Today, you are headed back to work, back to “normal” life.
But you are still angry.
Maybe you thought this could never happen, especially not in our quaint little Charlottesville, the “happiest city in America.” Maybe this is just the last straw in your long-building rage over a racist, bigoted, intolerant America that everyone else is now finally forced to admit exists. Maybe you are still too shocked to know what part of this makes you most angry.
You go back to work today, but you want to do something with your anger. You feel like you must ease the tightening and heaviness in your chest. Maybe you want to go punch a Nazi. Maybe you just want to pray.
If you are angry, if you are in any way outraged, you must pass it on.
It is too late to prevent racism, anti-semitism, and hatred of many kinds from being normalized in America. They have contaminated our very life-blood since before the birth of this nation. They are normal America. Love, understanding, equality and justice — shared universally among all citizens — that is the exception, the American pipe dream.
It is very difficult to repair a home built on a fractured foundation, on the bones of enslaved peoples and Native Americans and immigrant workers. Especially a home as old as America. It takes energy and passion and a willingness to sit down and talk peaceably and open-mindedly with our ideological others.
But we don’t have the momentum for those kinds of conversations yet. Most Americans are just opening their eyes to the filthy underbelly of a beast they thought long-dead. It is a terrifying thing to have your worldview, especially one rosier than reality, challenged so violently. Psychologists refer to the rejection of new facts in favor of preserving our comfortable and familiar conceptualization of the world as the “backfire effect.” It is very difficult to overcome unless this new, uncomfortable fact is simply indisputable.
For many, news reels showing Confederate and Nazi flags waved proudly by armed men in camo and riot gear, the beating of a young unarmed black man by a pack of KKK, and the stomach-churning, lethal ramming of a Dodge Charger into a crowd of peaceful counter-protestors — bodies flying — will do the trick.
The risk that remains, however, is the tendency for humans, when finally forced to accept an uncomfortable fact, to justify it as merely an exception to the norm. America, this is the norm. There are and have always been racists, anti-semites, and white nationalists in our midsts. They felt oppressed by the civil rights reforms of the 20th century, but that just gave them time to stew in their hate and ignorance and pass them on to the next generation — more quietly than before, but never in complete silence. The pot has finally boiled over again, but it has been heating up for a very, very long time.
Today you will feel a pull toward normalcy, toward the relief of the routine, toward comforting pursuits. You will find ways to quell your outrage, be they rants on social media, eating and talking and crying with friends, or sitting in prayer or respectful silence for Heather Heyer, Berke Bates, H. Jay Cullen and the 19 injured. Do these things. They are part of loving and healing within Charlottesville and between every person that stands with us.
But do not let them satisfy your outrage and indignation. Share the repulsion you feel at being a part of a nation with racism woven into the fibers of its constitution as much as your repulsion at the militant exhibition of KKK and Nazis on American soil in 2017. Speak with your neighbors and coworkers about the burning you felt in your heart and your gut at seeing swastikas sewn on the flags and tattooed on the chests of Americans 70-odd years after their grandfather’s brothers and classmates and neighbors and 6 million innocent Jews lost their lives to Nazi Germany.
When you hold the police accountable for failing to respond in an adequate fashion to heavily armed, violent protestors, do so in the context of the countless police shootings of black children and in contrast to the overwhelming police response to Black Lives Matter protests, everywhere from Baton Rouge to NYC. When you describe in a shaky voice the clear malice — not “fear” — of James Alex Fields Jr. in his alleged terrorist attack of unarmed U.S. citizens on American soil, of my fellow students on the ground I walk, you remind the world that the majority of these acts are committed by right-wing extremists, born and raised in America — not immigrants, not Muslims. You demand he be tried as a terrorist, not merely a murderer.
At 3 p.m. ET Saturday, shortly after the first footage of James Alex Fields Jr.’s car plowing through civilians was released, I listened to our president address me and the rest of the nation on the unfolding tragedy. He refused to name the perpetrators — the white supremacists, in case that needs any clarification — of this and the many other acts of violence committed that day, merely citing violence “on both sides” in the riots that broke out. Both sides did not kill a 32-year-old woman peacefully standing against hate in her community. Both sides do not regard some American citizens as less-than-human based solely on the color of their skin or the God that they pray to. Both sides do not want love and peace.
Do not let today be a normal Monday. Normalcy means more racism, more fascism, more anti-semitism, more hatred and more violence. Today is a day to feed your outrage and channel it toward progress. We must force America to confront its demons — past and present — to make our city and our country better than it has ever had the bravery to be.