In the midst of the extremist bombardment that marks yet another electoral cycle in the United States, there are two museums that every person in this country should visit, or at least read about. Both are situated in Alabama, a state with a sad history of racism and segregation. One is the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, and the other is the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.
Even the names of each of these institutions immediately spark reflection about this moment in history in which we are living, in relation to other events that have left a very visible—and still painful—scar on U.S. society; a scar that is opened up again, every time an act of racism manifests itself in some region of the country.
The two museums narrate the horrible history of slavery in the United States and how, after being abolished on paper, it turned into other variants of abuse of power by a racial group—whites—over African Americans and other minorities. Said abuse manifested itself in the form of segregation, lynching, and an entire assortment of measures at the government level to prohibit access to education, health, housing, and voting; basically, to obstruct everything that would support equality of rights and treatment among all of us who inhabit this experiment called the United States.
With the resurgence of countless acts of hate in this 21st century—which was supposed to bring more equality, solidarity, and togetherness in a globalized world—we realize that this chapter of racism and discrimination has not ended; and that the history books of the near future must collect the bitter experiences that we have had to live, in almost real time, with the advent of social networks.
We visited both museums last week with our colleagues at America’s Voice. To be there is, truly, an exercise that exposed how vulnerable our democracy continues to be. That is, if recent years’ political events have brought anything to the surface, it’s that the same racial hatred and extremism that have marked our history are thriving among a group within U.S. society that continues resisting the diversity that has made the United States the world power that it is.
That group was just waiting for a leader, a boss who would “normalize” their venom through his divisive and extremist discourse. And they found it in Donald Trump, and in all the other conservative figures who, putting power before common sense, have made today’s Republican Party adopt and condone extremist messages and language once limited to fringe groups.
They have found such an echo since Trump appeared on the U.S. political landscape that they have no fear at all of being called racists, since they have awoken that voracious hate that a large segment of the country’s population continues to exercise.
The difference is that this hatred was previously directed toward African Americans— although Hispanics, Native Americans, and other minorities have also suffered and continue to suffer from it. It’s not for nothing that some of the signs exhibited in the museum made it clear that African Americans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Dogs were not allowed. And as usually happens, the racists always find a new scapegoat to mow down, and in that sense immigrants of color are among their favorite targets at this moment.
For example, consider this: two Republican governors—Ron DeSantis of Florida, who also aspires to the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, and Greg Abbott of Texas — using refugees as red meat to satisfy the most extreme electoral segment compete to see who is the most anti-immigrant compared to Trump, who also aspires to return to the White House and, to this day, in fact, is the favorite among Republican voters.
The worst part about it is that the extremists and proponents of conspiracy theories believe that their language of hate has no effect at all on society. The intended coup d’etat of January 6, 2021, motivated by statements from Trump and other figures that the 2020 election—which he lost to Biden—had been “stolen,” is an example of the bloody consequences of extremism. The massacres in various cities of the country, perpetrated by unstable people against Hispanics, African Americans, Jews, and other minorities, are another example.
Some days ago, Robert Bowers was found guilty of murdering eleven people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2018. Bowers faced sixty-three federal charges, eleven of them for hate crimes for the death of each one of his victims. Now the jury will decide if his sentence is death.
All of these cases are a sad reminder that hate and extremism continue to pulsate in every corner of this country. Sadly, the sordid history of racism that the two museums in Alabama curate, so that we never forget, is still lying in wait for some divisive figure to stir up the hornet’s nest. That is why their existence, with the goal of learning why racism and discrimination have been part of the U.S. experience and why other groups, such as today’s migrants, still receive this type of rejection in this century, after the glorious battle for civil rights more than fifty years ago, is important. Being there leads us to remember this visit as a bridge between today’s experiences of the migrant and their many connections with African American history.
The worst part about it is that in the present day, there are too many racist, segregationist, and anti-immigrant figures who desire to return to the past. Which denotes that the fight for equality in this country never ends.