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Dear white nationalists: It’s not unfair, this is how equality works

"White nationalists aren't all hateful," said Peter Cvjetanovic, one of the attendees of a "Unite the Right" rally at the University of Virginia on Friday night, which kicked off a hellish weekend.

"We just want to preserve what we have."

Just 20 years old, Mr. Cvjetanovic was surprised that a picture of him brandishing a flaming torch and chanting some sort of repulsive motto – perhaps "blood and soil," a reinvigorated Nazi-era slogan – would be so widely seen.

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"I hope that the people sharing the photo are willing to listen that I'm not the angry racist they see in that photo," he said to a CBS affiliate station in his home state of Nevada.

The march Mr. Cvjetanovic attended was, on its face, about the pending removal of a statue from a Charlottesville, Va., park: one of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general described by a black woman he enslaved as one of the meanest men she'd ever met.

Since the statue was ordered removed in April, it's been the site of multiple protests, one organized by "alt-right" leader Richard Spencer, another attended by white men in white hoods waving Confederate flags.

These are Mr. Cvjetanovic's people. Their hate manifested into death on Saturday, after another 20-year-old white man, James Alex Fields Jr., drove his car into a crowd of anti-fascist demonstrators.

The racism is undeniable, as is their anger, and Mr. Cvjetanovic articulated its source: "We just want to preserve what we have." What a tidy statement, one that sums up an eternal tide of white supremacy.

Its frothy waves washed up recently in the U.K. for the Brexit vote, and in Nova Scotia, when a group of young white men calling themselves Proud Boys interrupted an Indigenous ceremony to defend the genocidal founder of Halifax, Edward Cornwallis. But while things seem particularly tumultuous right now, none of this is new.

The idea that certain light-skinned people – currently called "white," though a multisyllabic name like "Cvjetanovic" might not always have made the cut – deserve more than their fair share, dates back centuries.

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It's documented at least as far back as 1493, when a papal bull known as the Doctrine of Discovery decreed that any land not inhabited by Christians was open to European settlement. This was used to justify the attempted genocide of Indigenous people across the Americas, concurrent to the enslavement of millions of Africans and before the invasions of India and China, to name two places.

Along the way, we've all been led to believe that a slew of inequalities are equally justified, even "natural." These hierarchies are maintained through unjust laws and untold violence, but also deep patterns of belief.

These include who is deserving of police censure versus protection: at least 155 people were arrested at protests in Ferguson, Mo., after an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, was shot to death by police. The arrest total in Charlottesville, where heavily armed vigilantes converged to protest the removal of a statue, currently stands at four.

They're also about who deserves stability, let alone power and influence: Just seven years ago, Maclean's magazine ran a cover story titled "Too Asian," blaming overly studious East Asian students for displacing white kids from their rightful place at Canadian universities.

Most recently, hatemongers such as U.S. President Donald Trump, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and Canada's Breitbart-wannabe site, The Rebel, have whipped up hysteria about everything from a black U.S. president to an array of genders to female-only viewings of Wonder Woman. Having been raised to believe in their own entitlement, white people are also taught to fear those of us here to "take it away."

This delusion has been millennia in the making. It's rewritten history so that cruel men such as Lee and Cornwallis are venerated as heroes, while black female mathematicians who launched shuttles into space were, until very recently, erased.

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Flipping that script is simply the truth, but to many white people, it feels unfair. It feels violent, and so deserving of violence.

I get it, Mr. Cvjetanovic, the undeniable structural truth of global white supremacy isn't entirely evident in your day-to-day life. You just want to preserve what you have: respect, opportunity, money and power. The bloody spoils of an old and infectious evil.

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About the Author
Journalist and editor

Denise Balkissoon is an editor in the Globe’s Life section and a columnist in Comment. The National Magazine Award-winning writer is also a co-founder of The Ethnic Aisle, a blog about race and ethnicity in the Greater Toronto Area. More

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