- After Charlottesville: Reflections on Landscape, White Supremacy and White Hegemony
When the invitation came to write a short commentary on “post-Charlottesville,” the events were international headline news. Five months later, when the time came to actually write the commentary, the news cycle had moved on. In many ways the events of that day in August are fading in the face of political times that, for a younger generation are unprecedented. The election of the forty-fifth president nine months earlier they look like a horrific anomaly to a progress born of the twenty-first century, or at least to the future promised in the election of Barack Obama. In August 2017, 45’s comments about “violence on both sides” perhaps served to hijack the event, as one moment in a presidential leitmotif where the latest tweet (this week about “shithole” countries) works, once again, simultaneously as a distraction, as an outrage-inducing racist proclamation, and as a seeming-anomaly to a national will to, in this case, move beyond the “color line,” to celebrate diversity, to dismantle our historical racisms. After all, the new year’s first Real Politics compilation of nine different national polls tells us that the majority of Americans think the country is now on the “wrong track.”
To someone a “little bit older,” however, the times are even scarier, as the events at Charlottesville were eerily familiar to someone whose childhood television was dominated by black and white images of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the Lorraine Motel, the Memphis Sanitation Strike, men in white robes, and Watts. And I can only imagine (and ask) what Charlottesville means to my neighbors of color, whose great-grandparents moved to town from the plantations that dominated the Nineteenth century landscape in my county – where the majority of the immediately antebellum population were slaves to an agricultural economy. Or to those neighbors whose grandparents and parents are buried in the small cemetery down the street that also contains the grave of the last man lynched in the county, in the 1920s, and which event shaped their family stories to this day. Or…here we go again.
threats of white supremacy?
The events of Charlottesville rocked my own campus. They probably did yours too. The fear – of the seemingly immanent outbreak of white supremacy here [End Page 10] too – was palpable. Especially so because Lexington was targeted as the next, post-Charlottesville site of the white supremacists’ mob violence. They were coming here because our Mayor was contemplating removing the Lost-Cause Confederate Statues from the Courthouse Square (also known as the slave market called Cheapside), and he was being pushed by the (ultimately successful) Take Back Cheap-side movement (https://www.takebackcheapside.com/) represented by DeBraun Thomas, who undoubtedly would prefer to be working on his music or prepping his radio show on the local NPR station. In my campus administrative role, I helped organize for graduate student TAs an open discussion about the virulence of the white supremacy visible in the news coverage of Charlottesville, and about how we would (necessarily) address it in the classroom at the beginning of that new semester: directly, in our teaching, and indirectly, in fostering a broad sense of inclusion for those who felt most immediately and bodily threatened, including international students of color, some of whom were especially afraid as they were not necessarily conversant in the cultural and political contexts of Charlottesville, and saw only that in the eyes of a violent mob, they did not “belong.” We talked about how we would handle discussions, and what resistance meant, and what form it might take, and what the university and city government had planned, and generally hoped to create a support network of anti-racist practices and learning events. I expect this happened all over the country; or maybe Charlottesville was marked as an exceptional event of an American South once again the Other to a national ideal. We were, nevertheless, spurred to action by the ugly, violent, unacceptable faces and actions of white supremacy, acting in dis-belief that this was happening, certain that we would not accept this in “our community...