s time for Republicans to finally step up, and prove that they are not the out-of-touch, xenophobic, elitists that they are often painted to be. When I say that I’m a Republican, I want this to be something positive, not an identifier that’s negatively associated with racism and hate. The “Unite the Right” protesters are not my Republican peers, and their party is not my party.
About the Author: This article was written by Katie Pickle. Katie is a law clerk at the Reid Law Firm and a 1L student at Emory University School of Law. She may be reached at Katharine.ReidLawFirm@gmail.com.