In the Aftermath of Charlottesville, We All Must Take Action

Racial violence has terrorized communities of color in the United States for generations. However, thanks to the courage and bravery of a large group of people, including my grandparents, overtly violent, racist acts of terrorism carried out by civilians are less frequent today. That is until this past weekend’s events in Charlottesville, Virginia. The black and white videos many of us watched in public school from a bygone era—of angry mobs of whites attacking their fellow man because of the color of his skin—are replaying in the present-day right before our eyes.

Elizabeth Eckford, age 15, pursued by a mob at Little Rock Central High School on the first day of the school year.

Elizabeth Eckford, age 15, pursued by a mob at Little Rock Central High School on the first day of the school year. ©Johnny Jenkins/United Press International (1957)

This all happened because those that spew hatred and bigotry, as well as those that wish violence against specific communities here in the U.S., were given a platform to speak of white supremacy. They were granted the right to speak under the guise of different names: alt-right, white nationalist, neo-Nazis. Giving them a platform to preach their hateful message was a mistake. The First Amendment grants U.S. residents the right to freedom of speech and the freedom for people to peaceably assemble. However, this freedom should not protect hate speech that incites violence. Nor should it protect one’s right to assemble when the sole purpose of assembly is to spread that message of hate. That, by definition, is no longer considered “peaceful.”

Heather Heyer, Facebook

Heather Heyer, Facebook

The weekend of August 12th and 13th, many brave and patriotic everyday people understood this and gathered to counter-protest the white supremacist organizations who fell upon the city of Charlottesville. One of the anti-fascist protesters, Heather Heyer, lost her life for it. Dozens of others were badly injured.

This is not a time to hold our tongues. This is not a time to be “shocked.” This is not a time to hold a debate with those who brought their hate and violence into the streets in broad daylight for the world to see. This is a time to take action. This is a time to stand with communities of color and proudly reaffirm that we are to be a nation united, not divided.

The fight for racial equality, as noted earlier, has been fought for generations. We must not let this fight take any more innocent lives. We must not kick this fight onto the backs of our children. When hatred and bigotry arise, we must stand firm and denounce them immediately in all forms so they cannot take root and grow, as seen in recent years.

Demonstrators hold Confederate and Nazi flags in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Demonstrators hold Confederate and Nazi flags in Charlottesville, Virginia. ©Andy Campbell

This is not just a fight for communities of color. This is a fight for the soul of our country. It always has been. Will we fight to be the shining house on the hill for all people, or only those with a certain appearance? Our history is fraught with examples similar, and much worse than Charlottesville, but that doesn’t mean we will accept similar actions and attitudes moving forward.

There are more of us than there are of them.  Politicians remind us that white supremacists are on the “losing side” of history. However, they are only on the losing side because somebody has stood up and fought. Today, WE are that somebody. We are the ones that must fight to keep them on the losing side for good.

4Members of white nationalists are met by a group of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, Aug. 12, 2017. Joshua Roberts / Reuters

Members of white nationalists are met by a group of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, Aug. 12, 2017. Joshua Roberts/Reuters

The fight, as many of us know, is not always as visible as it is in Charlottesville. The struggle for racial equality comes at us in many different forms, but we must remain vigilant as we fight for racial equality every day.  We must fight:

We must be the change we wish to see in the world. We are role models for our children and they are watching what we do and who we choose to stand for.

I spent the majority of my career in public schools and witnessed first-hand the negative implications on the mental and emotional health of my students of color whenever news came out of another person of color being gunned down by the police. I saw their growing sense of hopelessness and loss of self-worth when the verdict came out again and again that the murderer was “innocent.”

Black lives matter protest (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Black lives matter protest (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

For the sake of all our children, we need to step up and face this demon called racism and tell those who wish to make it the status quo again that they have no home here. They are unwanted. They will face severe social and legal consequences for their hateful actions. We must do it for the health, safety, and well-being of everyone, especially the children watching us today.

If you haven’t already, please find a way to get involved.

Your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will ask where and what you were doing when this historical moment was happening. Have an answer they will be proud of when you respond.

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Jeremiah Headen is the Manager of Field Organizing here at The Praxis Project. More information on him can be found on our Staff Page.
Comments to the author at: jeremiah@thepraxisproject.org
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