Following comments that our new Mayor Nikuyah Walker made on The View recently, there’s been a lot of pushback on the idea that Charlottesville has a race problem, and that our community was “ripe” for what happened on August 12, as Walker said. Some local observers have criticized Walker, have pointed out that most of the white supremacists who came to the rally were from out-of-town, and suggested hers was an unfair characterization of Charlottesville.
But I think we have to remind ourselves that it took 92 years before Charlottesville ever seriously considered removing the Confederate statues from our public parks, the issue that triggered the turmoil we’ve experienced. Remember the Occupy movement in 2011, when people camped out in the park as a protest against economic and social injustice? The Lee statue played no part in the chosen location, and I don’t recall anyone raising any issues about the statue at the time. Why might that have been? Why were we unwilling then to see the Lee statue as a symbol of social injustice? I don’t think you have to think too hard to figure out why that was, given what we know now and have experienced. The hard part is accepting our complacency, or rather our lack of awareness and/or unwillingness to confront a painful issue, and the fact that it took an African-American Charlottesville High School ninth-grader and city councilor seriously advocating for the removal of the statues in 2016 before our community seriously considered the idea of removing them. That’s what Walker is talking about. Unmasking the illusion. Yes, Charlottesville is a great town in so many ways, and August 12 was an assault on our community that we need to defend ourselves against, but it’s time to realize that we are part of the problem as well.
And there’s no shame in it. Since I was a teenager I thought the song “Blackbird” by the Beatles was just a beautiful song, and only recently found out that it was inspired by the sympathy Paul McCartney felt for black women struggling during the Civil Rights Movement. All those years. Oblivious. But a single moment of inquiry and recognition changes the meaning of the song forever.