This essay was first published on Huffington Post.com – August 15, 2017
In the aftermath of the Charlottesville tragedy, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe did what our president would not. He named the beast. For that I am truly thankful. He called it a white supremacist. He called it a Nazi. He called it hate and bigotry. With great passion, he delivered his directive. “Go home. You are not wanted in this commonwealth.”
I should have been happy with everything I heard from the governor, Charlottesville’s mayor and the city manager who said, “Hate came to our town today.” Sadly, I was not. Because even as they called for unity, they refused to come clean, pulling a veil of misdirection over our eyes and pointing sharply to reasons why, as a nation, we have not overcome the evil of racism. Too many white Americans refuse to see the entire, gritty truth, and the many painful microaggressions pay an unfortunate tribute to that blindness. As Ralph Ellison wrote, “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”
Governor McAuliffe, Mayor Signer and City Manager Jones would have us believe that Charlottesville is an oasis in the desert of racism. It is not. I am Virginian, born and raised. And I know better. This commonwealth is home to racism which, of course, includes Charlottesville. Ask Martese Johnson, an African-American student leader at the University of Virginia. He was beaten bloody by law enforcement for trying to peacefully enter a bar. He’d done nothing illegal. Nothing different from white students who were also present. Does the mayor remember the days of protests that followed? Should all three men remember that Charlottesville created this problem in the first place? They erected a statue to a man who committed treason against our nation. They erected a statue to bigotry in the likeness of a man who fought to maintain the evil of slavery. You must own your wrongdoings if you are going to call out others and do not belittle the intelligence of African-Americans who have suffered and continue to suffer in the commonwealth by asking us to join you in pretending.
The governor admonished the beast. “You pretend that you are patriots, but you are anything but a patriot. You want to talk about patriots, talk about Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.” As he stood asking us to come together across the racial divide, he holds up before black people two men who enslaved their ancestors as the perfect ideal. The African-American deputy mayor, standing behind the governor, wearing a T-shirt proclaiming himself to be a Menace II Supremacy, stops nodding in agreement at this point. He understands. I am not sorry if my characterizations of our former presidents anger you. If you want to truly bridge the divide, you must hear and bear witness to facts. To the truth and all of its complicated heritage. If White America won’t acknowledge these facts and share in the pain, there can be no healing.
The governor called us a nation of immigrants. I understand the strict definition of the word, but somehow people chained together in the hold of a ship, lying in the filth of each other’s excrement and vomit, raped and killed along the tortured journey to this country, don’t fit the spirit of the word immigrant. See us, Mr. McAuliffe. See us.
By the end of the day, a bevy of state and national leaders joined the governor, speaking out about the evil of neo-Nazism. I grew weary of them asking us to come together. To get along. We are all one people, they said. If the beast is unequivocally evil, as so many politicians have tweeted, why should I have to get along with it? Shouldn’t we eliminate the beast? In Germany, Criminal Code 86a makes it illegal to “use of symbols of unconstitutional organizations,” aka the Nazis. If what Orrin Hatch, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio say is true – that the KKK, white supremacists and Nazis are truly evil and a danger to our society, then we should outlaw them. If free speech is limited by the notion of inciting violence or threats of violence, then the beast should not be allowed a voice in the great and thoughtful society they claim we live in.
If I sound angry, it’s because I am. I am woeful and emotionally spent. If this country and its leaders believe that Dr. King was correct in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, when he wrote, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly,” then they must understand that as long as the beast is allowed to freely roam our lands, we all will continue to suffer. People of color and white people alike. Tragically, this is why my patriot, Heather Heyer, is dead.
Slavery is the straw in the American brick. This unfortunate union cannot be undone and its legacy of brutality and inequality is and forever will be a part of us. If we want to get past the empty platitudes and make a sincere attempt to curtail this evil, then we must be bold, take a bold stand and make bold, nation altering changes. Otherwise, my fellow Americans, we’re just whistling Dixie.