I’ve read countless articles and Facebook statuses this week pertaining to the events that took place in Charlottesville, like many of you have, and I’ve been struck by the role “emotion” has played in all of it. Although there are plenty of exceptions, I’ve believe that the “emotion” of most of the responses posted this week can be lumped into one of three categories: “license” (freedom to react unfiltered; over-emotional); “devalued” (political; no emotion); or “well-meaning.”
Admittedly, there is no perfect reaction to all that is happening. None of us are going to get this thing completely right, and regardless of any stance we take, someone is always going to disagree with us. However, I think trying to understand what’s at stake emotionally for everyone involved is an important place to start.
The following is a summary of four of the most common/talked about responses that I’ve come across this week, and how a better understanding of the emotional aspect of things can give us all (regardless of race) context, thus enabling us to move forward together.
1.) “I’m shocked to hear about the events that happened in Charlottesville and I’m praying…” This first one is a little tricky because I don’t believe there’s anything truly wrong with it. in fact, It’s not too far from what I, myself, posted on Facebook earlier this week. Because of these reasons, I put this in that third category: “well-meaning.” Please hear me. That is not meant to sound pretentious or passive-aggressive; rather, it’s to give context for everyone who has a desire to bring vision to their blind spots.
When my Instagram and Facebook feeds are flooded with variations of this status, or when I’m told this in person, my first emotional response is truly thankfulness. I’m thankful and encouraged to hear that people are praying for me and my minority friends. I’m encouraged to hear that people have my back, and are willing to take time out of their day to post responses to something that doesn’t necessarily even affect their everyday life.
However, my second emotional response to this is a different type of thankfulness. This time it’s thankfulness that an awareness has begun to percolate within a person’s heart who just hasn’t had to think about these issues before (at no fault of their own). From talking to several of my African-American friends this week, they described this most poignantly: “When someone says this to us, we’re thankful and appreciative, but we also want them to understand something: Although they might be ‘shocked’ that events like the ones in Charlottesville would occur at all, we’ve been conditioned to expect them to.”
2.) “There is no place for white supremacy in America.” This one is similar to the first, but I think it can fly a little more under the radar. I put it also in that third category, as I think it can be said with even better intentions than the first. Certainly if you’re reading this post, we all agree with this statement at face value: white supremacy is wrong, and it should not exist in our country. However, boldly declaring this online, wearing a t-shirt with this written on it, or hash-tagging it might be helpful but does not necessarily validate the pent-up emotion ocf marginalized people. The unfortunate truth is, although according to the constitution there should be no place for white supremacy in our country, there has been and still evidently is a place for it, thus the deep-rooted support of Nazi and alt/right ideology. Does this mean I believe that every white person in America is an undercover racist? ABSOLUTELY NOT. I simply say this to shine light on the dark, insidious existence (past and present) of white supremacy in our country.
3.) “White supremacists deserve to be condemned.” This is a delicate line to tow, but I put this response in that first category: “license.” While I believe in speaking up for the marginalized, I also believe that the injustice committed toward minorities this week does not validate an equal response. Those of you who are pleading for non-violence, I’m with you. Those who believe that some of the counter protesters committed wrong acts too, I agree with you as well. However, our response cannot be to minimize or validate the original offense. End. Of. Story. It must be to condemn white supremacy as an ideology while absolutely refusing to accept any form of white nationalism. And this can all be done while hoping and praying for these white supremacists to have a heart change. It can all be done without both devaluing the marginalized or hating an individual.
4.) “There was evil on both sides of the events in Charlottesville.” This is where I realize it could get a little more contentious, but that is NOT my goal. As it relates to emotions, I think we can address this response without even mentioning anything political. I put this response in that second emotional category: “devalued.”
And the name says it all. When people hold this view, and many do, it devalues the emotions of minorities. It minimizes their pain and the truth that there is a historical narrative of racism in America. It rationalizes hateful actions committed toward them, and it empathizes with their perpetrator at the expense of themselves (the victim).
I want to elaborate on that last point. What I’m not saying is that everyone that holds this view is racist; I’m not even saying that these people are intentionally being insensitive. Lastly, I’m again not saying that these white supremacists do not deserve grace. My objective is to simply describe why repeatedly hearing statements of neutrality from objective sources is hurtful to someone who has been unjustly harmed.
I think this is easier to relate to and understand than many of us realize. For example: imagine someone breaks into your home in the middle of the night, steals your possessions, and physically harms you, your parents, your kids, and/or your spouse. Now, imagine that this story breaks out on the news and that the overwhelming response, or even just half of the responses, are statements of neutrality. Imagine that people begin to flood your Facebook wall and mailbox with questions like “Oh, had you locked your door that night?” or “Do you know if the person’s intent was to actually harm you?” Or, imagine what it’d be like to hear “Well, I’m so sorry that happened to you, but I’m sure that person has had a rough upbringing to have done something like that.”
Hopefully it’s fairly obvious as to why asking these questions right off the bat would be insensitive to someone who had just experienced something so traumatic, especially if it wasn’t the first time (thus, minimizing rather than validating the victim’s feelings). It doesn’t mean that fictional home-invade-person doesn’t deserve forgiveness or didn’t have a “rough upbringing.” It doesn’t mean that those young alt/right movement members are beyond help, nor that we shouldn’t earnestly desire for their redemption. It means that the time to make public declarations about your empathy for white supremacists is not immediately after the news breaks about racist hate crimes occuring. It simply means that something must be done about both these incidents and the historical patterns of objective racial injustice, PERIOD.
Final thoughts: Please believe me when I say that I’m not writing this hoping or expecting to change the world, or because I think my opinion is superior. I’m writing because I think we all have a responsibility to use our voice where and when it could help others. And that is my hope. Yes, I write for personal reasons, but more importantly, I’m writing because in my heart, I cannot imagine not contributing to this discussion. As I posted on social media earlier this week, regardless of your race, if you have a desire to see racial reconciliation come to fruition, resist the urge to remain silent.