Last weekend, America experienced a terrorist attack unlike the ones that we’re told to prepare for. White supremacists from across the country rioted in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee, who commanded the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Photos and videos from this protest are a stark contrast to those we see at peaceful Black Lives Matter marches, where police officers practically outnumber protesters, and keep their hands poised on batons and mace, quick to use them at the first sign of upset.
However, there were no police officers in sight at this “rally” and when white supremacists turned violent against counter-protesters, with one man mowing down a group of people in his car, law enforcement was ill-equipped to resolve the violence. A state of emergency was called, and the entire country watched a livestream of the ugliest parts of our history replayed.
Eager for accountability, we demanded that our political leaders call this terrorism by name. Many of us, especially people of color, immigrants, refugees, the LGBTQ community, and other minorities, have been aware of an uprising of hate that’s been emboldened under our current president’s administration. We have witnessed and been subjected to racism, classism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and various forms of abuse, committed by people who claim they want to “Make America Great Again.” We recognized the implications of this slogan from the beginning. We only had to look at the struggles of our parents (less than a generation passed) to know that this country has never been great for all of its citizens, and that to suggest that it return to a former state is to promote the advancement of white men at the expense of all others. We knew this. We begged voters to reconsider, we implored the lives at stake.
That’s why many of us were not surprised by the events in Charlottesville last weekend, nor were we surprised by our president’s pacifying statement which claimed hatred coming from “many sides.” After pressure from lawmakers and citizens, Trump finally released another statement condemning and denouncing the KKK, Nazism, and white supremacy, only to negate that by retweeting a well-known white supremacist later that same day.
If these events have made anything clear, it is that we cannot rely on our political leaders to bring about change and address the racism that still thrives in this country. It will take more than Constitutional amendments to dismember the systemic oppression upon which this country was founded. It will take education, awareness, and a willingness to forfeit the privileges that come with white skin. It will require accountability and honesty about the various ways in which we thrive at the expense of the less fortunate.
These events have also highlighted the silence and willful ignorance of many who believe these events to be standalone, rather than a symptom of our nation’s untreated disease.
Most surprising has been the silence from those who call themselves healers and spiritual leaders, who claim to promote peace and seek to unite the world. Those who did speak up gave lackluster speeches not dissimilar from what Trump said. They instructed us to love harder, to focus on positive thoughts, to disengage from social media to heal.
But how can I disengage when this is what I am faced with every day of my existence? And who coined this idea that ferocity cannot exist within love and that collective fury cannot move mountains?
Those who call themselves healers and spiritual leaders have a responsibility. They cannot distance themselves from this violence, but should instead study it to see how they have participated in it by ignoring and denying its existence. They cannot tell those of us in the trenches how to behave, but should instead join and rally alongside us. They should recognize that every emotion has a purpose, and that the anger that is rising up will not be extinguished until it has been worked through. They should make an extra effort to bring their services to those who need it most, instead of relying on the trendiness of spirituality to pay their bills. They should hold space for those of us who have been historically silenced and they should listen to our experiences without interruption or judgment.They should denounce racism and discrimination not only in their work, but also at dinner tables, family reunions, and anywhere else they rear their heads. They should stop legitimizing this violence by referring to those who participate in it as the “alt-right” or “white nationalists,” but instead call them what they are – Nazis, KKK members, and white supremacists.
Part of the success of the Civil Rights Movement can be credited to the extensive network of Black churches, which not only served as sanctuary away from state-sanctioned racism, but also organized their members in voter registration drives, freedom marches, and more. Spiritual leaders and healers have this same ability to rally their supporters, to point them in the direction of campaigns and organizations worth their time and donations, to encourage them to show up at their local town halls and marches and put themselves on the front lines of this fight. However, when they choose to remain silent or release vague, appeasing statements, they give their followers permission to do the same, to remain disengaged and ignorant of the suffering that so many — including myself — still experience.
None of us are free until all of us are free. The sooner we recognize that, the sooner we can begin to move forward as a unit. Until then, we must set aside our complacency, ditch our comfort zones, and hunker down for the long fight ahead.
Here are educational resources as well as various ways to help the victims of the Charlottesville attacks: