The Law Weekly reached out to affinity group leaders to write for us in a feature we are calling “Spotlight.” Our goal is to give leaders a regular platform to start conversations about issues they are facing, to reflect on the events of August 11th and 12th, and to educate the UVa Law community about their diverse experiences so that we can become better allies to our fellow classmates.
If you or your organization would like to be featured, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kimberly Delk (she/her/hers) '19
Vice President, UVa BLSA
It’s hard to be a person of color in America. It was difficult four hundred years ago when slaves were first brought to this country. It was a slap in the face two hundred and fifty years later when slaves were set free without educational resources. One hundred years ago, it was painful to endure mass lynchings throughout the South and just fifty years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. sacrificed his life in furtherance of a dream for equality. Sadly, it was equally as onerous on August 11th and 12th to watch Klansmen, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis wave their flags, flaunt their guns, and shout their racist ideologies free from legal retribution.
What made that weekend most difficult was not the physical proof that racism still exists; we already knew that. The events that took place are forever etched into our memory because society, the city of Charlottesville, and the University of Virginia defended free speech for bigots and racists. As a consequence of their actions, inactions, and mis-actions, Black and Brown people were denied their most basic, inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Before James Madison established the First Amendment’s freedom of speech, Charlottesville’s beloved Thomas Jefferson granted a series of inalienable rights to every American. Putting aside Jefferson’s contradictory and hypocritical ownership of slaves at the time, those rights were challenged throughout history by the racism that permeated through Jim Crow laws, poll taxes, gerrymandering, zoning, mass incarceration, maximum sentencing, standardized testing, etc. Unfortunately, the “Unite the Right” rally opened the door to the most herculean tool in racism’s arsenal: fear.
Fear for Life. The protesters shouted “Blood and Soil” throughout the streets of Charlottesville. This Nazi slogan refers to the unification of pure-blooded, Anglo-Saxon people and the acquisition of territory for their people. By also chanting, “you will not replace us” the protesters made it clear that America was theirs for the taking. Considering how the Americas were “taken” in the first place, the only way to fulfill the prophecies of their slogans is to take the land by force: placing the lives of people of color in jeopardy.
Some Americans interpreted these chants as hate speech or just the ignorant opinions of a small group of deplorables. It is imperative to understand that Black and Brown Americans heard real, tangible, life-altering threats. As we tuned into CNN, MSNBC, and FOX, we could feel the heat from a burning cross in our front yards. We could see the noose hanging from an oak tree in our local parks. We could even smell the bonfire used to burn our belongings and possibly our kinfolk. We feared for our lives while the law allowed these protesters to not only promote the supremacy of their race, but also the inferiority of all others. We were forced to bear witness that some Americans do not believe our lives matter.
Fear for Liberty. For all of the students that were in Charlottesville that weekend, we were denied the liberty to leave our homes out of fear. We feared what would happen if we were out there and found ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. We wanted the protesters to go home so that we could be free from the cameras, free from the hate, and free from the chaos. To date, our minds are still constrained as we constantly think and talk about what transpired.
While most of the student body was impacted in this way, Black and Brown students were further constrained by fear because we were the targets of their spiteful rhetoric. It was like being a kid standing in the screen door of your home while every bully from kindergarten through twelfth grade told you how worthless you are from your front yard. In a moment of bravery, you may think to go outside and tell the bullies how wrong they are and how successful you will be one day. That bravery fades as you realize you are outnumbered and that those bullies have the upper hand due to privileges and “good ole boy” networks that you will never be a part of.
Fear for the Pursuit of Happiness. The scariest part of that weekend is knowing that everyone who participated in the protest went back to their lives where they serve as CEOs, managers, and employers for people of color. It would be nice to think that the protesters were an isolated group whose ideals only reach the wicked and forgotten members of our society; however, this is not the case. Even though the rallies were extreme portrayals of racism, micro-aggressions and covert racism continue to plague our society when the cameras are off and the protesters are home.
Unfortunately, Black and Brown people have to question whether our neighbors, employers and acquaintances possess similar ideologies. While the rest of America can focus on being a productive member of society, we live in fear of how racism can manifest itself in our individual pursuits of happiness. Therefore, we walk with extra caution in the hallways, and flash a fake smile at the inappropriate comments made by our colleagues. We even offer to take on unwanted tasks just to tear down a stereotype or to convince the team that we are assets and not liabilities. Before the rally, these things were optional. Now, fear of negative repercussions on the job, at school, or in our communities make such precautions mandatory.
With everything that happened that weekend, we still prepared for church on Sunday and work on Monday because fear is exactly what they wanted from us. We contained the fear within our friendships and families while portraying strength and confidence to our coworkers and classmates. We’ll continue to exude such strength because fear will not bring about the prevention tactics, support, and legislation necessary for change.
Yes, the rallies reminded greater America of her past and present issues with acceptance and diversity. Yes, the rallies opened the hearts of millions of Americans who now understand that a post racial society is far in the distance for today’s America. On the other hand, Black and Brown America took those revelations a step further and realized that at any point in time, racists can gather to promote the destruction and extinction of entire ethnicities. If this extremist practice of free speech continues to gain traction and the law does not conform to punish such rhetoric, we fear that the difficulties of fifty, one hundred, and two hundred and fifty years ago will be the realities of the future.