Last year I came back to my hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, leaving New York after a short stay.
I have known this town of Charlottesville for over twenty years. My father worked in this town for as long as we’ve lived in this state. I learned to ride my bike here at the park. I worked my first job here. I attended Upward Bound and dwelled at the UVA campus for summers. I’ve driven its roads and have memorized its curves. I love this city. I AM this city.
That park where I learned to ride my bike was also the same place I was called a nigger for the first time. And it wasn’t Lee Park.
Lee Park has been a battleground of sorts when Richard Spencer felt inclined to invite his White Nationalists to come here and hold a neo-Klan rally protesting the planned removal of the statue. Some White Nationalists are Charlottesville residents and have chosen to make a base here to organize and plan gatherings at the statue. Several events have occurred there since.
Recently, Charlottesville voted to remove the statue of its infamous Confederate general and rename the park. A lot of its residents are patting themselves on the back for (some) showing up to a vigil denouncing White Supremacy, and celebrating the “progressiveness” of our city.
But I rebuke your lateness, Charlottesville. I rebuke your self-congratulatory tone.
I rebuke a city and a commonwealth that does not remember, or chooses to forget, its history. I know of your resistance to school integration. I know the history of your Senator Harry Byrd, (a conservative Democrat) and his crusade to uphold segregation. I know the implementation of the Stanley plan, and the concept of “white flight” from integrated schools of that time. I know the history of a city that has done everything in its power to remove itself from the experiences of, and interactions with, people of color.
I rebuke your feigned White liberalism, Charlottesville. I rebuke your lackluster displays of public unity, which are few and far between. I rebuke your treating a vigil of grief in Lee Park like a night of live music at Fridays After Five. Your compassion for this situation is shallow; you hold the pain of racial oppression the same way you hold your POC with a limp handshake or a lifeless hug, with your woven bag intertwined on your forearm as you load it into your obligatory Prius after a trip to the weekly farmer’s market.
I rebuke you, Charlottesville. I CALL YOU OUT.
I rebuke your facade of order and security. I rebuke your police department, who work both diligently to discourage the activism against fascism while working hand-in-hand with white nationalists to arrest protesters on false charges.
I rebuke your writers who refer to people who publicly and loudly protest White nationalism as ‘extremists’. A fervent belief for the equality and defense of all people should not be referred to as possible “criminal behavior”. Your words are dangerous; your neutrality allows a latent and passive racism to permeate into the souls of our people.
I rebuke you, Charlottesville. I. CALL. YOU. OUT.
And I can see how this may be perceived as anger, or uncontrollable outrage. But I thought about this long and hard; I’m not angry.
I had been conditioned to believe that I am the “angry Black man”. You, conversely, have been conditioned to believe that I am dangerous and unpredictable. That my acts are mindless, illogical, and deserve no merit. We all have been misinformed by an institution of racism of the complexity of my emotions. However, I feel I’ve been very mindful in all of this.
I am extremely disappointed. I am disappointed by the silence and indifference of my community leaders, fellow artists, workmates, and close friends whom I love. I am confused by the absence of my fellow people of color in Charlottesville. I am frustrated by your inactivity, and your myopic criticism of the people who are active. And I rebuke a mayor who names Charlottesville a “city of resistance”, and yet is NOWHERE to be found when resistance to fascism is present and necessary.
I am frightened for the future. I am scared for the values we are instilling into the children of our community. I am unnerved by the example we are setting for ourselves. I am scared of the possible death of decency and discourse in my city. I am extremely scared for the safety and security of my family and friends, and not only those who are people of color.
You may say I hate these White Nationalists. Honestly, I do not. I feel sorry for them; I really do. I empathize with their experience of being miseducated by people in their lives whom they trusted for facts. We all seek truth in the world, and sometimes find it in bad places. I lament them for their misplaced anger. I know those White Nationalists have been deceived and lied to. Truthfully, I am emotionally capable of having some basic level of compassion for these people.
However, compassion for your enemy, and trusting your enemy, are two different things. And I didn’t choose this enemy, they chose ME. And I have an obligation to protect myself, the people I care about, and the city I love.
To do the opposite lacks common sense. To paraphrase Malcolm X, this is the same as asking the sheep to love and trust a wolf. Or asking an assault victim to love and trust their recent assailant. Just as certain criminals are monitored in the community after committing an atrocious behavior, and have to publicly endure scrutiny for their presence in a community, so should a White Nationalist. Just as an ex-convict is criticized by their past actions and is refused services from their community, so should a White Nationalist. Just as a serial murderer is judged by public opinion and all their prior acts of violence and beliefs of hatred are called into question, so should a White Nationalist.
Only insensitive semantics separate White Nationalism from domestic terrorism. They are undoubtedly the same thing. A group that terrorizes the people of its community should not be protected by that same community. It is illogical, and frankly, irresponsible to guarantee and protect the rights of a group of people who believe they are supreme, above all conviction, and virulently oppose giving those same rights to others. If a White Nationalist deprives me of the right to live comfortably through violent rhetoric and philosophy, why should I offer, or even feel compelled to offer that same right?
When a domestic terrorist speaks of certain races of people as “mistakes”, or speak of “cleansing” or “extermination”, they have expunged their right to civility. They have called on every person they speak against to stay alert and defend themselves. Their views incite disorder and violence. They don’t get the right to ‘just go out and have a beer’, because we are unsafe around them.
The people who fight for equality and peace in your city should be congratulated, and NOT admonished. They do the work you are too busy to do. They plan and organize while you drown yourself in distractions and Netflix. They contest the lawmakers of which you can’t remember the names. They face the police whom you fear, who threaten your finances, occupation and livelihood. They fight for Richard Collins, the three men on that train in Portland, and the nine people in that church in South Carolina.
THEY are the resisters of hate. Their sacrifice is invaluable.
This is not extremism, this is regaining control of the community from the hands of hate.
This is not assault, this is protection of its citizens.
This is NOT anger. This is passion.
This is LOVE. Fierce. Unapologetic. Unwavering LOVE for our town.
They fight for what you believe in.
Or at least, Charlottesville, what you SAY you do.
And now the Klan have announced they will hold a(nother) rally on July 8 in my hometown.
I rebuke you, Charlottesville.
Prove me wrong.
Photo Credit: Eze Amos
Readers Also Liked: