A terrorist murdered and maimed people in my home state today.
I haven’t been in Charlottesville since the late Seventies. I went down there a couple of times to hang with a guy I dated in high school and off-and-on through my twenties, who was fucking brilliant — 100% scores on his SATs, double major at an Ivy, could play Bach while necking without missing a note (his mother never felt like she had to come down to the rec. room), He also, alas, was addicted to the buttoned-down conservatism of William F. Buckley, whose racist dogwhistles were under my radar then (I suspect I was more aware of the parallel sexism, cheering when Germaine Greer got under Buckley’s skin on Firing Line). It was sort of a case of pervert-to-convert, it just never took entirely, despite his acquiring a taste for Bertrand Russell. The last I saw of him, he was whoring on Newsmax, giving a split-screen interview which seemed to be all about repeating the cant that Black Lives Matter consisted of “thugs” who were being “encouraged by Obama,” all pseudo-validated by the fairy dust of his academic credentials. Funny, considering how when we were still dating, any ethnic epithet used to bring on a prissy fit. I guess times change, or maybe people stop trying to pretend.
One evening in C-ville we were walking back to his apartment in the student district and I became aware of four young black men strolling along behind us. We crossed to the other side of the street. One of the men called out, something like “Hey, scared to be on the same sidewalk with us?” And I couldn’t say anything, because I was. One side of my family came from red-dirt, redneck Georgia, and I had grown up on a steady admonition of “Don’t go downtown [in Washington DC] because the n—–s will knock you on the head.” I could scoff at that all I wanted, and did, but some part of it stuck, like a tick that took a long time to dig out. I’m not saying people haven’t been mugged by groups of young men who followed them, but I know I wouldn’t have crossed the street if they’d been white, and I’d hazard a guess they were just going for pizza. I’m still learning how much more people in various shades of brown have to fear from white people than we do from anyone.
I had to go into an appointment just after learning that one of the Charlottesville victims had died, still gobsmacked from seeing cell phone video, and I’m glad the client was one of those who just wants to go into the zone because tears kept coming as I scrabbled for something to think or feel about it — tears that I know are a luxury, because I wasn’t there, I wasn’t at risk, all I can do is try to find a crowdfund helping the injured, because we still don’t fucking have a decent health care system in this country and the Virginia legislature won’t stand for taking Medicaid money to help poor people, God forbid. I can’t even stand up indignantly and say This Is Not My Country, because I’m afraid it is. Maybe some day that won’t be true, but what can you say when hundreds of angry white men, faces contorted in hate, assemble in a peaceful college town waving torches and swastika flags, and vilifying people of color, Jews, make a list, because of an ill-defined sense of grievance?
All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police:
We must love one another or die.
As usual, Auden was on it.