In Response to Charlottesville

Charlottesville, Virginia protests

As a rule, I try to stay pretty balanced in my thoughts, and I try to carry that over into my writing. Admittedly, that’s hard to do sometimes. Sometimes you have to take a moment to step back and look at a situation with fresh eyes; to determine whether or not you’re reacting out of love, hate, fear, passion, whatever; to decide how you can then take a step forward and how you can make a situation better – or at the very least, how you can not make it any worse.

Since Saturday, I’ve had a lot of conversations about the protests in Charlottesville. People are upset, though their reasons are varied. I’ve talked to all kinds of people – whites, blacks, Muslims, Hispanics – no white supremacists, though. I’m proud to say that I don’t have any of those in my friend circle (that I know of).

I will say, though, that there’s an interesting thing that’s happening in the wake of Saturday’s events. White people have been asked to apologize for the actions of a minority group of crazed white people. Some of them have done so. Others have resented and rejected their association with white supremacists just because they, too, are white. They had nothing to do with the protests, so why should they apologize?

There are solid arguments for both sides, but….doesn’t this all sound a little familiar? Doesn’t it sound like every time a terrorist attack occurs and all Muslims are expected to apologize on behalf of all Muslims around the entire globe? Or doesn’t it sound like every time a black man shoots a cop in the name of Black Lives Matter and all black people are expected to apologize on behalf of all black people in America?

Speaking of which, I remember sometime last year when tensions were exceptionally high between the BLM movement and the cops. A commenter on a Facebook post expressed her outrage that her daughter, a police officer, was being targeted simply because of the uniform she has to wear to work. She couldn’t even hear the hypocrisy in her statement. Yes, it was unfair for her daughter to be targeted, but she didn’t understand what a luxury it was that her daughter could take off her uniform at the end of the day. She couldn’t see the other side’s struggle, or that their struggle was essentially the same as the one she described, but (arguably) worse; black people can’t not be black. Ever. They never chose to be black in the first place, and they can’t choose not to be anymore.

The point in all this is simply that some people are insane and life is all a matter of perspective.

Perspective, man!

We’re more similar to each other than we seem to realize and we run into problems when we ignore that. We all want to live happily and peacefully. We all want our families and our homes to be safe. Most of us want to work and contribute back to our society. None of us want to be blamed for the actions of a few who look like us, or who swear loyalty and allegiance to something we happen to believe in. And none of us want killing in our streets, regardless of what “side” of the issue you fall on.

Insane people do insane things and reach for reasons to justify their actions. They’re often driven by fear, hate, and paranoia, and those things can seriously warp a person’s world view and perspective. Ignorance is no joke, either, and unfortunately, many people choose to remain comfortably oblivious to the world around them because it’s easier than opening their eyes and actually seeing it for what it is.

Bias is a killer and it shouldn’t be underestimated.

The news media is in a tricky spot here, too. They drive the bias and the opinions. Unfortunately, there’s little they can do to prevent this from happening. They have to report on the news, whether it’s negative or positive, and freedom of speech and press are non-negotiable. But think about it – someone is only as powerful as the platform they’re given. If no one’s reporting on hate speech, then it’s not being spread.

So…does the media just not report the news in those cases? For instance, think back to Trump’s entire presidential campaign. The news outlets had to report the inflammatory things he said as a presidential candidate, yes. But then the statements were made worse and more far-reaching by people tweeting about them and arguing about them on Facebook threads. Any time he spoke, the entire country – and even the world – was enthralled. And even though many of us were upset by the things he said, he was gradually changing the national conversation by normalizing things that would never have been acceptable otherwise.

I’m reminded of a Shakespearean quote from “The Rape of Lucrece”:

“Make something nothing by augmenting it.”

Attention is attention, whether it’s good or bad, and whatever we give our attention to, we empower. What we consume and how much we consume it matters. We have to temper what we read and watch, and recognize that it all impacts our thoughts and overall mindset.

Additionally, we have to take responsibility for the things we say and put out into the world. We are a part of the narrative, whether we want to be or not, whether we passively or actively participate. Posting an article because you think the headline is absurd or ridiculous is still spreading the article. And by sharing it, you’re endorsing it. You’re inadvertently putting your dollar behind it. After all, the news media is driven by money, clicks, and views. The more you share and click on content, the more of it they’ll produce.

It’s tricky to stay informed while keeping your sense of sanity and perspective – I know. Personally, I take periodic breaks from the news. That doesn’t mean that I completely shut off, though. I still read the news from sources I trust. It just means that I don’t share articles, go down the rabbit holes of Twitter’s trending topics, or watch YouTube video after YouTube video on the same topic (which I’m prone to do).

Balance. Find whatever it means for you.

One last point I’m going to make – we need to stop waiting for our president to do anything that we think he should or would like him to. We’re on our own here.

During the protests, most of what I saw in the news and on social media focused on the president’s lack of a sufficient response to the hostilities in Virginia. But at the end of the day, does it really matter whether or not a man who’s known for saying and not saying the right things says the right thing? Do we need him to take a stand against racism, neo-Nazism, or white supremacy to know that we don’t want any of it in our country?

We already know he won’t. And I’d wager that most of the world knows he won’t.

Yes, in the past, our president was expected to make a statement of support for the victims and their families in such times. Our president was expected to condemn the actions of a few, and to reiterate to the world that those few are not representative of the majority of the American people, nor our ideals and values. Our president was expected to shut down the rhetoric of hate groups and to disempower them.

But…we already know he won’t. Perhaps we’re wasting our breath and our energy asking him to, especially when we know that if and when he does, it will have been heavily coerced. At that point, does it even mean anything?

Pick your battles.

Instead, I’ll leave you with the words of some actual leaders.

Governor Terry McAuliffe – Virginia:

“Go home. My message is clear. We are stronger than you. You have made our Commonwealth stronger. You will not succeed. There is no place for you here. There is no place for you in America. I remind you all that we are a nation of immigrants. That mosaic tile of immigrants is what makes us so special. And we will not let anybody come here and destroy it. So please, go home and never come back.”

Mayor Michael Signer – Charlottesville:

“This can be a turning point for this democracy…for this country.”

And hopefully Mayor Signer’s right. We just have to steer it in the right direction.

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