Professors from the College of William and Mary convened this week to discuss factors that led to the violence and protests that erupted in Charlottesville last month.
Their discussion, which addressed recent events in Charlottesville and larger societal issues America is facing, was part of a two-day event put on by the college’s Reves Center for International Studies.
Hispanic studies professor Teresa Longo, who directs the Reves Center, said recent events give universities and society at large a reason to wonder what factors caused them.
“It poses a challenge for us to think about the crises and critiques we are living in right now,” she said on Sept. 27.
In India, where professor Andrea Wright has done much of her research, animus between Hindus and Muslims is somewhat similar to what Americans see between blacks and whites.
Violence at the hands of the state and angst between those who are and are not considered “legitimate” is present in both places, she said.
Protesters in Charlottesville planned their demonstration chagrined with city council members’ decision to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
Both India and the United States have places prone to racial violence, and that violence is framed as an attempt to preserve the nation at large.
“We have these sites where ethno-nationalist violence flares are framed as protecting the nation,” she said. “We have to ask what kinds of history we want to commemorate, and the types of people we want to commemorate.”
Oludamini Ogunnaike, a religious studies professor, came to the U.S. from Nigeria when he was 4 years old.
He can recall other drivers trying to run his mother off of the road many times as they traveled through Rising Sun, Md., which he characterized as a Ku Klux Klan stronghold.
Many people disavow the concept of white supremacy, he said, but studies show a significant portion of white Americans tend to hold similar views.
With that in mind, President Donald Trump’s election and the corresponding backlash along racial lines did not surprise him.
He mentioned both Reconstruction and the Civil Rights movement featured violent responses to what was perceived as a challenge to the concept of white supremacy at the time.
“I was surprised by the surprise, honestly. The stuff was around before, but it did not have to be explicit,” he said. “Now it has to be.”
As tempted as people may be to focus on Charlottesville and the events there, the vast majority of people are adversely affected by larger, more intractable issues.
“That’s not going to kill you,” he said of white supremacists’ violence. “What’s going to kill you are the disparities in access to things like health and education.”
Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.