Waiting in the Wings: Reflecting on #Charlottesville

This week’s events have rattled me in ways I didn’t know were possible. I used to live in Charlottesville, Virginia. In fact, I lived there recently. I lived there from fall 2013 to spring 2015. My husband got his MBA from the Darden School of Business, and our son was born there, on a snowy day at Martha Jefferson Hospital. I also worked there - I consulted for the UVa's Center for Global Inquiry + Innovation. We won a prestigious John Simon Award for internationalization. 

I have beautiful memories there, but neither of us felt completely comfortable in Charlottesville. Something got under our skin. No matter how many bbq sandwiches we were offered, or green pastures we saw rolling onto the horizon, the antebellum chemistry of the area never quite sat with us. There was a racism in the air, that felt just under the surface.

Like it was waiting in the wings.

We lived our life as a multi-racial family around it, in spite of it.  But it was an awkward dance. We were always far too ready to catch a flight home to LA for Christmas, or São Paulo for a wedding, or New York for a summer internship. The slam of the car door shut, driving north, was a happy sigh of relief.

When I found out the march had happened through the campus, I wasn’t surprised. Those were the same guys I always saw with popped collars, but with tiki torches.

It was the violence that gutted me. As a mixed-race American, watching whites and people of color fight is like watching two sides of my family fight. I feel like tearing my hair out. I just erupt in sobs.

I am someone just like Heather, who died there. In fact, I am almost exactly her same age. The press corps has – rightly so – descended upon these events with unbridled mania. They are taking the vital signs of American civics, and finding a very sick patient.

The most unnerving question is, can health and sickness co-exist? We did have a life there. Some memories are beautiful. Caetano strolled up and down that Downtown mall, happily chatting away to one of his many admirers on a cell phone. 

And yet, apparently, gads of Southern whites are appalled that families like mine did that. It undermines what General Robert E. Lee was fighting for. And they want none of it in Abermarle County. On Culpepper County. In the state. Or the nation.

I always knew these men were waiting in the wings. What I didn’t know they were so violent. That they were so small-minded.

Life is not a zero-sum game.

Brene Brown has a great video up reflecting on the events in Charlottesville. She asks, in her southern drawl, for whites to consider the 360 degree implications of what they’re asking.  

She says, “Just because you haven’t experienced something, doesn’t mean you can’t tell another person that what they’ve experienced is invalid.” She calls out shame triggers around the words white trash, and even white supremacy, and unveils how white racism itself is an exercise in shame: it lashes out, then clouds itself, then masks as something else (“the status quo”), then gawks in broad daylight.

It’s a crazy process, borne of a crazy feeling: insecurity.

This is unnecessary. As in the body, two things can exist at the same time socially. Cosmopolitan places (like Charlottesville) can be country.  Southern culture can be appreciated independently of the politics of the Confederacy. Multiple communities can thrive.

This is possible.

It is possible.

Human beings are programming Artificial Intelligence. So why can’t we get a better grasp of our own?