The past few days have been spent processing the events of this past weekend in Charlottesville, along with the rest of the country. I’m disturbed, upset, and frankly really scared. How do we respond to this terror? Simply condemning the violent, hateful actions of white supremacists doesn’t feel like enough. For once in my life I feel as though words just don’t cut it.
It’s easy to say what’s right. It’s easy to post something on social media and walk away from it. It’s easy to be passively outraged. What’s harder is taking action. It takes more time to respond with actions than it does retweeting someone you agree with. That’s not to say that social media isn’t a valuable tool for uniting people and showing solidarity – it just shouldn’t be the only way. Like those links on your Facebook timeline, but also donate to and volunteer at human rights organizations.
And yet – I still feel like taking action is not enough. And here’s where I get really lost.
I purposefully took classes in college that would expand my worldview and educate me on cultures and ideas that I’m not all too familiar with. It’s about the bare minimum you can do, but many people don’t even do that. They’re threatened by it, afraid that respecting other cultures and ways of life will somehow take away from their own. Or they’re just not interested because they aren’t directly affected by it. Rather than do the mental and physical work, they seek out people, places, schools, and media that reflect their own views, never pursuing something different.
I’d say that every person is guilty of this to some extent, because it’s easier than reconciling your own firmly held views with the (different) firmly held views of others. It’s easy to tell someone they’re wrong and be done with it. It’s easy to think you can force people to behave or think a certain way. What’s much harder is listening. Half the population can’t even remotely understand the other half, and vice versa. Half the population thinks the other half is insane, wrong, and intolerant, just for different reasons on each half. When I saw what was happening in Charlottesville, what scared me the most was how little I understood those protestors, people who share my nationality, language, history. How did they come to be so horribly racist, anti-Semitic, hateful? How could we as a whole nation be so progressive yet equally narrow-minded?
In a perfect world the protestors and counter-protestors in Charlottesville would have engaged in thoughtful dialogue about the core issue that sparked this disaster: the taking down of a Confederate statue. Can you imagine? I hardly can. There was so much hatred, escalated by a mob mentality, that no sort of level-headed conversation could happen. How do we prevent this kind of clashing violence from happening again? I have no idea, but I suspect that we as a culture need to change on a micro level. We can’t alter intolerant viewpoints on a large scale without first enacting change on an individual level. We have to practice kindness, compassion, and empathy. We can bear witness to injustice and hate with eyes wide open and not turn our backs on it.
So let’s take action in the immediate sense: volunteer, raise money, protest. But don’t forget to take action in the long-term sense: engage with people, educate yourself on the foundations of racist and xenophobic culture in this country, speak out when intolerant language is said. Be better than those who choose hate. Change will not happen overnight, but if our actions can make a difference to one person then that’s still progress.
Here’s a list of Virginia-based organizations to donate to in the wake of the Charlottesville attack (check out this article for more):
Here’s some more great national & international organizations that need help: