I'm Appalachian. I'm specifically from West Virginia, which 'sided' with the North in the American Civil War; regardless, I consider myself 'Southern.' Each of the above are layers of identity and heritage. Above those labels I'm an American which, though we consider it some kind of concrete identity, is really so diverse an amalgamation as to defy any sort of compact definition. If anything, America, as I was raised to ideally understand it, is composed of dissimilar peoples who have come together in the United States. Our similarity is based on and strengthened by our diversity. My personal identity is expanded though by further experiences I've had in other places and cultures. In other words, my identity doesn't come from existing in one place or only referencing that single place. Identity comes from an understanding of my place in the larger whole. It's both looking back and forward, not something static and based wholly on the imagined past. It's also tempered by an informed understanding of other people and their experiences. Neither my culture or my personal history have formed in isolation; before I can comprehend my own place in the story, I need to make the effort to properly 'read' that of others. Otherwise, I'll have only a narrow and weakly formed identity based on my internal monologue.
Recently, there was an incident in Virginia that involved a particular set of Americans protesting that their heritage was under attack. Heritage and identity are based on the stories we tell to ourselves and each other. The story that these (mostly white men) tell to others and themselves is that they are a now a minority at risk of dissolution. The elements of this story are made from a collection of objects and 'small h' histories reformed into a new narrative that drive them to this conclusion. The focus in Virginia was a memorial statue of a Confederate general from the Civil War. These monuments are peppered around the South as a lingering reminder of that period in our shared history; however, many are slated for removal as they are and have become increasingly a tool for these 'oppressed oppressors'. I'm tempted to speak about 'the current political climate' or to go off on the poor state of leadership in the White House; but, in some ways, these are indicative rather than causal. We have malicious and tawdry leaders because we, as a diverse group of peoples, have allowed ourselves to become so or have permitted that kind of energy to inform our narrative. I don't really believe the men violently protesting and carrying NAZI flags truly represent the spirit of the South as they think they do; they are more representative of an underlying and systemic disease in the culture that has produced them. They say they are the embodiment of a real America; they are instead an example of ignorance and a complete misunderstanding of what America essentially is. (Further I have to wonder if, despite his personal or political aims, Gen Robert E. Lee would have condoned fascists using his monument as a symbol of their cause!)
There was a physical clash between the protesters and counter-protesters on the weekend and a woman was killed (it's a wonder that more weren't in the presence of heavily armed angry men; I'm afraid it's only a matter of time before these situations spill into uncontrolled violence). The resolution of this is, in the main, not a question of taking up arms on either side, it goes back to our stories. These men don't need some recognition or revolution to satisfy their frustrations; we who oppose their views need not clamp down on their actual freedoms (that just re-enforces their narrative of perceived oppression). We need better stories―stories that are informed by a broader understanding of ourselves and others, stories that aren't based in the Shadow side of our past but have come through and out of it, stories that recognise the reality of now rather than the imagined 'then'. Without a better story, people fester in ignorance of both their own true heritage and that of others. The men protesting on the weekend shouted 'you will not replace us' as if there are hordes of people coming to America specifically to become bigoted disillusioned men. These men have so wholly separated themselves from an understanding of 'the other' that their comprehension of other people outside their own sphere is stilted and misread.
I'm going to digress for a moment. I said in the first paragraph that my identity doesn't come from referencing a single place; that's not to say that a sense of place isn't important. We all need to have roots in a place and/or be able to transplant ourselves into new soil. That's a needed skill as people move about freely (and, increasingly, unwillingly) around the world. What we must realise is that this transition does not mean that existing cultures must be eliminated or that we must lose our own identities. What it does mean is that I need to have a healthy understanding of myself, to be able to communicate that to others and welcome them into my own culture. It requires effort on both parties in the encounter. I am a migrant into another culture now; though Australia is in many ways an easy transition, it's required of me to make the necessary effort to integrate into this society. That does not mean I lose my own identity nor does should it require Australia to diminish itself in order to accommodate me. I think the shouting angry men in Virginia are still looking at the world in a Colonial way―that, with any influx of 'the other' there is an invasion of culture that supplants the native one. That's certainly still possible; however, not necessary for either the migrant or the receiving culture. It's also incumbent on the native culture to offer its best narrative for the newcomers to enter into (in the same way one must offer a rich soil for the transplant as it roots itself). This effort is even more important than ever as the volume and speed of migration increases round the world. Migration, within living memory, was in many ways a slower and more permanent life event. Now we can fly round the world in a day and visit 'home' several times a year; our communication is instantaneous and continual. There is little incentive to wholly integrate into another culture when the ties to ones own are so thorough and especially if the culture one has entered into doesn't offer a compelling narrative in which one can have a place. There is a much larger issue here that probably warrants more thought and writing―but if you want to look at the creation of 'the terrorist next door' don't place the blame wholly on radical preachers far away. Ask why the young man who did some terrible thing couldn't find a place in the story of the country his parents migrated to. Why was the story he was offered as a citizen of one society so weak that it could be so easily supplanted by some YouTube videos and a shady guy he met online?
Ask as well why the men carrying NAZI flags to a rally in Virginia can't find an identity other than that of hate and bigotry. Ask why they have created this kind of narrative as their own history and want to offer that as a way forward for America. How do we counter that failing? We must create better stories and speak them with both both conviction and humility.