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I've been glued to the news since the events in Charlottesville. When my source of information is on cable TV, I flip between the big three networks to get a sense of what all sides are saying. Many of the pundits have little in common except for a sentiment I've heard several times over the past few days. It goes something like, "What happened in Charlottesville is un-American."

I was admittedly a mediocre student, but even I've read enough history books to know that the Nazi-flag-waving Ku Klux Klansmen marching through the streets of Charlottesville last week are totally American. We fought a war over slavery, the quintessential form of institutionalized racism. Later, and really not so long ago, we found new ways of institutionalizing racism, by mandating what drinking fountains people of color could use or where they were allowed to eat lunch. Some white people strung black people from trees, brutally murdering them. Through the eugenics movement, which began in the early 20th century, white people found creative ways of showing that people who were different from them were less smart and capable.

The mistake I made is assuming that those events and others were gathering dust in history books. Black Lives Matter and similar movements have been trying to tell me, as a white person, that racism is alive and well and that I'm not doing enough to stop it.

I'm ashamed that it took Charlottesville for me to realize that venting my frustrations to friends and family and yelling at the TV from the comfort of my living room is not good enough. As a white person I have power and access to institutions that people of color do not. I have a responsibility to help them.

Similarly, as a woman, I have less power and access to the same institutions than a white man does. I need him to help me.


Our country is a reflection of us. The things we say and do can only be called "American." What happened in Charlottesville was not un-American. It's just not the America so many of us aspire to.

With a Perspective, I'm Kate Levin.

Kate Levin works in the non-profit sector and lives in San Jose.