Charlottesville and our legacy of white supremacy

This was a hard day. There are three places that I think of as “home” and Charlottesville is one of them. It is a wonderful little city with a lot of wonderful people. If I had the means to maintain homes in both NYC and Charlottesville, I would do it in a minute. It is a town filled with charming local restaurants, a vibrant creative community, and one of the premier public universities. It is progressive-leaning and nestled in the shadow of the beautiful Blue Ridge. I love it.

 

I’m worried about the safety of people tonight, and my thoughts are with those who were injured (or worse) today. I know people who were present to the intentional terrorism of the car attack on counter-fascist protestors, and it must have been horrific for them to witness. I don’t believe I know anyone who was injured, but I’m still accounting for people.

 

What happened today in Charlottesville was terrorism hiding behind the first and second amendments. There is no equivalence to be found between the fascists and the antifa. Nobody brings torches, mace, pepper spray and guns to a non-violent, peaceful “conversation”. Nobody rams a car into a crowd of people, killing at least 1, and injuring many others, by accident. It was an intentional act of violence, using a deadly weapon.

 

I am also wondering what the toll is going to be for the city of Charlottesville socially and economically.

 

There are a lot of outsiders who participated in this white supremacist, right-wing gathering, but let’s not kid ourselves – there were locals among them, organizing and supporting and housing them. That, along with the everyday racism that exists, has got to be reckoned with. Because although Charlottesville is a wonderful place, it is also a place where there is racism, bigotry, and economic inequality. It is a tough place to be poor or brown, and even harder to be poor AND brown. There are a lot of people who do not make a living wage, and a disproportionate number of them are brown.

 

I’m proud of the people who stood up to the Unite the Right protesters, either physically or through solidarity actions, and hope that they will keep working for racial and economic justice in Charlottesville when they finally leave.

 

There is a long-term process that needs to be worked through, unpacking nearly 500 years of systemic violence towards people of color in Virginia, whether they were people stolen from their homes in Africa to enrich the wealthy white plantation owner, or a Native person whose lives, homes and land were stolen as “manifest destiny” unfolded and the land was colonized by the British, and later, the Americans.

This Unite the Right protest was organized because the City of Charlottesville made a decision to remove the statues of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee from two prominent downtown parks, and rename the parks “Justice Park” and “Emancipation Park.”

The protest was organized because there are a significant number of people who believe that remembering and honoring the Lost Cause is more important than moving on and respecting all people, regardless of race.

The protest was organized because there are people who think that Making America Great Again means we need to marginalize anyone who isn’t a white man or a lady who stands firmly beside him.

 

On the economic front: The entire downtown is shut down on a Saturday night in the summer. That’s $$$ that can make or break a local business. When all is said and done, please take extra good care of the downtown businesses, Charlottesville friends. Those are local people who employ other local people. They are victims of this day, too. There are a lot of people who live paycheck to paycheck, who needed tips tonight to pay their groceries,  or to work in the kitchens or bus tables.
Now I have to say something else.
My fellow white people. Not just in Virginia. ALL of y’all.

Can we stop saying that we can’t believe what is happening in 2017, for crying out loud? Why the hell would anyone be surprised? It’s not like we haven’t built a country on 500 years of white supremacy. The civil rights movement had some successes, but there is always pushback, and systemic/institutional racism AND good ol’ societal racism has continued.

 

Let’s also not be so fast to distance ourselves from these “Unite the Right” fascists, as loathsome as I believe that their ideas are. They are our neighbors, our aunts and uncles, our brothers and sisters. We all know these people. ALL OF US. Whether it’s the preppy guy in khakis, a blazer and sunglasses or the biker gang or militia dude in camo or person of Wal-Mart guy wearing a flag shirt made in China, we KNOW THESE PEOPLE. They are our people. The ones we desperately avoid having political conversations with at Thanksgiving or hide on Facebook. Or maybe we’ve even unfriended them (or been unfriended by them).

 

I agree that these guys don’t speak for all white Americans. But unfortunately, they do speak for a sizable minority of them. And also unfortunately, there are a lot of white Americans who do not speak out against racism and bigotry loudly and often enough, which gives comfort to those people and enables them. Or they look the other way because they hope the bigots will give them other things they want. #MAGA

 

The #notallwhitepeople thing is not helpful. We have to take a really hard look at racism and bigotry in this country, and do some real soul searching about white privilege and xenophobia, bigotry, how people of color have been systemically oppressed for generations, and how people often ignore micro-aggressions and other everyday forms of racism. The subtler, daily injustices are damaging, too.

 

We white people have to be honest about this. And reckon with it.

 

–Jessica

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