Charlottesville: White Is Not a Color

Special to the Armenian Weekly 

A friend of mine, a zoologist, once told me that chimpanzees are gorgeous animals, and that the recurrent claim they are ugly comes from a fear and a suspicion of resemblance, and not from objective evaluation. The chimpanzee, according to him, is the only animal we judge using our own, human standards of beauty, and we compare it to ourselves and not to other mammals; that is the only reason it comes off as ugly and perhaps too furry for our taste. Otherwise, he said, the chimpanzee is a very beautiful specimen.

A group holding Nazi, Confederate, and Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” flags preparing to enter Emancipation Park at the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally. (Photo: Anthony Crider)

An amusing example, perhaps, but its inherent conclusion doesn’t need much pondering: Humans tend to exclude that which is the closest to them, that which they most resemble; and we do it naturally and with an ancient comfort. Our first victims are our brothers. The first Biblical murder, after Genesis and before the beginning of time and civilization, was a fratricide.

The smaller the differences, the more we tend to emphasize them. Even if we need recourse to science to prove we are different. Fascists in the first half of the 20th century used biology to distinguish between “superior” and “inferior” races. They used science to delineate differences among humans, and to claim that in the immense book of resemblances there is a secret page, at the end, where our differences are assessed. And that only biology will reveal the invisible ink of their white superiority.

So they started measuring faces, noses, and ears. Cataloging the colors of eyes and mapping the different shades of white in skins. Because only an “exact” science could detect what their eyes could not see: difference between a German Jew and his Christian neighbor.

And that is where all the danger is: When our differences are microscopic, the responses they provoke are nuclear.

So, if you’re reading this and you are white—but a Christian Middle Easterner, or a Latin American, or an Armenian, or a Jew… think again. Because you are perhaps not as white as they want you to be, and so you are too “close” to be spared. Remember that “White” for a white supremacist is not a race but a mixture of the right genes, the proper religion, the correct name, and the appropriate taste in cars, shirts, hobbies, and food. Having only one or a few of those mutable characteristics is not enough. They will dig deeper, wear their magnifying glasses, and go through their catalogs; and you will finally be blamed for lacking full qualifications—then hastily transferred into the railway wagon of the lower races, headed toward that unique station. The last one.

The word has already been uttered: In a Viceland video, a young mother, carrying her two young children, claimed that the solution should be radical, final: a genocide. The camera was fixed on her, an eerie silence lasted for a short while after she pronounced the word. Then a voice: her husband’s. He expressed his love for his wife: “I love you, baby!” And then everybody laughed. End of shot.

Precisely. Laughter is the beginning of all startling tragedies. A smile of disbelief is the first reaction we have to the immense hole that opens up every time a man claims he is superior. The smile transforms then into surprise, then anger, fear, and, finally, regret. Tragedies don’t start with a fantastic setting, a flying monster, and the music of Wagner in the background. The harshest tragedies started with a bit of gossip, a murmur, a light shiver… and a smile.

What happened in Charlottesville tastes like the start of a tragedy in which no one will be safe. And this is not the problem of African Americans, Muslims, and Mexicans alone. What happened in Charlottesville concerns all minorities, independently of how privileged, protected, and powerful they might be. Refusal, condemnation, and resistance should come from all sides. Silence is in many cases complicit agreement. A strong, universal, and clear reaction is needed, because racism leaves no winners behind.

Because everyone is victim when all our geography consists of islands, and our history—deserts.

It is the moral and historical role of those who have suffered racism and exclusion in the past to make sure that what has happened to them will never happen again to anyone else.

Iheb Guermazi

Iheb Guermazi

Iheb is an architect and author. He is currently pursuing a PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on the history and theory of art and architecture. Iheb has lived, worked, and written in Tunisia, France, China and the United States. Aside from his architectural practice, he also writes extensively on social and political affairs in Europe and the Middle East.
Iheb Guermazi

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  1. Say, maybe we Armenians should remove statues of Armenians who may have done some not-so-good things while they were doing good things?

    How about the revolt in 1921 to overthrow the Soviet government?

    Were they “traitors” because they revolted, or were they heroes?

    I am sure you can all think of other examples.

    We Armenians should think long and hard before we take down others’ statues.

  2. Well said! I always get upset when one of my fellow Armenians speaks derisively about people of another race or color, even to the point of wanting to eliminate them! Have we forgotten that there was a time and place when we were thought of in the same way?

  3. Who exactly is ” they ” ?? Why give this type of trash any type of attention. ” THEY ” are the ones that will be judged, not I nor my friends.
    I fear no one and was judged while growing up in bklyn for being. Iron in Iran. I stood my ground to the point where the accuser fell silent.
    Your most important strength is your mind.

  4. The only genocide I see going on in Charlottesville is cultural genocide. The mob-ruled frenzy of mass destruction of cultural objects whipped up by ideological dogma peddled by hate-filled extremists. Having witnessed, over the last 30 years, in Turkey, similar dogma being used to wipe out all traces of anything Armenian – buildings, gravestones, placenames, history itself – it is horrifying to see the same thing going on unopposed in the streets, parks, and university campuses of a supposedly stable and inclusive country like America.

    • Bravo , I agree , by erasing history , the result has been rewritten history , as turks and Azeris are doing to Armenians .

  5. “Fascists in the first half of the 20th century used biology to distinguish between “superior” and “inferior” races.”

    Actually, well to do white progressives and feminists pushed a lot of eugenics and racist ideology throughout many institutions, especially ivy league schools.

    “Because you are perhaps not as white as they want you to be, and so you are too “close” to be spared.”

    True. The same applies to these leftist extremists as well. They will not spare anyone that is not “oppressed” enough, or not enough of a “minority”. They have their measurements as well.

    “What happened in Charlottesville concerns all minorities”

    This is just one side of the coin. The other is the polarization of minorities to label all “whites” as evil or inherently racist.

    Even Armenians with a light complexion will be labelled as “white devils”. Don’t forget that these groups only care about themselves, nobody else, and certainly not Armenians. I’ve met some of these “activists” and social justice warrior professors, and they do not hesitate to deny the Armenian Genocide ever occurred.

    I just hope this sort of ideology and all the made-up buzz words that come with it has not penetrated the Armenian diaspora too much.

    • The danger for America is that hatred acted out by oppressing and suppressing things, once stirred up and allowed to succeed in it initial aims, is very hard to stop. The destroyers will certainly turn their attention to new targets: all statues of all pre-Civil-war era politicians will be the next to go, since they too are “tainted”. Worse, every group or ideology with a grievance and growth aspirations will learn that to succeed they need to get empowered by having their own culture kill-list. Anything perceived to be anti-Muslim will gave to go, so goodbye to all that allegorical statuary we see on town hall pediments. Expect a requirement for trigger warnings to be issued in advance of discussing anything, such as for example the Armenian Genocide, that any group or individual could argue “attacks” them or makes them feel uncomfortable with their identity. Expect a gradual shutting-down of public intellectual or creative engagement in America the like of which has not been seen since McCarthyism.

  6. In the U.S., “white” people are commonly referred to as “Caucasians,” even on official documents, regardless of where their ancestors originated. However, from my experience living in Moscow, it was not unusual to hear Russians refer to Armenians, Georgians and any others nationalities from the Caucasus as “blacks.” I guess it just goes to show how subjective and unscientific the whole concept of race and its related terminology really is.

    • You’re right. Caucasians and the Caucasus have no relation except for someone who randomly chose the name based on liking the Caucasus. Like all race categories they’re subjective and irrational. Thanks for echoing that.

  7. Erasing historically important Armenian churches, crosses, buildings etc. in Turkey is NOT an equivalent to removing statues erected to show support of white supremely and slavery. MAKE NO MISTAKE _ we speak a different language,eat different foods and even the most blonde and blued eyed Armenian is not considered Aryan by hate groups –

    • I see a close equivalence. Both groups share a lust to destroy historical cultural objects based on an ideology that requires an enemy, implacable and unbending hatred against that enemy, and the destruction of everything claimed to be connected to that enemy. Both are also resolutely certain their actions are justifiable, correct, and appropriate. The Turks who destroyed Armenian heritage sites did it with just as much fervor as today’s statue-destroying history-rewriting American ideologues at large. And they had just as much “evidence” to justify their self-righteous hate – after all, did not Armenians (according to the Turkish version of history) for the sake of Armenian racial supremacy, betrayed Turkey to Russia, initiate a war that killed millions of Turks, tried to occupy vast areas of Turkey with the aim of enslaving or expelling its Muslim population, and then, after their failure, perpetuated their Lost Cause by claiming a false genocide, by making heroes out of their Dashnak or Fedayeen criminals, and are still plotting their extremism to this day. Actually, the Turkish ideology encouraging heritage destruction was mild compared to the American one, which is why many Armenian monuments still exist in Turkey. I read one rabble-rouser commentator in America try to excuse the destruction of historical statues by saying that since modern white supremacists have paraded in front of them and professed an attachment to them, they are thus irredeemably tainted and must be destroyed. I’ve yet to see that view expressed in Turkey: that Armenians today claim cultural sites as their property and dare to still make ceremonies in them, thus tainting them irredeemably with Armenian irredentism, which requires their destruction.

  8. Mankind, or to be more P.C. – humankind- has for millennia, still is and will always have a tendency toward tribalism. We have always found ourselves more comfortable and at ease when surrounded by familiar faces, people sharing the same or very similar background, culture language etc. It is time for humanity to rise up to the undeniable challenges of modern times and come to terms with the fast changing world and learn to live in peace with people of “other” races, religious beliefs colour and creed. Number one offender is the Turkish government. But at the end of the day, turkey is turkey, one of the most undemocratic of the so-called Democratic countries in today’s world. As for the USA, such behaviour by albeit a tiny minority of its citizens surely has to be condemned by everyone who is in possession of the even the slightest sense of humanity.

  9. The name Caucasian was chosen because the Caucasus was seen as halfway between India and Europe. The people of northern India and Pakistan are considered racially Caucasian, Persia likewise, Jews, Arabs, Kurds, Armenians too, despite whatever their skin color may be. So people living in the Caucasus were seen as typical of the Caucasian race in its far flung divisions and off shoots.

    Now we come down to fanatic bigots like the American neo-nazis and the KKK who were present at Charlottesville, and led by David Duke among others. These goons came up with a very narrow definition of white people to mean only those really white-white or pink-skinned folk from northern Europe, Scandinavia, Germany, Ireland, etc.

    By the way, Syrians living in the USA in the late 19th century went to court to get themselves declared to be “white.” And they won their case. These people, probably most of them Christian and coming from what is today Lebanon, wanted to be exempt from harsh laws being passed to discriminate against Asians, which at that time the Congress saw as Chinese, Japanese and other East Asians. They won their case and were exempt from the anti-Asian laws.

    However, just to support the argument above, when I was around 20 years old and living in the USA, I heard behind my back more than once that: “Jews are N*****s turned inside out.” I also heard this once said about Italians instead of Jews. So that prejudice existed and still exists.

  10. Great article, but some comments that excuse white supremacist idealogy are very sad. At this time let us remember the greatest Armenian antifa: Monte Melkonian, who fought against fascism all his life and who allied himself with Arab, Turkish and Kurdish antifa of his time. RIP brother Monte.

  11. I don’t understand why this writer feels threatened by the white suppremist in N. Carolina, who are small and have no power as of this writing , and why did he ignore the threat of , BLT ‘s ( black lives matter) rhetoric of killing all whites or taking their homes away. To me that is more threatening since not only most Armenians live in big homes and consider themselves white , the movement is larger , more powerful and more wide spread in USA

  12. There is a clear parallel between the Confederate statutes in the US honoring treasonous slaveowners and the statues and streets in Turkey honoring perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide. It is not difficult to empathize with African Americans who want the statutes removed.

    • Really!!! General Robert E. Lee had an unparalleled record at West Point; an unparalleled record as a military commander in wars npbefore the War of Northern Aggression; was Lincoln’s first choice to command the armies of the north. He was apologetic about slavery. He was a staunch defender of state’s rights. Historical documents show the war was over state’s rights and that Lincoln was willing to let slavery exist to avoid war. The famous Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves ONLY in states still in rebellion at that time.
      If we are to remove General Lee then Remove Lincoln along with street names like Malcolm X Boulevard etc.

  13. The Crozet Community Orchestra will be performing Arno Babajanian’s Violin Concerto at Aldersgate Baptist on Rio Road on 11/11 at 7:00p and Crozet Baptist at 4:00p on 11/12. I would like the Charlottesville Armeianian community to know about this important musical event. Soloist Monika Chamasyan of Washington, DC will be giving the first performance in the USA pf this wonderful romantic music.

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