It’s been forty years since Elvis Presley shuffled off this mortal coil. While he’d slipped into pop culture irrelevancy in the last few years of his career, the musical landscape was just as shaken by his death as it had been by the earthquake of his arrival in the 1950s.
But Elvis holds an odd relevancy today. See, when he started out, Elvis explicitly tried to blend two different musical worlds: Black R&B and white Country & Western. I know there have been a lot of critics who say he “stole” that music from the blacks, but considering that he was always friends with and surrounded by a vital African-American community in Memphis, then I think it might be a little harsh to say he willfully took from black artists for his own profit. He used the music he loved and that influenced him to develop his own unique sound. If people want to lay blame for the magnificent, brilliant black musicians that didn’t get the credit or reap the financial rewards of fame, then blame the music industry; they’re the ones who exploited people. Elvis just made the sound he heard in his head and heart manifest.
Some people reacted badly to Elvis. Besides being kind of lewd in some people’s eyes, he was also committing the worst sin any white man from the South could commit: He liked black culture and black people. He freely associated with them. He sounded like them. To these people, Elvis was some kind of traitor. The people who thought this were what I like to call racists. This was the early days of the Civil Rights Movement, and Jim Crow was still the rule of law throughout the South (and the rule of custom in so many other places). Things were changing, and racists didn’t like it. They didn’t like the idea that their pure white children might go to school with those nasty black folks. They didn’t think they should have to serve or sell products to people they had decided were subhuman simply because the color of their skin was different. The racists still held on to the notion that the South would “rise again,” a phrase I’m pretty sure is code for “reinstate slavery and destroy all those dirty n*****s once and for all.” They were afraid that their “way of life” would be taken from them and they would be forced to treat black people equally.
So they fought back by beating sit-in participants. By turning fire hoses and police dogs on Civil Rights marchers. By lynching and shooting both black and white activists who committed sins like registering black citizens to vote. They didn’t call themselves racist. They didn’t even call themselves white supremacists for the most part. They called themselves good, honest, hardworking, Christian Americans. They really truly believed God was on their side.
Does any of this sound familiar?
It should. Because it’s still going on today, some sixty-odd years after the Civil Rights Movement began in earnest and Elvis Aron Presley burst onto the scene. What happened a few days ago in Virginia, before, during, and after a so-called “Unite the Right” rally was pretty much the same thing. These neo-Nazis, these white pride adherents, these alt-right followers–whatever the fuck they’re calling themselves–were as sickening as the racists back then were. They carried torches, for crying out loud!* All they needed was a couple of white hoods and a giant cross to burn, and we would’ve gone back in time a few decades. Lather, rinse, repeat. And because of the Cheeto masquerading as president, these imbeciles think it’s okay to come back out of the woodwork and show their pathetic faces. They think it’s okay to intimidate and beat counter protesters. They think it’s okay (and it actually is okay in a lot of places) to carry assault weapons to a supposedly peaceful protest. With all the racist, xenophobic rhetoric coming from the Cheeto, these racists think they can do whatever they want to anyone they think is an inferior because the idiot they voted for says it is. He refuses to call them out largely because he agrees with them. They are essentially his unpaid army of thugs.
Now I support the right to free speech. That means I also support the right of these racist fucks to say what they want. It’s a hard, bitter pill, but I will swallow it because they do have the right to speak their minds and express their opinions. I hate what they have to say, but I will defend to the death their right to say it. But they surrender any Constitutional right to free speech the second they start carrying weapons and torches. They give up any and all First Amendment protections when they assault anyone who dares to disagree with them. They deserve to be arrested and prosecuted when they do things like drive their cars into a crowd of pedestrians and counter protesters. These so-called people, these useless piles of flesh and bones, are the living breathing definition of terrorism. They always were, going back generations upon generations, and they should be treated as such.
Like the racists who resisted both Civil Rights and Elvis, these terrorist neo-Nazis are scared because they think they’re losing something when other groups, primarily the groups that they hate, gain something. They see society changing and progressing, and they see it as an assault on their power. It is. And it isn’t going to stop. As more and more marginalized people gain greater and greater rights, the social order these terrorists want to see will continue to die out.
I’ve gotten a bit farther away from Elvis than I thought I would, but I think that’s kind of a testament to his power. He brought musical styles together and created something magical. Today, no one even really thinks about how revolutionary his sound was. Imagine what would happen if we could finally, FINALLY, stop dividing ourselves by the colors of our skins and unify. Think of what we could accomplish if we actually stopped treating each other differently because we look or speak or pray or vote differently. Then the real revolution would finally begin.
*Okay, they were tiki torches, but that would’ve only leant the scent of citronella to the cross burning.