How will we talk to our children about the Klan, the Nazis, and the “alt.right”?
⬆️The Neo-Nazi “alt.right” marches in Charlottesville on the night of August 11, 2017. The Tiki torches are likely from Walmart, not Pier One.
Three people died today in Charlottesville, Virginia. Three people died today in Charlottesville, Virginia because people have not just been taught to hate, they’ve been taught that it’s important to hate in public.
Charlottesville, Virginia’s statue problem began almost 100 years ago. Like most southern cities, no statue of Robert E. Lee or of Jefferson Davis or of Stonewall Jackson was erected here in the wake of the American Civil War. The statues began to appear during the Theodore Roosevelt administration in response to the President appointing African-American postmasters, and a single invite of one person of color to eat at the White House.
Monument building accelerated after World War I, encouraged by the racism of the Woodrow Wilson White House and the blockbuster film, Birth of a Nation.
⬆️Birth of a Nation, a film about the “heroic founding of the KKK,” was Woodrow Wilson’s favorite film.
Not just encouraged. The monument building was in response to Black Americans coming home from war service in France and asking for their rights as citizens, and, in Charlottesville, to the appearance in 1921 of the first Rosenwald Schools for African-Americans in Albemarle County. By 1923 the chair of the County School Board had paid to erect a massive statue of General Lee in a Black neighborhood.
That was no coincidence.
It would be almost another 4 decades before White kids and Black kids went to the same schools in Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville (which are separate school systems). We still have schools in Albemarle County built in the 1950s and 1960s as “colored schools.” This is not ancient history.
⬆️from the Lorenzo Dickerson film Albemarle’s Black Classrooms.
Three people died today in Charlottesville, Virginia. Three people died today in Charlottesville, Virginia because people have allowed our society to remain splintered, because that keeps getting certain people elected, because that lets us feel safe, because we feel better when our kids go to “good” schools.
Charlottesville, Virginia is not a place of innocence. Yes, it is a liberal enclave in Central Virginia. Yes, it has a great public university at its core. Yes, it is environmentally responsible and votes ‘the right way.’
“I was thinking about the couple of days I spent in Charlottesville a few years back,” a friend wrote me today from Berkley, California. “I spent a few hours walking around the heart of the campus, watching the Black men tend the manicured lawns and shrubs, and having them call me “Suh,” while the posters on the campus were the same as you would find in any progressive liberal arts school. The local bookstore had a whole section devoted to Jefferson, and I read part of one book there that was a justification of the contradiction between his slave-owning and his commitment to political rights.”
⬆️terrorist car attack aftermath in Charlottesville.
Charlottesville is not a place of innocence. Nowhere in America is. We live on a continent seized from its sovereign nations. We live in a nation built by slaves and abused labor. We live with a government that is anti-democratic at its electoral core. We live with a society that is brutally inequitable. And in Charlottesville, in Albemarle County, we accept these things too easily. We do not challenge inequality and inequity of opportunity enough . We tolerate history stories that make heroes of villains. We tolerate segregation when it serves our personal purposes. In the end I guess we are neither better nor worse than any other community in America in this.
Three people died today in Charlottesville, Virginia. Three people died today in Charlottesville, Virginia because we have allowed real education, the gaining of knowledge and understanding, to be replaced with the memorization of random facts, because we have allowed morality to take a back seat to self interest.
⬆️an African-American Charlottesville police officer protects Nazis, the Klan, and Southern heritage racists.
“I’ve had the worst time explaining this to my son,” a colleague texted today. And I don’t care what age this child may be. My son is over 30 and I do not know how to explain today to him.
We might tell the truth of our history. We might, every day, show how we are — unapologetically — social justice warriors. We might work harder than we do — truly — to reach out, to help, to change minds. We might pay more to support schools and public transit and health care and housing.
We might. But many already do, and it is cruel to deny that this work is both exhausting and demoralizing — especially in a nation with a government with no moral center.
⬆️who are these people? How can we have gone so wrong?
Three people died today in Charlottesville, Virginia. Three people, a 32-year-old woman who might have been protesting hate or who might have been just walking home, and two Virginia State Police officers who were trying to keep people safe, died today because people have not just been taught to hate, they’ve been taught that it’s important to hate in public.
Dear children, we might say, we love our planet and those who live on it, but… But… my child has always been most fond of the opening lines of The Great Gatsby, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” And so, things go wrong. But… we are people of infinite hope. And hope, well, “reserving judgements is a matter of infinite hope,” Fitzgerald wrote.
So children, we will keep trying. We will do our best. We will mourn today, but we will arise tomorrow and hope again. Tomorrow we will realize that no matter how dark today was, to quote William Styron now, “not judgment day” and that this is “only morning. Morning: excellent and fair.”
- Ira Socol