This past weekend, hundreds of white supremacists marched proudly in Charlottesville, Virginia, as part of a rally organized in an effort to “Unite the Right.” White men and women chanted Nazi slogans and carried torches, circling a statue of Thomas Jefferson and protesting the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee. On Saturday, James Alex Fields Jr., a 20-year-old white man from Ohio, drove a car through a group of counter-protesters, murdering a 32-year-old activist, Heather Heyer, and injuring at least 34 others. A Virginia State Police helicopter that officials said was monitoring the rally crashed outside the town, killing two state troopers. In the days since, in a series of tweets and long-delayed press conferences, Donald Trump claimed that “not all of those people were white supremacists,” refused to directly link Neo-Nazis to the alt-right, and placed “blame on both sides.” He also likened the activists who were protesting racism to the Neo-Nazis who led the rally, garnering praise from white nationalists like former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Vice News’ coverage of the rally and interviews with its organizers thoroughly show their violent intent, rendering Trump’s claim that the “alt-left” escalated the protest to a violent level even more bogus. When asked what she thought of Trump’s statement, local activist Tanesha Hudson replied,
“I thought it was a bunch of nonsense. You know, he stood in one of his rallies when he was running, before he was elected, and said, ‘If they would’ve did that forty years ago, they would’ve left out on a stretcher.’ You okayed this activity. This is the face of supremacy. This is what we deal with every day, being African-American. And this has always been the reality of Charlottesville. You can’t stand in one corner in this city and not look at the Master sitting on top of Monticello. He looks down on us. He’s been looking down on this city for God knows how long. This is Charlottesville.”
An obvious but necessary warning that the language and footage in the Vice News segment are upsetting, to say the least.
Here’s what some of us at Rookie have been reading in the wake of these events, be it for healing, understanding, motivation, or instruction. If you are able to donate and looking for local Charlottesville anti-racism organizations, Solidarity Cville has lists on their website and Twitter. —Tavi
I found this piece from Teen Vogue about taking care of yourself as a person of color during these times. It can be both mentally and physically taxing to just survive as a person of color when you are surrounded by news about Neo-Nazis and other terrorist groups that threaten your livelihood. In the past few days I have found myself scared and angry but most of all just tired. I was tired of posting the same things on social media without seeing any change, tired of being disappointed in white Americans, and tired of living in a country that doesn’t value me. This article helped me to step back and take a moment to think about my own mental health. I had to remind myself that worrying about your mental health as a person of color in this country isn’t selfish; it’s necessary.
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry: I connected to this story so much, but also to the woman who wrote it. The characters and their circumstances reflect the lives of my family members and other black people I’ve met. It examines the way that poverty and institutional racism impact black people through generations, focusing specifically on the emotions and feelings of hopelessness that black people feel. It’s an essential story.
This is a letter that W. E. B. Du Bois wrote to his daughter while she was attending boarding school. He assures her that “brown is as pretty as white.” Although this should be obvious, sometimes it needs to be said. Du Bois’ reassuring letter almost feels like the civil rights activist is speaking to me as well.
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Case for Reparations” changed the way I think about institutional racism in this country. I’d been living with its impacts since I was born, but never understood how deeply embedded it is, specifically when black people try to buy homes. It made me angrier, but it also gave me specifics, which I think are important.
I’m always going to recommend The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I’d never seen myself so clearly in a book before and it was like taking off sunglasses. Reading something that wasn’t from a white gaze, that didn’t stray from how racism shapes us and harms us and kills us, was such a wonderful experience. It’s realistic and will probably make you angry (it made me cry multiple times), but it’s beautiful and funny and so heartbreakingly human. That’s why I love it so much: Thomas’ black characters get to be people in ways that we all too often aren’t afforded by news, books, movies, and TV. I’m so glad to have read it.
The New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino, who attended UVA, discusses the town’s history of white supremacy and illusions of having progressed past it—just one example of the denial present in white liberalism all over the U.S. Tolentino writes, “What happened in Charlottesville is less an aberrant travesty in a progressive enclave than it is a reminder of how much evil can be obscured by the appearance of good.”
Not reading material, but listening, Still Processing is a podcast hosted by New York Times writers Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham, who returned early from the show’s vacation to discuss the events in Charlottesville and Trump’s predictably disgraceful response. Wortham speaks of her experience as a UVA student and how Charlottesville, in true American fashion, perpetuates a myth of Southern gentility while erasing its history of racism. Wortham and Morris get into why these events are not anomalous, no matter how many white people tweet “#ThisIsNotUS”. They remind listeners that our country was founded on state-endorsed racial terror and white supremacy, and that both continue to benefit every white person. Morris also debates the usefulness of identifying white nationalists as “Nazis,” which can distance them from their Americanness. In one of the episode’s last moments, Wortham distinguishes passive responses from actionable items:
“The outcome can’t be, this is only bad when it gets bloody. Because the blood is invisible but it’s everywhere all the time. And that’s what I was trying to say earlier in a very muddled way about people who are posting on social media like, ‘white silence is violence.’ I’m like, my dude, your Facebook post is white silence. Organize a dinner. Raise money. Do something. Support an organization. If you’re a journalist, write a story.”
On The Cut, Laura Smith addresses the myth that white supremacists are and have always been male, as well as the impulse of white women to distance ourselves from attacks like those in Charlottesville:
“While the march in Charlottesville occurred in reaction to the proposed removal of a statue of a Confederate general, women were responsible for the erection of many of these Confederate statues across the country at the turn of the 20th century. In the 1920s, women composed the most influential arm of the KKK. And lest we forget the election that emboldened these modern white supremacists: More than half of white women voted for Trump. To overlook the comprehensive picture of who makes up the extreme right is to seriously underestimate its reach.”
I’ve also gone back to and shared some pieces from the Rookie archives that remain relevant. Upasna Barath’s “Self-Care for Activists” is a guide to balancing activist responsibilities with the responsibilities you have to your own health. Diamond Sharp’s “For Those Who Are Black in Trump’s America” also discusses self-care, as well as organizing, educating, and staying vigilant. Michelle Ofiwe’s “Protect Yourself” is a guide to navigating relationships with Trump supporters and cutting ties as an act of self-preservation. In “Facing Family,” Em Odesser and Ugochi Egonu interview teenagers about challenging family members on bigoted views. Jamia Wilson’s “Allied Force” is incredibly useful for those of us responsible for both the upholding and dismantling of white supremacy. On that note, I would also recommend Ann Friedman’s “It’s Time to Get Over Your White Feelings and Start Taking Action for Black Lives” on The Cut.
Finally, any number of James Baldwin pieces continue to be necessary. The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings includes many lectures, letters, essays, interviews, and articles I would urge anyone not already acquainted to seek out. This week, I revisited “What Price Freedom?”, “On Being White…and Other Lies”, and “An Open Letter to My Sister Angela Y. Davis.” The unforgettable concluding paragraphs of the letter, dated November 19, 1970:
“The enormous revolution in black consciousness which has occurred in your generation, my dear sister, means the beginning or the end of America. Some of us, white and black, know how great a price has already been paid to bring into existence a new consciousness, a new people, an unprecedented nation. If we know, and do nothing, we are worse than the murderers hired in our name.
If we know, then we must fight for your life as though it were our own—which it is—and render impassable with our bodies the corridor to the gas chamber. For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.”
Angela Davis’ words always seem prescient during times like these. Her writing on state-sanctioned violence, anti-blackness, and the perils of deep-seated American racism address exactly what we’re dealing with in Charlottesville. My favorite book by her is An Autobiography, published in 1979. It gives context for the makings of a revolutionary (when the word had meaning) and thinker, and allows us to connect the history of the violence that we’re experiencing today. One of the things she discusses is growing up on Dynamite Hill in Birmingham, Alabama, a black community named for the bombings on their neighborhood carried out by white residents. It follows her from her childhood there to her imprisonment in the early ’70s, and the future to come. It’s important that we place her life in context with her work, as one cannot exist without the other.
Hannah Arendt is one of my favorite Jewish intellectual figures and writers, and Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil was the first thing I read by her. It’s a synthesis of the report she wrote for the New Yorker on Adolf Eichmann’s trial in May of 1961. Both the trial and Arendt’s report were controversial: Adolf Eichmann—considered one of the major organizers of the European Jewish genocide—was kidnapped from his home in Buenos Aires by Nazi hunters and Israeli agents and smuggled to Jerusalem for trial. Arendt’s book was one of the first writings (among few) that discussed the specifically Jewish aspect of WWII, and was often misinterpreted as belittling or denying the horror and the crimes that took place. Her now famous phrase, “the banality of evil” did not—as many thought—serve to call the events of the Holocaust banal. (This misreading is so widespread that Judith Butler wrote a piece explaining the term as recently as 2011.) Rather, the phrase captured a certain chilling phenomenon: the evil or unimaginable immorality which does not assume monstrous and otherworldly forms but sits behind the face of your next door neighbor, or your local stuffy bureaucrat. Arendt’s description of Eichmann is fascinating, largely because she herself is so fascinated by how normal he is—not exceptionally clever, not exceptionally cunning, possessing decent relationships with his family and friends.
A lot of people (justifiably) criticize the book for its detached tone (which, it can be argued, occasionally slips into victim-blaming), but for me, that weird refusal to show pity is tied up with Arendt trying to objectively write about something she had literally just experienced—the war that wiped out her former life, community, family—and her unique position at the time as a Jewish woman philosopher. Her transparent efforts to straddle the personal and the historic events unfolding around her makes me think about how people process unfathomable pains and histories, especially when such pain is not just one’s own, or of one’s community, but a national discourse, a headline, a point of tension between political parties, a pawn in larger national or political aims, etc., etc. Many lines from the book are striking but most memorable is the final one, in which she justifies Eichmann’s death penalty:
“And just as you supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations—as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world—we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang.” ♦