A letter from… Charlottesville
Brenda Brown-Grooms writes from Charlottesville, Virginia
After 12 August 2017 (which people here are calling A12), the old tired have been joined by the newly tired. You see, black, brown, native, trans, queer and poor people have been telling our white, educated, affluent and otherwise protected brothers and sisters about the Charlottesville that we experience every day, forever. They just didn’t believe us. They had never lived it. Never had to see it, acknowledge it.
The mantras of the formerly comfortable have been: ‘THIS ISN’T CHARLOTTESVILLE!’ ‘THIS ISN’T WHO WE ARE!’ ‘THOSE ENGAGING IN THIS BEHAVIOUR ARE OUTSIDERS!’ But, this is Charlottesville. This is a part of who we are. And the continuing assaults and micro-aggressions that I and people I know are subjected to, remind us every day that not all the alt-right, KKK and neo-fascist were outsiders. Many of them are home-grown, right here among us – giving us long hate stares at the gym, hitting our cars as we try to find parking at Walmart, showing us their guns as we shop and try to have a safe day, casing our oldest African-American church building, and not being arrested for any of this. I now carry a mace dispenser on my key chain.
We watch while counties around us reaffirm that they will not take down their Confederate statues, and put new statutes in their legal codes. We watch as Donald Trump further sanctions racist, sexist and homophobic behaviour from the Oval Office. We watch while many of our formerly comfortable neighbours try desperately to get comfortable again.
But, we are also watching something else. While the fight and flight mechanism is everywhere apparent, so is gather and protect. At my women’s clergy meeting yesterday, we shared what this long, hot summer has taught us, is teaching us. We are engaging in what all who priest must learn to do. In the business of comforting those who need comforting, it doesn’t usually work well if we who seek to comfort are falling apart as well. We can’t openly grieve while others grieve. We must grieve, but we do it somewhere else, some other time. That’s what we did yesterday. We sat with our sadness, our utter exhaustion, and grieved, together.
Some of us have families who live somewhere else, who agree with Donald Trump’s message:
‘There are good people on both sides.’ But we were there. We can name the friends who could have died if anti-fascist groups hadn’t protected us.
Some of us have family members right here in Charlottesville who insist that this is a passing complaint, nothing to get worked up about. They say: ‘Why would you get in the middle of something so wholly unconnected to you and us?’ But we are here. We have met the evil of white supremacy face to face, and we can never forget. Some of us can explain to others how to fight and not get bitter and lose our humanity. Some of us can explain to those who look like us and live like us and with whom we used to agree, that things/we have changed and that we/Charlottesville/the country/the world can no longer afford the comfort we thought we had. All of us need a minute to gather, because there are so many who need protection.
So, after A12, we begin, again, in Charlottesville, Virginia. Pray for us.
This article was published in the October 2017 edition of Reform