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I spent part of the long July 4 weekend enjoying a collection of essay-length book reviews by the highly-regarded historian, Edmund S. Morgan. Morgan, who died a couple of years ago, writes incisively and economically about the ambiguities within the white colonists’ freedom struggle against the Mother Country, about the violence embedded within the white Southern concept of honor, and about slavery (“the most important fact about American history, then and now”) and its still-unfolding consequences.

It can cast a pall over any celebration of U.S. independence to recall that 41 of the 56 signers of the famous Declaration were slaveholders. And to remember that the emancipation and brief empowerment of a formerly enslaved people was followed almost immediately by a brutal re-subjugation, as northern whites “reconciled” with their estranged southern cousins at the expense of the dreams and hopes of the Black people whom both groups held in equal contempt. (To read the anti-Black rantings of one-time Abolitionists like Horace Greeley or Elizabeth Cady Stanton reveals the full depth and breadth of Northern white racism even before Reconstruction was officially abandoned.)

Because white nationalism has had to go underground does not make it less dangerous; we know that just the opposite is the case.

From the perspective of 2015, it can fairly be said that the Lost Cause was never really lost as long as white people could successfully impose a patriarchal order that kept Blacks at the very bottom. It sickens me to add that this vile patriarchal pyramid was successfully maintained in part by baptizing it in a twisted version of Christianity that more or less put Jesus and Nathan Bedford Forrest into the same category as shining paladins of racial purity.

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But now comes white nationalism’s time of trial, as a new wave of self-respecting Black assertion rises at precisely the moment that white people cease to be a majority in most of the 50 states (2045 is officially projected to be the year of white eclipse nationally). To say that this is a dangerous time is to put it too mildly. We know there are many more Dylann Roofs out there, nursing resentment over their slighted white “honor.”

Because white nationalism has had to go underground does not make it less dangerous; we know that just the opposite is the case.

This is no time to be accommodating either the above-ground or the underground fulminations of aggrieved and angry white men. When they try to restrict voting rights, block needed investment in devastated Black communities, or dismantle affirmative action in the name of equal rights for whites, we need to call them out and not hesitate to use the R-word to do so. As for their underground dreams and schemes of revenge, isn’t it time for the departments of Justice and Homeland Security, which devote such vast resources to monitoring potential extremist threats in the U.S. Muslim community, to pay at least equal attention to our truly dangerous homegrown terrorists—white men with guns?

So no, with real Black freedom still not securely delivered, it’s just not possible for some of us to shout "three cheers for the Red, White, and Blue" on Independence Day. Maybe some day. But that day is not yet.

peter laarman

Rev. Peter Laarman
Justice Not Jails