Just no words. No words strong enough to unequivocally condemn the racism-fueled terrorism we saw unfold in Virginia and see brewing around the country. No words sharp enough to express the level of disbelief that we have arrived at time when the alleged leader of our democracy does not care to attempt to condemn strengthening domestic Nazism. This is not a drill. This is life and history unfolding in real time. Yesterday’s events in Charlottesville will never be erased and will forever be a black mark on our national conscience and moral record. It is true, there have been plenty of other such black marks in our history. And it is true, a single day does not necessarily undo decades of good work — but nor does it disappear. It will remain and it will have unexpected consequences…like that one moving violation, that one missed birthday, that one failed exam, that one unpaid parking ticket, that one drunken bar kiss, that one especially unfortunate misdirected email. And like mundane life events, the best way to fight the fire is to acknowledge the source. That acknowledgement starts with some well-chosen words.
Just no place. No place for a herd of entitled buffoons to hijack the arc of history. Equally no place for complacency. I maintain MLK Jr was right — the arc bends toward justice. But an arc that bends without the weight of full support can snap back, and I am not at all confident the binds that tie us as a nation are strong enough to withstand the whiplash. The American foundation had a fundamental and unforgivable flaw in the form of slavery. The growth from that crack in our underpinning has had reach far beyond the original social structure — for a good example of said reach, review our current immigration policy and its implementation. If you somehow doubt this reality, please look at the disparity in police response to yesterday’s Neo-Nazi parade and virtually any given Black Lives Matter march. Oh, wait, what’s that? The tear gas and riot gear were kept on standby as restraint was demonstrated in the name of free speech and the right to assemble? And the white radical terrorist who slammed his car into a crowd of pedestrians was taken into custody without injury and has been handed an equally restrained second degree murder charge while facts are being gathered? This. This disparity in restraint and observance of constitutional rights is the problem. If you bring any flavor at all to that white, male, land owning, Anglo-Saxon, protestant founding fathers boxed cake mix, you should be alarmed. If you know anyone who falls outside that profile, you should be alarmed. We are now talking about literally everyone.
Just no time. No more time to sit around with hands over eyes and ears. No more time to pretend our adolescent country will skate through to adulthood without addressing our preexisting conditions — god knows there isn’t an insurance policy coming to our rescue. Perhaps you don’t feel you’re a target today. Perhaps you feel secure. Perhaps you are in fact secure, so feel best to stay mum. Perhaps you’re confident that this brouhaha will blow over. Honestly? Here’s what you do. Reach back behind you, arm bent, palm facing up, thumb close to base of neck. Are you there? Good. Now lever your elbow down two inches and then swiftly snap it back up until contact has been made. Congratulations! You have just successfully hit yourself upside the head. You should feel a little more alert now. Take advantage of this feeling to Wake. The. Fuck. Up. The Nazis banded together in 1919 and ascended to power in Germany in 1933, not 1939. Closer to home, meaningful unrest in the colonies began with the Stamp Act in 1765, ten years before anyone marched on Lexington and Concord. I live on the grounds of one of the original minutemen mustering sites. As the plaque at the end of my street reminds us, those ten years of unrest made all the difference. The time to act, to pay penance, to invest in the heavy duty foundational work we need to do to have a functioning society moving forward is now. Not in ten years.
Yes, we have enormous and terrifying geopolitical problems at play. Problems that, we must acknowledge, we had a heavy hand in creating. Nevertheless, those problems have spiraled beyond our control and we need to tackle them with composure, grit, and courage. In the always appreciated words of Jon Snow (thx, HBO!), “If they get past the Wall and we’re squabbling amongst ourselves…we’re finished.” Use that Wall as a metaphor for whichever of the myriad big picture problems freaks you out most. North Korea and the prospect of nuclear war? Russia and the vulnerability of the world communication and economic channels? Climate Change? All are scary. But no one man, woman, or group can address any one issue in a vacuum. We can and should be stronger by actually institutionalizing the values of freedom, equality, and openness our monuments and doctrines claim to evoke — we must be.
I’m discussing big issues — but small actions do add up. Here are a few easy, top of head ideas for you, me, businesses, local officials to make a move on today:
- Hire diversely. Proceed to pay your employees fairly and equally. This applies whether you run an ice cream stand or an international conglomerate.
- Invest across the sociocultural board. Consider a blind pitch policy.
- Take down confederate monuments swiftly — Lexington, KY, you get some bonus points today for proactively (in a 150 years late kind of way) taking steps to deal with yours in the wake of yesterday’s events.
- Make an effort to expose your kids to worlds beyond your own…it can be as simple as a trip to a deliberately chosen playground or selecting multicultural books. Talk about the hard stuff.
- Attempt to do a crossword puzzle from a foreign newspaper. Something in English from Australia or Ireland is totally fine — this isn’t a trick. Yet I guarantee you’ll have a new appreciation and compassion for those trying to find their footing in a new culture.
- Read! Actual books and actual newspapers written by actual authors and journalists. Our facebook feeds don’t count. I know I’m guilty of not reading nearly as much as I did before the advent of social media and my world knowledge and analysis is worse for it. I have to imagine I’m not alone.