Is Charlottesville Everywhere?

Obliterated by last’s week’s insane new cycle — complete with threats of nuclear war and driven entirely by the dangerous lunacy of the current illegitimately elected, kleptocratic president — was the now significant piece of news that the polite request of Representative Yvette Clarke (D-Brooklyn, NY) to have several streets in the Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, NY area — General Lee Ave. and Stonewall Jackson Drive — renamed to remove the reference to confederate generals, was denied by the US Army, which controls the Fort Hamilton area.

The reason given by the Army’s spokesperson, Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff Diane Randon? “This is contrary to the Nation’s original intent in naming these streets, which was the spirit of reconciliation.”

Oh. The spirit of “reconciliation.”

Huh. Made me wonder if there are any HitlerStrasses in Munich, Eichmann Boulevards in Tel Aviv, or Stradas di Mussolini in Verona.

What about the spirit of respect? Of liberty and justice for all?

This is in Brooklyn, NY. Why?

Here’s how Representative Clarke — a strong elected leader of her community, a woman of color, a proud American, born and raised in Brooklyn, whose family immigrated from a Caribbean nation — reacted to that news, on behalf of her predominantly diverse Brooklyn constituents:

“These monuments are deeply offensive to the hundreds of thousands of Brooklyn residents and members of the armed forces stationed at Fort Hamilton whose ancestors Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson fought to hold in slavery… For too many years, the United States has refused to reckon with that history.”

For too many years, the United States has refused to reckon with that history. Lo and behold, not even a week later, that refusal to reckon became murderously evident on the national stage, over the very same core principle: there is a moral imperative to reckon with history — to be on the side of justice for all — or be condemned to repeat its most heinous acts.

White Supremacist groups converged on Charlottesville, the town in Virginia where the University founded by Thomas Jefferson is located, to protest the scheduled removal of a statue honoring confederate leader Robert E. Lee. Carrying torches, Nazi and Confederate flags, bottles filled with urine, and pepper spray — and protected by an ugly civilian “militia” with weapons that were allegedly more plentiful and powerful than those carried by the somewhat-reluctant-to-actually-enforce-laws police squad — young white men chanting racist slogans performed Nazi salutes and incited violence against their peaceful, unarmed counter-protestors. One Nazi sympathizer drove a car into the crowd of counter-protesters, injuring 19 human beings and killing a young woman. It was undoubtedly and unequivocally an act of domestic racial terrorism.

The so-called President of the United States, ignorant of and/or unconcerned with history, chose to mark the entire weekend’s worth of domestic terrorism violence with a belated, grudging, equivocal statement of condemnation of “… this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. On many sides.”

The counter-protesters, made up of Black Lives Matter members, the congregations of many local churches and synagogues, UVA students representing human rights organizations, and local concerned citizens like Heather Heyer, the young woman who was murdered, had not come to Emancipation Park motivated by hatred and bigotry. The implication that they were equally to blame was ludicrous, as so many of Trump’s statements are, every single day. His too-late follow-up on August 14th (scripted for him, and clearly designed to dampen the entirely justified, relentless chorus of global and domestic derision he has faced since his weekend remarks) did little to hide his true colors — rather, his true color: which is unapologetically WHITE.

This country doesn’t belong to white people. In fact, if “Blood and soil” is the argument, give the country to back to Native Americans who were here first. They know how to respect the land.

I’m white. I live in Brooklyn, and I am very glad to do so. The diversity of this borough represents the best of the nation to me. Along much of our waterfront, we can see the Statue of Liberty in the harbor. It seems to me that the people of Brooklyn take that that statue and what it stands for seriously, no matter where they come from, the color of their skin, or their political party affiliation.

Lady Liberty from Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY

I didn’t grow up in Brooklyn, though, I grew up in many places. One of those places was Charlottesville, Virginia, and the year I spent there was 1969. I was a kid from the suburbs of New York City, who had spent half of the previous year in Puerto Rico. I hadn’t been taught to hate people who weren’t like me.

Charlottesville was always full of contradiction. Outside of the center of town, the bus picked up students who lived in rusting trailer parks without running water, and drove them past beautiful estates of the wealthy dotted between bountiful farms of rolling hills on the way to school. The white girl who sat across the aisle from me in my 5th grade classroom was 14 — and married. She brought a portable record player to school; during lunch, she and her friends would dance to the latest Elvis Presley single or country hits like Tammy Wynette’s D-I-V-O-R-C-E. She told me she wished George Wallace had won the Presidency. She didn’t come back for 6th grade.

Tammy Wynette

I didn’t make that many friends in Charlottesville. It was a place where white kids were ostracized for talking to black kids; where black kids timidly attempted friendship with the handful of white kids not originally from Virginia; where the Jewish kids, if there were any, must have been hiding. The black girls were afraid of the white boys; they had every right to be, as they were relentlessly harassed and discriminated against by some of them. My brothers befriended a pair of boys, also brothers, who turned out to be the only Hispanic kids in the school — the Garcias. Outside of school, the only black people I encountered were the janitor at my father’s office and the woman who cleaned our house twice a month.

The Jackson Five in the ‘60’s

We didn’t stay in Charlottesville for long; we moved north. On the school bus in the north, black and white kids danced on the way home in the narrow aisle to transistor radios blasting out the Jackson Five. It wasn’t perfect, but it was different, better, less ugly.

Almost 50 years later, you can find the Charlottesville of 1969 and now in almost every place in America — largely due to the racism that is handed down from generation to generation by people who believe that Donald Trump was qualified to become President of the United States. People who cheered and agreed as he urged violence against lone protestors at his campaign rallies, as he mocked disabled people. As he repeatedly hammered the false Obama birtherism story in the media and on Twitter, as he won 2016 campaign endorsements from KKK members and pulled the white supremacists Bannon and Miller into his innermost circle of advisors, and as he inspired the events of August 12, 2017, in Charlottesville.

Representative Clarke is right. There is a moral imperative to reckon with history — to be on the side of justice for all — or be condemned to repeat its most heinous acts. Reject the racism that is the lifeblood of Trump’s illegitimate presidency. Speak out. Resist. Support and protect those who are discriminated against. Don’t let everywhere become Charlottesville at its worst. And tell the Army you want to change the names of the streets in Brooklyn that lend a false dignity to state-sanctioned racism.

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