The World is Reeling From the Racism and Violence in Charlottesville

Some are reeling in disbelief because they agree with, Terry McAuliffe, the governor of Virginia who said: “this is not who we are.” And yet others are reeling because they believe that what happened in Charlottesville is another reminder of precisely who we, as a country, still are. As students of black communities and collaborators with black communities in their efforts to thrive, we –the organizers of the Black Communities conference– know that what took place in Charlottesville is familiar. White supremacy and its violence toward those who challenge it or are victims of it may be on fuller public display than many Americans are used to. Media attention to the catastrophic impact of white supremacist groups may be higher than usual right now. But, many residents and scholars of black communities know the very real threats to life and community posed by white supremacy and the violence of racism and racial injustice. As one of the most well-known examples, the community of Greenwood (also once known as “Black Wall Street) in Tulsa, Oklahoma was decimated by white vigilantes in the 1920s. In the same decade, Rosewood, Florida was obliterated by whites angry over a common (and spurious) claim of a black man crossing racial lines. The pre-Civil Rights era was replete with these cases of black communities devastated by whites organizing to ensure the elevation of white life by putting an end to black existence. However, as James Loewen shows in his book, Sundown Towns, the threat to black life at the hands of white supremacists is not merely the stuff of history. Black Americans who are “caught” in white southern, western, Midwestern communities after dark have been at risk of death by unofficial policy of white communities into the mid-20th century. Of course, as current attention to Charlottesville shows, we are more apt to notice the grand acts of white supremacist activity and violence –the rallies that break out into protracted melees. However, black communities have been vulnerable to what social scientists call structural violence –the formal policies that have a severely detrimental effect on people’s lives– such as gentrification and other forms of displacement. Indeed, Charlottesville’s own historic black community, Vinegar Hill, met its demise to urban renewal as have many other communities –including Durham’s Hayti. As a black community, Vinegar Hill no longer exists, however, Hayti, despite its displacement by the 1980s building of a highway, has survived. A display of the right to survive in Durham took place on Monday night when protestors, responding to events in Charlottesville, toppled a statue of a confederate soldier that sits outside the city’s courthouse. We read this and other protests as statements that symbols and actions of white supremacy and violent racism are not who, as a country, we should be. The countless efforts of black communities to not only survive but also thrive –despite challenges to their existence that sometimes have been linked to white supremacist organizing—are a similar statement that we should all listen to.








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