The Alt-Right, Systemic Inequality in Charlottesville, and What to Do on Saturday

This Saturday, the alt-right is holding a rally in Charlottesville, on the heels of a KKK event in our city earlier this summer. The KKK members were not from Cville. They were from North Carolina. They came to protest our city’s decision to remove statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and to rename two parks previoulsy named in honor of the men. The alt-right event this weekend is a further protest in the same vein.

There are expected to be many more people showing up at counterprotests, in support of equality and justice and love. Businesses on our downtown mall – a hub of Cville community life within walking distance from the planned alt-right rally – are hanging signs in their windows that read:
“If equality and diversity aren’t for you, then neither are we
We are OPEN in protest of recent demonstrations of hate
Minority rights are human rights”

Others are declaring their business a safe space. One restaurant’s sign reads:
“We are a safe space.
If you are victimized, please come inside!
We will call the authorities for you!”

The message ends with a hand-drawn heart.

The alt-right presence in our city is disgusting. The response of defiance from many in our community, of anger over injustice, is heartening.

And.

And many have argued (importantly, people of color have argued) that the alt-right and KKK rallies are not the scariest expression of racism in Charlottesville. It’s the “quiet” racism, the kind that doesn’t wear a white hat but makes decisions. It’s the racism in courts and places where policies are made.

UVA alum Martese Johnson and Aryn Frazier laid out this case in a succinct, thoughtful essay: “Why the upcoming alt-right rally in Charlottesville may be less important than we think.”

They wrote:
“But the media should also cover [in addition to alt-right and KKK protests] the outcomes of the myriad town halls called to garner solutions to issues of racial injustice that either followed or preceded this most recent display of bigotry. Inform viewers of whether their elected and appointed officials are simply paying lip service to these causes and using time and money to seem as though they are addressing the problems everyday citizens and citizen-activists have brought to their attention, or if they are actually moving policy and practices to be more in line with equality and justice.”

The racism in policy and practice must be what we fight against every day. White people like me can support people of color who are working for change in Charlottesville, through organizations like our local NAACP, Black Lives Matter, Showing Up for Racial Justice, Legal Aid Justice Center, and the Women’s Initiative – which offers, among other things, support groups and services to women of color – to name a few.

That’s not to say that we don’t show up on Saturday, too. I read on the Facebook page of one community leader, addressing the questions of white people on how we can support the fight for equality, that there has to be many different approaches to combating racism. Likewise, there are many different ways of showing up on Saturday.

The JMRL Central Library is going to be closed on Saturday due to safety concerns stemming from the rallies, but the other branches will be open. I’m going to take my girls tomorrow afternoon to check out books about black lives and black leaders. Together Cville has compiled a list of community events being held this weekend.

After this weekend, after Charlottesville drops out of national headlines for the racist rallies being held here, we will still be a town sitting in the long shadow of a plantation. Racism is our history, and it is our present. Making a different future will require us showing up every day.

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