Last Saturday I went to Charlottesville in order to gauge the seriousness of the threat. Ever since the rise of the Tea party, I’ve been concerned about the door it opened to the far right. Those forces, such as the KKK and the John Birch society, were marginalized by the mainstream body of conservatives for good reason.
The Tea party has reminded me of pre-war Germany when the fascist brown shirts came to power, because it consisted of common men who felt empowered over others.
Since there was a KKK rally in Charlottesville earlier this year, I’ve been concerned such forces may take drastic action. Ostensibly, the rally was about not taking down Confederate statues, however, actually it’s about white supremacy and privilege. It’s known that the US is moving towards Caucasians being the minority. This is a good thing, as it will create a more inclusive and tolerant society.
With the words and tweets coming from our President, it has created an environment where these far right forces feel emboldened to take their place in public discourse. Trump has said so many intolerant things – it is alarming and offensive.
What I witnessed Saturday was quite chilling. Confederate flags and fascist symbols abounded on flags and shields. There were men present carrying semi automatic rifles. They were indistinguishable from National Guard troops except for their lack of insignia, although some of them had confederate flags on their uniforms. The rally members gathered in the park were yelling anti-Semitic and homophobic things at the counter protesters.
The rally was billed as ‘Unite the Right Free Speech rally’. They gathered around the park with a Robert E. Lee statue which has been under consideration for removal. Forces of prejudice and intolerance were invoking their free-speech rights in order say hateful things. They stand as forces of violence and racial suppression.
I saw many people assaulted by alt-right forces who were there with weapons. There were billy clubs, pepper spray and some pink liquid that one of them hit me in the side of the face with, covering my glasses and getting in my eyes.
I witnessed these thugs pushing a woman around who had been yelling at them, and taunting her as she was desperate to get away from them. They marched into Emancipation park (formerly Lee Park) forcing their way through a line of clergy including Cornell West, despite Antifa attempts at protecting them.
With the death of Heather Heyer, we now have a figurehead for a movement against fascism and white supremacy. She will not be forgotten by those who stand for peace and justice.
Confederate statues are much, much more than historical tributes. They were erected by white supremacists who wanted to intimidate the black population. They were put up as Jim Crow laws were being enforced and red-lining prevented homeownership by our black brothers and sisters.
It’s time for this “Master” mindset to go away. It’s a continuation of the legacy of second sons from England. First sons inherited the family wealth, other sons had to go into the world and create their own wealth. It was much easier for these aristocrats to not work and to steal land from the natives. They were also so lazy that they used fellow human beings as slaves to do the labor for them. This is the origin of the mindset I saw on Saturday. It’s the origin of the forces from the south that fought in the Civil War. Many men became extremely wealthy from “King Cotton”, riches earned at the expense of those who were enslaved by them. Understandably, they were freaked out by having to lose that easy wealth. The current crop of bigots are also freaked out by the loss of their white privilege due to immigration and civil rights legislation.
The United States has reached a tipping point and some people are clinging to the old ways, where they could get rich by dominating and intimidating other people. As a progressive, I work so that society becomes one where equality, compassion, and justice are more important than “survival of the fittest”.
I went to Charlottesville on Saturday to be a witness, because it’s too easy to just shrug off threats as happening to “other people”. In a civil society it’s important for us all to be informed, so I have written this in order to spread the word. You are important. You have a voice and a vote. Please use them for the good of all.
Figures in history captured tangibly carry a touch of magic. The verisimilitude that results from the sculpting of clay, the painting of a portrait, from well-traveled light caught with chemistry and film… The resulting artifacts, to me, go through an exhausting time travel, never-failing to amaze.
I am a Southerner, at least as defined by the number of years I have spent in the South. My first memories were formed at a cozy home overlooking deep forest, on a lane named for Robert E. Lee. I had to learn it and memorize it, along with my phone number, city and state. I was quite young, but not too young to wonder who he was.
Back in those days, my eyes were often assaulted by the Confederate flag. I have watched it cart-wheel by, under Rebel cheerleader skirts. When I lived in Jacksonville, Florida, I had to teach at a school named Jefferson Davis. And friends had graduated a school named for Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Even as I should, perhaps, become used to it – I never did. Well, not until moving here to Richmond. Here, growing older, I began to give up some of my anger for resignation. I never imagined these monuments disappearing from here. And that is important to note. I have often offhandedly referred to Richmond as the capital of the Confederacy – and in the present tense.
I, and I am sure many other Americans, take Monument Avenue to be a reflection of Richmond’s character. It memorializes and re-asserts a racist history and tells our visitors where they stand. It did to me when I was a child. When I took these objects into my regard, these objects, these flags, told me I was on enemy territory. That I was where White was Right and Blacks get Back. The country twang seemed menacing, the dripping honey drawl seemed cruelly insincere.
In the hearts of Black Americans, these symbols represent injustice and an absolute disregard for their feelings. It doesn’t even need to be passed amongst us in a whisper. Every one of us questions and comes to terms with it as we mature. We come to terms with the omission of our stories. We come to accept that where we live, we are not wanted and that there are those who attach a nobility where it is neither fitting nor deserved.
If they appear beautiful to you at all, that’s because you have become accustomed and perhaps inured to the inanimate and, to you, harmless relics. Perhaps they have been there so long that you connect them to your environment and would miss this, to you innocuous, larger-than-life figure on a horse. To you, it may appear majestic instead of looming. But I ask for their removal. I will stand by this wish that, I feel, would bring deliverance for me and many. The years I have spent here in the Southern United States would take on a brighter hue in memory. I know this because I have again summoned memories of my neglected Tennessee as I see change proceed. Even the eyesore of a Nathan Bedford Forrest statue on TN’s I-65 I had to drive past, daily, to go to high school, may be hidden from view in the future. For me, now in Richmond, all of this has sparked a bit of hope.
They say a lot about a place, these monuments, one reason why I left Tennessee at my first opportunity. It relates to why I have been known to claim a broadly “East coast” or even “Northern” identity. After all, my parents met and fell in love in New York City. I have family and friends in New Jersey; where also I attended college. I spent some time in New York after graduation. Spectacular times.
But there is a reason I returned to the South and have not left. I have communed with the land and with the people I’ve encountered. The more I learn it and them, the more fortunate I feel. And I like the sunny summer days, heat beating down upon me. Virginia’s colorful autumn feels not so different from New Jersey’s, not so different from Tennessee’s. Even North Florida gets a strong chill in the air. Just shift the dates a little and the experiences can blend.
Frankly, I do not like writing about race. I especially detest examining hate groups. I experience a visceral repulsion. Even evoking the concepts can feel dangerous like you are unleashing a demon and setting the stage for carnage. And I almost feel that it gives publicity to their cause: to the KKK, the Nazis, the racists. As if dignifying their position. And ceding an entire area of my mind to contemplate this effrontery. Even to take offense seems to give some sort of win.
I would obviously love to move on to another topic. I would spend time contemplating beauty in all its forms, appreciating the different cultural experiences and perspectives that the world has to offer. However, racism is not ours alone. It may spring from the human condition: the fear of difference.
We must teach love to eradicate hate. Passivity is unacceptable. What do you think those statues tell children, especially when the context goes unexplained? They teach white supremacy.
A museum can hold the Confederate monuments and memorials. We can preserve them for future generations to see and discuss. Of course we must learn our histories to paint the backdrop on which our current controversies appear.
To change the future in a real and lasting way, we must confront the past. To out the stain, you must identify the substance and then act to eradicate its traces. By traces I mean, we must reform our institutions: our politics, our city planning, our criminal justice system, our segregated schools, our corporate cultures and our workplaces. To move civilization forward and past this, we must as a society condemn racism and white supremacy. Replace the statues and commemorate actual triumphs, accomplished people and momentous occasions. We have begun to do this. The new Maggie Walker statue found on Broad Street is indeed a beautiful sight to behold.
Yes, include the people who were harmed. Richmond intends to honor Dr. King on the 50th anniversary of his assassination, next year. A true hero. That is encouraging. A monument to Emancipation is slated to be raised. Other Black heroes added to our city’s vistas.
But call evil by its name.
We have just seen a virulent strain of racism run through Charlottesville, Virginia. Only time will tell whether we will succeed in fighting it. We need to move on from this argument, in the wake of what happened on Saturday, August 12th. We need to channel our dismay into reasonable action, you may protest – not rash destruction. But the Charlottesville spectacle and outcome need to be addressed. The Jewish community, the LGBT community and all nonwhites were vilely disrespected on Saturday by the same people who cherish these likenesses. Heather Heyer was murdered by domestic terrorism fueled by KKK beliefs. Nazi emulators walked boldly through our streets.
The eagerness to remove or destroy these monuments stems from a sentiment that is not new. It is just only now bursting through what was once a stoic facade. I, as a Black woman, have long harbored a subterranean hatred for these pieces and, by extension, for the former Confederacy. I want some of this anger to subside. A panacea this is not. A step in the right direction it is.
~By Kortenay Gardiner
When you are a reader, you look at words and books like they’re a succulent meat. You relish every curve, criss-cross and slash.
Maybe you’ve never struck a typewriter or thrilled to its bang. Known the feel of keys that patter. You don’t see hieroglyphics on bright white parchment. I even scribe to collect my thoughts or memorize material.
To me, all languages issue a dare hard to refuse. I took the plunge for Castellano and Latin American Spanish, French. I listen intently to Wolof as a woman braids my hair. I collect Albanian phrases in Queens from a bartender and her friends. California valley and surfer were, like, my first languages, it could be joked. Ebonics, for added flair and personality. I add it all to my untidy repertoire. Listening always for the pulse of a civilization. But you may not feel this.
You may not worship at the altar of the eloquent. Words, I would feel deprived without them to read and play with. Ideas that appear to my eyes like miracles, I digest over hours, weeks and years. The Handmaid’s Tale gave me nightmares. The Lover bathed me in grief.
I am sensitive. Words can pierce my soul. One can prick; one can burn. Syntax, diction and tone matter. That’s word order, word choice, and the emotion coming through. Heaven forbid I sense cruelty, because seeing the hate in print kills me twice. I must be vindicated. If not, the words invade my brain and take up occupation. It’s harder for me to forgive an excited utterance if it stares at me from a screen.
But the word “nigger” floors me. Just in the writing of it… yes, it scared me. I felt a little sick to my stomach. I could not even bring myself to look back at what I wrote; this is its staggering power. The only word whose verbal slap can stun me silent. I fear toppling to the floor. I call bloody murder.
But my skin needs to be thicker, not meaning desensitized exactly but thicker, and readier for the impact of our currently dystopic real lives. Confrontation may be crucial at this juncture in time. For the first time in my life, I have decided that racism must be faced head on.
But I’m still not going to Charlottesville tomorrow…
Now, “nigga” still looks weird to me. But this -its shortened, most acceptable form- has spread like a contagion since I don’t know when. NWA couldn’t have been the first. Since this word was reclaimed, it has struck a lighter blow, at least when issued from the lips of those who pass the subjective social/racial litmus test proffered by their environment. I dare say “nigga” has an affectionate and positive connotation when used between friends… although the flipside always threatens to burst through the flimsy divide; so easily can the semantics shift, depending on whether the speaker is addressing friend or foe; whether addressing the admired or the disparaged.
And it’s straight confusing to hear it from a stranger. Whatever happened to “brother” and “sister”? However strange that sounds to us, today, with its old school feel and Nation of Islam ring, that was better. Mami and papi is better. You’ve got to ask yourself why we settle. Why we settle for such a self-deprecating, trauma-laced word. Is it a monument of our own making? A monument to triumph over pain?
I feel no white person should pick up and try either of these ‘n’ words. I know the argument well. The first, you want to keep them in your arsenal, “in case of emergency” like an assault rifle. Shia LeBoeuf, I’d thought was a cool guy, assuming he was a Jewish ally, took it out of his back pocket when he was taken into custody for a drunk and disorderly charge and was confronted with a Black officer to his dismay. It was thoroughly sad to see. If you want the second version, you want to cozy up to Black America or at least to your Black friends. You believe you can be seen for the exceptional nonracist that you are.
You are mistaken. You have the right but not the license. It is inflammatory at worst and hate speech and at best grating on the nerves. A white face mouthing anything close is anathema because an ugly thought lives behind that word. It’s crude and violent to me. Like Michael Jackson and the word, “Bad,” the original meaning never disappeared, there’s just ambiguity added- a layering- over the word’s original meaning.
Transgression is also tied up with it. When Black people utter the n-word, they know it’s taboo. Deftly flipping the implied lack of the self-esteem for the other side of the coin, where some level of respect and even a large measure of affection resides. But a verdigris residue remains. You only need to read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye to educate yourselves to the pain that burdens many of us darker-skinned folk. Running from our own reflection in the mirror. But “my nigga” as a compliment is powerful as well. It’s only happened to me once. I was first stunned, then overjoyed, then stunned then overjoyed again. It was a pleasantly breathtaking ride.
I knew then that we would not disentangle ourselves from that burdensome identity because of the shared struggles it acknowledges. The pride birthed from our American alma mater’s brand, from the persistent throbbing anguish that exists in every one of us… a wound barely scabbing over for most of us.
God, I miss Obama. At least he was a beacon of hope… Now, no Band-aids nor ready ointments are available. No concoctions in the works, at least not from the Executive. With Birther Trump now in the office of presidency, tearing these wounds back open, leaving them exposed. Witness the bloody issue.
The streams of race, class, sex and sexuality are not distinct, especially not for those situated in the maelstrom. We need to unite rather than splinter in response to Trump’s scapegoating mischaracterizations of undocumented immigrants, his crude appeals to the typical White (Supremacist) American and his marginalization of the rest of us. His policy positions, his Cabinet appointments, and his budget and department cuts reflect a profound ignorance and disregard for all of our lives.
I grew up South of the Mason-Dixon line. Heck, I grew up in the belt buckle of the Bible Belt: Nashville, Tennessee. I spent my youth there until the age of seventeen when I ventured North. Seventy-four miles south of Nashville is Pulaski, Giles County, Tennessee, which is well-known as the “birthplace” of the KKK. I even visited one summer in high school to attend a week-long basketball team camp held there.
My father, an Afro-Caribbean immigrant, almost did not allow me to go. There wasn’t any logic in taking chances with his daughter’s safety as far as he was concerned. He wouldn’t drive in the snow, either. Not taking unnecessary risks in this unfamiliar Southern territory.
I didn’t look into any of it at that time- I deferred to my father’s decision and didn’t push very hard to go to that particular team camp. The situation made me apprehensive and I picked up on the gravity of my father’s concerns. And what did I know about this remote area of Tennessee far from home? Would I be physically assaulted? Ridiculed? Silently despised?
But I had a wonderful time. It made me more of a Tennessean. My pride in Tennessee girls’ and women’s basketball is complete. A lady Tiger, I was, one of the “city girls.” We wore matching plaid scrunchies in our school colors of maroon and pale blue, one of our only nods to girly-ness. We came to work. Then, we met the country girls who came to play, but to our eyes, didn’t look the part. But I digress…
Some friends have expressed to me a refusal to read or watch The Handmaid’s Tale. I read it ages ago and felt a little baffled by their intransigence, at first, since I read the novel in my early teens. It was a choice on my Summer Reading List. I read it, had nightmares, got on with my life.
The nightmares were of the action movie type. You’re in a state of emergency and your entire life is in jeopardy- and your family’s- and you must ACT or perish. A quite useful kind of dream, if you think about it.
And this from me, Ms. Sensitive. Ms. “I’m reluctant to watch horror movies because they are going to scar me for life”- this me- can watch The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’m not great with roller coasters, either. I brace myself and join in, but few notice the apprehension and pervasive sense of futility seated beside them.
I felt more forewarned than traumatized by the reading experience. I added the book to my mental catalogue, marked it prescient, and continued to read more Atwood. I also recommend Surfacing, which I recall as written beautifully and memorably Canadian. I watched the first season of Hulu’s Handmaid’s Tale series eagerly each week and could tolerate it, even enjoying the mise en scène aspects such as soundtrack choice, casting and costuming. Enacting the book, written in the eighties, and adapting it to resonate with today- that kind of artistic dilemma- really gets my blood pumping.
So, I cannot help but think that some people will be able to handle Charlottesville.
I was safely distanced from The Handmaid’s Tale’s chilling grasp, sheltered in my parents’ home on one of Tennessee’s grassy, steep hills. I could handle a written tale of horror over reproductive slavery back then. I wasn’t sexually active, yet. I wouldn’t have to see it, except in my mind’s eye. No graphic detail….
By contrast, regarding HBO’s irksome “Confederate” series, I am in a state of panic even before the scripts have been penned. I don’t want another Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the worst of my horror-movie watching experiences. I don’t want abuse via screen such as must have been experienced by Black viewers watching Birth of a Nation (the 1915 D.W. Griffith 3 hour long, silent film that depicts the mythic inspiration for the KKK) back in those days.
But like “Confederate”, who knows what might come of going to the Answer Rallies.
Let You, freer from trepidation but not braver, You go answer the challenge of the Alt-Right. You go make a show of numbers. You all know I’ve got brown skin in the game. In this case, however, every single fiber of my being tingles telling me I’m not going towards that word or hateful animus.
I will watch nervously from afar, it’s not my town, although now my state. I have been squinting at this issue since July 8 since May 13 since forever, ever since I became aware of such hate… ever since I was a child.
I didn’t realize it then, but to get by in my predominantly white school, I wore blinders. Never looking at it full on… absolutely unable to look at it objectively, I brushed away the idea of racism.
It has got to be natural to fear that gaping abyss and to be pulled toward doubt and paranoia. Worse, in front of people who can look at you and draw connections between you and the Africans forced into chains and hauled here like cargo centuries ago.
I sought out the successful Black writers and derived pride and inspiration from them, feeling that these were my friends and my peers. I wanted to jump into their arguments since it was my plight under discussion: the state of being Black in America, the double consciousness/code switching that tips you towards either crazy or genius. The joy and turmoil, the vicissitudes of life explained by people of my Black American tribe, told from our self-conscious stance. I studied women’s issues with equal intensity.
It was lost on me, for years, how surviving the Middle Passage, itself, could be recast as extremely strong, and how our spirituality carried many of us through… so many things did I miss because of tunnel vision. But it’s a winning strategy. Michael Garcia’s video with Kodak Black’s, “Tunnel Vision” enthralled me for months. To Kodak, tunnel vision is on capitalism or “the hustle” and the simple pleasures of living. My hustle back in school was similarly channeled toward competition… mine athletic and academic. Now, I remove my blinders. I saw in college that I was not “the only one” any longer, and exchanged that silo of the mind for an ivory tower. Now, I’m beginning to see that everyone has different versions of tunnel vision… others focus on spirituality, for example, instead of intellectualizing.
Don’t stay in your lanes, though. Instead, weave a braided understanding throughout your communities. And do it in real life not only from behind a screen. To all of you who are going to Charlottesville, I want you to know that I’m touched. I wish you well and many thanks. But I won’t be a pair of boots on the ground for this cause, I’m just not up for it.
~By APV staffer Kortenay Gardiner