A year after white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, what have we learned?
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The country was impregnated with racism again in November 2016.
Then, after nine months of ravenous cravings that could only be satisfied with servings of conscious bias, immorality, dog-whistle politics and fear –– on Aug. 11, 2017, racism went into labor in Charlottesville, Virginia.
With CNN, Vice and GoPro as media midwives, the world witnessed in disbelief the birth of a familiar being.
To some, this birth was a long overdue moment of pride. To many others, it was an experience that triggered sensory offenses. The afterbirth left a pungent odor that lingered in our nostrils and obstructed our smell like dried mucus. The sight of a town flanked with flying Confederate flags inflamed our eyes like a scratched cornea. The drumbeat of rancorous threats and violence swamped our ear canal and deafened our hearing liked a neglected wax impaction.
The renowned novelist James Baldwin once said: “Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” This sentiment was epitomized in Charlottesville. The uninhibited presence of hatred was on full display for the world and God to see. The cauldron of racial animus was stirred with warring words, wheels as weapons, warnings of wrath and unwieldy wrongs. America had not seen the likes of this since the Alabamian days of George Wallace and Bull Connor. Some of us thought we had moved past the perversion of this type of racism, but there it was — our laundry aired, our secrets disclosed and our shame revealed.
It has been one year since the event referred to as “Charlottesville” blindsided the conscience of America. So, what have we learned? Some might answer “not a helluva lot.” If we look at it objectively, there are a few things America learned — or should have learned:
1. People without voices will eventually speak, and when they do, it could be thunderous and riotous.
2. It was always there. The neo-Nazis’ hatred was always there – like an undetected metastatic cancer. When looking at the age of the alt-right protesters, it is clear that they grew up under the Bush and Obama administrations.The current president did not create these groups, but their actions at the rally were stoked by coded language, overt degradation of other groups and provocative curators of hostility, supremacy and fear.
3. The absence of coordinated law enforcement efforts can lead to an avalanche of inhumane savagery, destructiveness and even death.
Charlottesville left a stain on our history that cannot be easily explained or erased, but rather etched in our conscience as an eventual expungible evil. While America’s civil sensibilities on race relations might have been seared by the violent altercations in Charlottesville, we must identify ways to address this insidious and pervasive issue. Why? Because the being born on Aug. 11th, had children and followers. There were teenagers at the white nationalist rally. They may go underground, but they are not going away anytime soon. We should consider addressing it as Barack Obama suggested in his farewell speech: “as jealous guardians of democracy” and freedom.
One might ask, as they did of Nazareth – Jesus’ home (John 1:46), “Can anything good come from Charlottesville?” Many good things came from Charlottesville, which served as a flashpoint to inspire people to run for office. The appointment of Charlottesville’s first African-American female police chief, RaShall Brackney was a good thing. Another good thing was appreciating that the antitoxin to venomous behavior is not just resistance, but casting votes as demonstrated in the Alabama and Bronx victories.
As uncomfortable as it may be to act upon these words, the Bible instructs us in Romans 12:14 to: “Bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse.”
It is hard to not curse someone who wants to extinguish your existence. Charlottesville activists and justice seekers may grapple with this instruction. However, it provides freedom from reacting to dark impulses.
It releases us from snares that keep reminding us of the past and orders our steps toward good. Finally, it stirs our remembrance and grants us peace knowing that God fights and wins our battles. They did it in Charlottesville. We can do it too.
Unborn hope cannot die. We must conceive and give life to hope every day.
Theresa Dear is an ordained elder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and pastoral support minister at the DuPage AME Church in Lisle.