It’s been a year since white supremacists violently rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing Heather Heyer and sparking a national reckoning on the state of racism in America.
HuffPost spoke with NAACP President Derrick Johnson ahead of this weekend’s anniversary of the white supremacist rally, about how the state of racism in the country has ― or hasn’t ― changed since.
“If anything, it’s gotten worse,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately the tone has been set by [President Donald Trump’s] administration, and as a result, the level of racial intolerance increased.”
This weekend, another “Unite the Right” rally is planned to mark the anniversary. This time it’s in the nation’s capital and organized by the same group that was behind the Charlottesville event last August. The gathering has been promoted as a “white civil rights” rally.
After neo-Nazis and white nationalists faced off with counterprotesters in Charlottesville last year, Trump notoriously said there were “very fine people on both sides.”
“Racism has been a part of the fabric of this country for many years,” Johnson told HuffPost on Thursday. “Trump didn’t create racism. He has just legitimized the tolerance of racism in the public square in a way we have not seen legitimized from the White House in many years.”
“The problem is not having racism in the country, but racism in political office,” Johnson said.
Here’s more from the head of the nation’s foremost civil rights organization on the state of racism in America one year after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville:
It’s been a year since white supremacists violently rallied in Charlottesville, sparking a national conversation on racism. What, if anything, has changed since?
Charlottesville only exposed how the [Trump] administration would handle the issue of race. And as a result of them creating a false equivalency, I think more people are emboldened to display their racism.
Given Americans’ “emboldened” displays of racism, as you put it, what would you say is the path forward?
I think people are entitled to have their opinions ― albeit there are those we disagree with [on] racism and racial bias. The issue for this nation is whether we want that type of intolerance to rest in individuals who hold political office and implement public policy.
What are some of the policies you think could be changed to advance a less racist, more tolerant society?
If we want to be a true democracy, we have to make sure everyone has true access to voting. That’s an opportunity to engage racism.
Policies to suppress voting ― those racist policies are the problem, those racist policies subvert democracy.
If, in fact, the level of enthusiasm of those who oppose intolerance cause them to go out and vote in record numbers… it can be one of the turning points.
Derrick Johnson, NAACP president
Do you have any hope in the upcoming midterm elections of 2018 to alter some of those policies that you believe perpetuate racism in the country?
Elections have consequences. I think the midterm election will have an impact on the current trajectory of this landscape.
If, in fact, the level of enthusiasm of those who oppose intolerance cause them to go out and vote in record numbers and change the political landscape, it can be one of the turning points.
Does the NAACP have a plan to engage voters and potential voters ahead of the midterms?
Our theme this year is “defeat hate, vote.” We understand the direct link between racial hatred and the power of fully engaging in this democracy through voting.
What do you have planned, if anything, in response to the “Unite the Right” rally this weekend?
Groups have a First Amendment right to express their opinion, even if I disagree.
As the NAACP, our energy is less around counterprotesting and more around getting people to engage in this midterm election.