After last weekend’s events in Charlottesville, online volunteers worked to identify members of the alt-right featured in pictures of the events. One person they identified was Peter Cvjetanovic, a student at University of Nevada, Reno. As his name began appearing on the media circuit, his school released a statement.
“We denounce any movement that targets individuals due to the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, political beliefs, sexual orientation, ability/disability, or whether they were born in our country,” a message from the school’s president said. “As an institution, we remain firm in our commitment in denouncing all forms of bigotry and racism, which have no place in a free and equal society.”
It is a sentiment previously echoed by Tiki Brand, the brand of lawn torch prominently featured in many of the photographs of the protest.
These haven’t been the only organizations to make a statement officially denouncing the beliefs and actions of those in Charlottesville. New Balance and the Detroit Red Wings have also formally disassociated themselves with the ideology after the group adopted their brands as symbols.
While it’s certainly a wise PR move to make these statements, they shouldn’t be necessary. We should automatically assume the Detroit Red Wings or New Balance or Tiki or whomever doesn’t agree with white supremacists and that their brands are being used against their will. The fact these companies feel compelled to release clarifying statements indicates a troubling trend: If you’re not publicly denouncing it, you obviously support it.
Let me be clear: there are people whose job it is to publicly condemn actions of extremist groups. These people should not wait two days to do so. These people should make a statement swiftly and harshly.
But when companies like Under Armour or universities like the University of Missouri or Smith College, which have a tangential relation to the protests at best, also feel compelled to publicly denounce alt-right groups just in case, that’s a problem.
We are saddened by #Charlottesville. There is no place for racism or discrimination in this world. We choose love & unity. – CEO Kevin Plank
— Under Armour (@UnderArmour) August 14, 2017
That’s because this idea isn’t relegated to just companies practicing cautious public relations. It has also expanded to individuals. The idea now is that if you don’t say anything, you’re complacent, and if you’re complacent, then you’re complicit. Basically, if you choose not to make a grand statement on Facebook or Twitter that White Supremacy Is Bad And We Shouldn’t Support It, then you are obviously a white supremacist.
Assuming people are guilty until they say otherwise not only fuels the fire of division and places the burden of proof on every person, it also gives undue credit to these extremist groups. Promoting the idea that silence is agreement sets up these extremist ideologies as the norm, not the anomaly.
If people want to speak out and get involved, then they should. But when people pressure others to repeat the obvious—that vigilantism and white supremacy are bad and should be condemned—on pain of being called a white supremacist themselves, we’ve gone too far.
Not making a Facebook post is not the same as driving a car into a crowd of people. Not tweeting on the newest hashtag isn’t the same as being a white supremacist. Silence is not the same thing as agreement. Let’s stop pretending it is.