Grappling with Charlottesville and Racist Extremism

If you have not yet seen this footage from within the white nationalist activists before, during and after the Charlottesville rally, you need to stop what you're doing and watch it. In 2017 America, abject racism and anti-Semitism is very real and repugnant. This video is likely to make you nauseous, but unless we fully understand that these views still exist in the United States of America and confront them head on, we will not mend the frayed fabric of our society.

As the leader of the Listen First movement, I've been grappling with what unfolded in Charlottesville for the past week and heard from many passionate people around the country. My leadership team and I spent last Sunday discussing the most appropriate response.

Listen First is for everyone. When we alienate a segment of society, when we convey that someone's perspective is not worthy of being heard, we push extremist elements farther into the fringes of society--allowing them to fester and become more virulent among other ostracised populations. They do not go away; they sit and wait for opportunity, for a signal that it's safe to speak up. This is a very real danger. We just saw the consequences. But the solution is most certainly not to accept every belief as valid or equivocate on basic human, and American, values. While there was violence and hate from many directions in Charlottesville, there is no moral equivalence between abject racist and those standing to oppose abject racist. To suggest otherwise is cowardly and wrong.

The Listen First Pledge includes prioritizing respect and understanding in conversation. But it's not always that simple is it? Are we to Listen First to someone espousing the views illuminated by this VICE News video? As with physical violence, abject racism or anti-Semitism voids the privilege of a Listen First response. While I would like to gain an understanding of that perspective in order to eradicate it and heal our land, I need not respect or normalize the belief. Listen First is about improving humanity by restoring civil discourse. We cannot improve humanity if we attack the humanity of our fellow Americans. But let's also challenge ourselves--despite the abhorrent views and actions of some abject racists--to respect their humanity as well. I know; I don't like the sound of that either. It doesn't seem fair. But no matter how right we think we are, and may be, when we start thinking another person is less human or less valued--for any reason--are we not falling into the same bottomless pit of hate that will destroy this nation?

Listen First Project wants to write a new story, one of restoring humanity and civility to our conversations and our protests. And we believe the first chapter of that story should be written in Charlottesville—with a major Listen First Conversation Event. Please help us make that happen!

Our future depends on turning this story around, now. -PearceGodwin