Matt Johnson (he/him/his) '19
August 12, 2017: a day burned into the collective consciousness of every student, faculty, and alumni of UVa for reasons none of us wanted. Seeing hate and anger flow through the streets of Charlottesville as we saw places of intimate familiarity splashed across national news media felt like a sobering reminder of the worst in people in direct clash with what actually makes America great. Nothing will erase those images, those emotions, and those thoughts of helpless angst from our memories, and nor should they be erased. We need to carry the weight of those memories with somber attitudes, and more importantly, perseverant resolve to respond to the hate and anger with a stern message of love and rejection of the hateful rhetoric and violent extremism that overtook our quaint college town.
It is my natural inclination to try to derive from tragic events like this some sort of meaning and some sort of way to move forward and help effect change. In my best intentions, I want to help improve our community and on our society. I don’t want to do that in this aftermath. While I intend to take every action I see necessary to counter the hateful rhetoric of the alt-right and white nationalist movement, that’s not what I believe my society needs from me in this historical moment. So I won’t be standing up to shout at the top of my lungs with my thoughts on what needs to be done. I won’t be talking anyone’s ear off on my personal thoughts on the matter. Any voice championing love and respect is a welcome addition to the discourse, but there will be no shortage of those voices who can say it more eloquently, forcefully, and with greater effect than I ever could. I want to respect where I stand in this world and respect those being disparately affected by this movement and these times of fear and discord. So instead of providing my voice to a cause, I will go one step further and offer the most open of ear, heart, and mind to those who most deserve to have a voice against this hate. Those who have been marginalized and targeted in all of this political hate have something they’ve too often felt they have been deprived of: a willing audience to hear their thoughts, their emotions, and their pain. I am a sponge, please bring it on.
I always felt I had a pretty strong moral compass and that I generally offered measured, thoughtful responses to assaults on political and cultural ideologies, but now is no longer the time for me to retreat to my resolution or to contextualize my understanding of the state of racial and cultural divide in our country with my own experiences. I want to do everything in my power to personally contextualize understanding the structural issues at play with the experiences of those who understand it best: those being marginalized.
Nothing good happened on August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville when hate descended on our homes. But so much good can grow from the ashes of that travesty that reminds all of us about what it means to positively engage each other in ways such that we all learn from one another.