What You (Yes, You!) Can Do Right Now About Charlottesville
Many of us have a range of emotions about what happened over the weekend in Charlottesville, VA. Those feelings range from shock, to literally not shocked at all. Some us wonder how this can be happening in America, while for others of us, this is the America we know all too well. As we work to unpack our reactions to this moment, many of us who consider ourselves to be progressive or at the very least, anti-racist, are wondering what we can do.
One thing you can do right now? Say something.
The truth is that all of us need to do more than share memes about tiki torches on Twitter. And, this is a particularly important moment for white allies to use your social capital, (and yes, your privilege) to respond to friends, families, and that one guy you went to high school with who probably voted for Trump, and help them to understand why what happened in Charlottesville is a big deal, and so is fighting racism in America more broadly.
These conversations can be tough, painful, even. So, we’re here to help! Here are a few suggestions on how to respond to common reactions to this weekend’s events. Feel free to copy/paste these responses into social media conversations, or make them your own at the family dinner table this weekend. Whatever your approach, saying something now, and continuing to confront these arguments where you hear them, is crucial to dismantling racism and white supremacy.
This is a moment to call people out, but also, an opportunity to call people in.
The “Terrorist? What Terrorist?” *Blank Stare* Argument
This isfor the folks saying “I’m not ready to call James Field (the man arrested for intentionally driving his car into a group of peaceful protesters, killing 32-year old Heather Heyer and injuring several others) a terrorist. He was just one crazy guy. That’s not what terrorists look like.” Or, feeling uncomfortable naming this act of hate as one of domestic terrorism (which it was).
First, hit ’em with some serious facts.
Bustle puts it even more succinctly: “Even though right-wing extremists have committed nearly twice as many acts of terrorism as Islamists, white males are consistently portrayed as lone wolves rather than part of a larger system of white supremacy. While these individuals acted alone, they’re part of a larger movement of white supremacists that condone these sorts of acts. They’re in online communities, they’re participating in rallies, and some have been inspired and motivated by the words and actions of our president.” Even Attorney General Jeff Sessions (who is no friend to civil rights or Black people) has said that the murder in Charlottesville qualifies as domestic terrorism.
The “Black Lives Matter People Are Just As Bad” Argument
You have definitely seen some version of this one on Facebook or Twitter, probably from the same person who thinks Colin Kaepernick is a “thug” for kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner. They’re singing some version of this tired tune: “I don’t understand why liberals are complaining about the President’s initial response about there being “many sides” to this story. Black Lives Matter protesters are just as bad as Nazis.”
What You Could Say:
The white supremacists who descended on Charlottesville marched on the University of Virginia campus with torches, chanting “white lives matter,” “you will not replace us,” “Jews will not replace us,” and the Nazi slogan “blood and soil.” According to many news reports, the protesters were heavily armed, with semi-automatic weapons, clubs, tear gas and body armor. They came looking for a fight. This, compared to the fact that Black Lives Matter or the Movement for Black Lives has no history of violence or racial bigotry comparable to America’s far-right militias, neo-Nazis or Klan groups. Thousands of people across America — people of all races — have marched in solidarity with African Americans during BLM marches. To be clear: The BLM movement’s leaders have repeatedly condemned violence. Many people mistakenly believe that Black Lives Matter’s very name is anti-white. Wrong. Black lives matter because they have been marginalized throughout our country’s history and because white lives have always mattered more in our society. As BLM puts it, the movement stands for “the simple proposition that ‘black lives also matter.’”
When they try to hit you with an All Lives Matter, here’s how you clap back.
The “Kumbaya” Argument
Some well-meaning people think declaring that race doesn’t matter is the best response. Maybe they posted a photo of them smiling and holding hands with a friend of a different race and said something like: “I hate what happened in Charlottesville. I don’t see race/I’m colorblind.”
I get it. So many of us have been taught that to even mention race is racist. You aren’t a bad person. It’s hard, but necessary, to unlearn that behavior. Here’s a great piece on this from Everyday Feminism. The main takeaway: “Colorblind ideology takes race off the table. But for many people of color — as well as for white people who work to dismantle systems of privilege — race is very much on the table. Racism forces it to the tabletop. Colorblindness just pretends the table is empty.”
Look, we can’t fight racism if we don’t acknowledge it exists. Also, to ignore race is to pretend it’s something to be ashamed of. Race is tied to many people’s sense of identity, culture, language and family traditions. When you say things like “I’m colorblind,” you are inadvertently denying other people’s experiences and stories while also centering your own whiteness as the only reality worthy of acknowledgment. Let’s embrace race, which includes celebrating the things that make us different and that we have in common, and commit to fighting racism, together.
The “This Is Just About Honoring Southern Culture/Leave Their Statues Alone” Argument
This one goes something like, “Let’s not tear down monuments. These statues represent a part of our history and people should be able to honor their southern roots.”
There’s a lot to love in this piece from Esquire, but here’s the bit that would work best when someone says the fight over symbols like the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, or the Confederate flag, is about heritage, not hatred: “When a group of men and women shout out “Jew will not replace us” in front of a statue of Robert E. Lee, what does that say about your symbol of Southern heritage?
…it has nothing to do with states’ rights or Southern pride. It is about racism, intolerance, and hatred. And at the center of it all are symbols that, despite the well-intended Southern narratives that have failed to reframe them as anything else, are the strongest representation of racism in our country’s history.”
The “I’m Not Going To Rock The Boat” Argument
This last one is for those people just idly posting about The Bachelorette finale while the world is burning down. If you give them the side-eye they might say something like “I don’t hate Black people. Hey, my best friend is Black! I just don’t want to get into politics on Facebook or anywhere else.”
As the adage goes: If You See Something, Say Something. Our silence makes us complicit in institutional racism that demeans (and yes, kills) people of color everyday. And it’s a part of your privilege to be able to see or hear something racist and say nothing. There will be times when your whiteness allows you into all-white spaces or allows you to be heard in a situation where a person of color would be dismissed as being a “snowflake” or overly sensitive. In those situations if you have the power to change one mind or get one person to listen, take the opportunity to let people know that racist attitudes are not OK and you won’t stand for them.
These are just some of the frustrating reactions we’re seeing out there. What are you hearing and how are you responding? Are you having tough conversations of your own about race in America? How are they going? Let us know in the comments.
What Else Can You Do?
DONATE: to efforts in Charlottesville, Va.
- Donate to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Southerners on New Ground (SONG) to further their work in Charlottesville, Va.
- You can donate here to support the legal fund for the Charlottesville, VA anti-racist activists.
- Donate to the Black Student Alliance of University of Virginia fund here.
- Keep talking!
Consult these great resources to help you get started having meaningful, compassionate conversations with the people you love — a task that has to be more than a holiday special if we’re serious about stamping out white supremacy, bigotry, and the prejudice that gives those sentiments room to grow.
- Mic: Experts Explain How White People Should Talk to Other White People About Charlottesville
- Now We Rise Collective: Let’s Talk Turkey Holiday Conversation Guide
- Colorlines: 5 Ways to Face Race at the Thanksgiving Table — and Not Choke
- Oprah.com: How to Have A Hard Conversation in 7 Steps
- Harvard Business Review: How to Have Difficult Conversations When You Don’t Like Conflict
- Keep Reading!
It’s important to get and stay informed about the history of white supremacy, as well as the efforts to dismantle it. Here’s a great reading list to share.
By: Alicia McMullen