Audre Lorde reminds us that “we were never meant to survive,” not in “the mouth of the dragon we call America.” What this means is that the degradation and dehumanization of black bodies in this country is not an unlikely coincidence, or even an unfortunate side effect of America. America the free has always and intentionally been “free, but not for you.” This means that August 12’s Tiki torches and cars driven through crowds and Stars and Bars and “white lives matter” and blood on the streets of an American university, American death at the hands of Americans, come from the same anger that has run through America’s blood since the beginning, the anger that is our birthright and our original sin, the anger that we loathe even as it defines us. The anger of whiteness, written in the blood and tears of blacks on those university streets.
All this is to say that Charlottesville is nothing new, and you should’ve seen it coming.
It’s childish to say “We told you so.” I don’t mean to make my white reader feel guilty. I’m much more worried for myself and all other black bodies currently sitting in the dragon’s mouth than your conscience; will we get out alive? No, my point here is to point out a fact that we all keep forgetting and will doom us to this anger forever unless we come to terms with it (and by we I mean the collective and national conscience of America). The fact is this: This is who we are and who we have always been.
Today I drove with my family from Maryland to North Carolina. We ate lunch in a diner, and across the street was a flagpole, and on top of the flagpole was the Confederate flag, and it was very windy so the flag snapped and stood at attention. From where I sat eating, if I simply raised my head the flag was directly in my line of sight. Every time I looked up from my meal, I was reminded of that anger. It filled my belly.
That same flag waved over Charlottesville today, and waves over backyard barbeques and lynching trees and city halls. It waves for Dylan Roof and the United Daughters of the Confederacy and David Duke. America, this flag is ours. It’s been in our blood, if not on our flag posts, for four hundred years. Don’t be surprised when it manifests itself—not for the first time, and almost certainly not for the last—in death. As long as America holds its anger and spits it at black bodies, that flag will wave.
The point is that how we handle Charlottesville is incredibly important. What we say next matters, because it can lead to either change or complacency, acceptance, or denial. When President Trump (like it or not, he is America’s president; own that too) writes that “There is no place for this kind of violence in America,” he is clearly mistaken. America is literally built on this kind of violence. The anger this kind of violence comes from has kept America’s heart beating from slave ship to cotton field to lynching trees to ghettos to private prisons to Charlottesville. There is a place for this kind of violence in the mouth of the dragon, and that’s the whole point.
But we continue to deny, reject, obfuscate. Neither President Trump, nor the president of UVA, nor the Mayor of Charlottesville mentioned “white supremacy” or “white nationalism” or “KKK” or “white” once, and in doing so erase the specificity and reality of the situation (Mayor Signer gets points for just mentioning “racism”). This erasure is precisely what allows President Trump to condemn “hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides,” and thus cover up the fact that Charlottesville happened because of America’s history of white nationalist supremacy. Covering up the reality then covers up the possibility of solving it; how can we fix what we cannot understand? Deny, reject, obfuscate. We hide the dragon, but that doesn’t make it any less hungry.
Do not let Charlottesville be made into something special, something new. It is painfully mundane and as old as America. Learn our history: 12.5 million Africans were displaced in total by the Atlantic slave trade, and around two million died just on the trip over. Learn our present: From 1995 to 2012, over 88,000 racist hate crimes were reported (reported: the tip of the iceberg). Realize that Charlottesville was bound to happen, President Trump or not, and do not be surprised by the next one. Because as long as that flag still flies in the hearts of white Americans, black Americans will suffer. We were never meant to survive.
Do not, though, let Charlottesville appear unavoidable; we are not condemned to it. Our fate is in our hands; America is in our hands. Our anger does not own us. How we react to Charlottesville has the potential to be a step in the right direction. But until our past has been reconciled with and our present is accepted, the future is one of Black blood and tears running in American streets—the Charlottesvilles yet to come.
Nicholas P. Whittaker ’19 is a philosophy concentrator in Adams House.
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