Views expressed in opinion columns are the author's own.
When I tell people I'm from Cecil County, I'm usually met with looks of confusion or sideways glances. They've either never heard of the place, or they recognize the name instantly and recoil in disgust. Located in the top right corner of Maryland, Cecil isn't known for much other than a legacy of quickie chapels in our only city and a long, ongoing history with the KKK.
I'm not proud of that aspect of our history, but I know quite a few people back home who would be. Or, even if they aren't proud, they don't necessarily have the same distaste for racism and one of the most infamous hate groups in America that most people do. Here on campus, it's easy to think of the Charlottesville white supremacists as being somehow far-removed from the general population — but that's simply not true.
Growing up in a place where minorities are underrepresented, I feel like I understand racism and white supremacy differently than my peers. Confederate flags are common on trucks in my public high school's lot, and a nearby town — Rising Sun — has a reputation of Klan activity. In fact, in 2013, I came home from high school one day to find a Klan flier in my mailbox for a meeting in the Cecil County Administration Building in Elkton, our county seat. I've seen these groups up close and personal, and I've interacted on a daily basis with people who share similar beliefs. They are not far away, and they are not only in the deep South. They are here, in Maryland. They are, unfortunately, among us.
For some, that might be obvious. But for a lot of people I've met on campus who grew up in far more progressive places than I did, acknowledging how close most of us are to bigots and white supremacists is a scary thought. However, by realizing these types of fringe groups really aren't on the fringe at all, we can understand how to better combat them.
One of the tenants of white supremacy is the "protection" of white culture. This relies on a belief on the part of the supremacists that they are being victimized, or that they are in some type of persecuted minority group. Now, anybody who follows the news or even walks around in the world knows that's far from reality.
But that's not the point. The point isn't that it's accurate, it's that groups like the KKK will use any criticism for their advantage. They will spin it into a narrative of victimization, which they use to reach out to more disenfranchised young people. The main thing we can do to combat these groups is to take away their self-victimization: recognize them as not being really all that fringe, and stop giving them the tools they need to gain a larger following.
Caitlin McCann is a sophomore communication major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.