This post was originally a series of Tweets written the day after the first white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.
I prize empathy. I find inherent value in trying to understand the interiority of another. Maybe that’s why I’m a writer.
I’m usually able to empathize successfully. I don’t always like what I find, but it’s rare I feel I don’t understand a person’s motivations.
But there are moments from history that overwhelm my empathy. I won’t list those moments, because you know them already.
They’re atrocities on a large scale, or cruelties, or unmotivated hate.
Who becomes a torturer, for example? And even that I understand to a degree. I’ve acted as a bully, and what is that if not torture?
This weekend, as I followed the news from Charlottesville, I found my empathy once again overwhelmed.
These racists, hate-filled and fuming. I don’t understand them. They’re broken to a degree beyond my comprehension.
But I recognize the Charlottesville racists. Their faces have appeared in every scene of atrocity throughout history.
These are the faces of the individuals who operated the gas chamber.
These are the faces of the individuals who tied the noose.
These are the faces of the Gestapo.
These are the faces of the informants who ratted out neighbors to Stalin’s secret police.
These are the faces of the secret police.
These are the faces of torturers.
These are the faces of slave traders.
These are the faces of the willing evil.
The only difference between these racists and history’s villains is that these racists are still weak.
These racists have been emboldened by a racist sociopolitical system, but not yet fully empowered.
They are no different, though, than any villain. They’d line up to repeat any historical atrocity I might name.
They are history’s torturers. The lynchers. The gas chamber attendants. The secret police.
Charlottesville was these racists’ audition for those positions. It was their call for volunteers.
We now know their faces. Don’t forget them.
Most importantly, oppose them. Vocally, actively. They seek the power to act on their worst impulses.
And that power is closer to these racists’ grasp than we acknowledge. Closer than is comfortable to admit.
These racists are eager to be villains.
In the case of these racists, having empathy for them would be a moral failing.
Remember these racists’ faces, and empathy be damned, face them with the loathing they deserve.