My Charlottesville May Not Be Your Charlottesville
Since Saturday, I have written and deleted various posts before publishing them. I did not believe that I could properly convey what I was feeling at the time. I was not born in Charlottesville nor do I live there now, yet I spent several years of my life there and consider it the closest thing to a hometown that I’ve had. The friends I made there will undoubtedly be friends for the remainder of my life. It was extremely troubling to see and hear about what occurred this past weekend. The images of people getting maimed and killed where my friends, family, and I have walked many times before were abhorrent and I am proud that there was such a large anti-protest movement. However, notice I said I was troubled by what happened, not surprised nor shocked. Please keep in mind that I am by no means attempting to discredit what others have written, merely to add my perspective.
Reading many well written and intentioned posts from friends and classmates over the last few days, I noticed a recurring theme. Shock and disbelief that an event of such stark racial tensions could happen in Charlottesville. The same sentiment that was expressed after President Trump won the election. In my opinion, this is the result of a self serving bias and a silo’d life experience. Those who expressed disbelief that Charlottesville could become the new national epicenter of mounting racial tension had many things in common. They were white, socially tolerant, and tended to associated with others that had likeminded viewpoints. It is this circumstance that can allow blinders to be formed to the truths that surround us.
The various news networks have featured Charlottesville officials embarking on a PR campaign in an effort to restore the city’s reputation. While understandable at its core, I hope that off camera there is a serious period of reflection and introspection. They must realize that under their watch, this hatred and division has continued to grow. Charlottesville and the lauded University of Virginia was built on the back of slaves. It has always been a part of the city past. A past that took centuries to finally acknowledge. While the acknowledgment should be commended, it does not signal the cessation of racial injustice in the city. This issue is one for contemporary discussion not merely for history textbooks.
When my family and I came to Charlottesville, we were generally made to feel welcome in our new community. However, there was more than one incident that reminded me this was far from the utopian town that I’ve seen portrayed in writing over the last few days. As a child of a mixed race family, I was able to view how my Moroccan father was often treated very differently than my American mother. My sister and I were treated differently than our white classmates. I will never forget the day a neighbor of ours turned to my sister and said “if we lived a few hundred years ago you would be my slave” with pride in her voice. I noticed how differently I was treated depending on what I wore and that while my white friends could wear athletic shorts and t shirts without consequence, I was received drastically different dependent on whether I had a jersey on or a polo shirt. I remember my father being detained while reading a book because he “looked suspicious” and an officer putting his hand on his gun while pulling over my father while no such action occurred when sitting in the back of a friend’s father’s car who was stopped for speeding.
The reasoning for bringing up these incidents is not to excoriate the town or people of Charlottesville. It is to remind people of the danger that comes with the “it could never happen here” mentality. This mentality is a dangerous one as it promotes complacency and short sightedness. History is mired with instances of incredulous populaces believing their nations were not capable of the atrocities that loomed on the horizon. It is important to ask people who do not look and think like you about their experiences. You may find that they vary drastically from your own. I hope that if something positive can come from this tragic weekend it is the fact that the blinders have been removed. There is still hatred, bigotry, evil, and violence in this world. It is not in another country, in another religion, in another time period, nor even in another state/region. It is often right in front of you. Do not assume truths without proper research and obtaining opinions of differing view points. I believe that Charlottesville and its people will emerge stronger than before and am certain that the place where so many of my best memories occurred will continue to thrive. Ignorance is not bliss, it is dangerous.