Why Charlottesville Matters to Us All
North Liberty, IA 14 August 2017
History teaches us that there are those seminal moments in time that define us as a community or as a nation by forcing us to take a critical look at ourselves and beg the question, “who are we as a Nation,” “what have we become,” and ultimately “where are we going?” I believe that this past Saturday the 12th day of August is such a date. The tragedy that unfolded in bucolic Charlottesville, Virginia, the home of Thomas Jefferson’s university, surprised few. The tragic loss of three lives not withstanding the “script” of the day foretold that event would unfold in a manner that would likely unfold on national and international television and social media.
The “formula” was not overly complex. In what was advertised as “Unite the Right – White Nationalist Rally” would bring together a collection of white-supremacists, neo-nazi’s and a newly “prepped-out” Klu-Klux-Klan in their Preppy Handbook (ala Lisa Birnbach, 1980) white polo shirts and khaki pants. The lines were drawn, verbal and physical assaults were engaged and ultimately the “alleged perpetrator” (I am withholding his name not out of respect but so as not to glorify his act of cowardice) aged 20 from Maumee, Ohio, drove his Dodge Challenger into the crowd injuring 19 and killing Charlottesville para-legal Heather Heyer who was 32 years of age. Remember that name, Heather Heyer because in so many ways she defines all that is good in our humanity. In other words Heather Heyer is us. There was also the tragic loss of two Virginia State Patrol Officers, Lt. H. Jay Cullen (48) and Trooper Berke M.M. Bates (who would have turned 41 that day), who’s helicopter crashed monitoring the unfolding events of the day.
This was and is unequivocally an act of domestic terrorism. There is little political party division on this matter nor should there be. Acts of domestic terrorism should always transcend political party affiliations. Note that I said, “should always,” as there was one voice missing from this act of cowardice until this Monday afternoon. And that was from our Commander-in-Chief, President Donald Trump who finally acknowledged and denounced hate groups and white supremacist organizations this afternoon. And yet it is not lost on many of us that his proclamations which were much needed also came arguably long after the fact.
There is a fair question to be had as to why the executive director of the Nation’s largest Latino-based multicultural Fraternity is treading into these waters. And the answer is quite simple. We must always stand our ground in relationship to those movements that threaten an increasingly multicultural and multiracial society that is to be found in the United States. Ours is not a world that is increasingly mono-cultural but increasingly multicultural and multiracial. Movements associated with white supremacists, neo-nazi’s and the Klu-Klux-Klan do not deserve “equal time” nor have a voice at the table. They thrive on hate, fear of the “other,” and seek a society that cannot and should not exist. Not in this day and age. Not now. And not ever as we move forward. We know very few things as “fact.” But the one thing we do know as “fact” is that the United States of America will be more diverse tomorrow than it was today. This I would submit to you is cause for celebration and not fear mongering.
This is not to say that we will not disagree. Quite the contrary. We can and should disagree with robust and respectful conversations over the ideas of the day. These are times that deserve and dare I say mandate that we engage our collegiate communities with the difficult and often very uncomfortable conversations that will help us chart a collective future as a society. Indeed as a Nation. But we cannot do so if we are still fighting with individuals who represent causes that in fact were fought over decades and generations ago. The country that many of these “right-extremists” long for cannot and should not exist. Period. Punto final. If the President of the United States opts out of his leadership role then it is our task to fill the void thoughtfully and with respect to be sure. But also with clarity of thought, arguments that withstand scrutiny and belief in a Nation this is built on the voices of the many.
As we mourn the loss of life let us also celebrate individuals and HERO’s such as Heather Heyer. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe said this past Sunday, “She was doing what she loved. She (Heather) was fighting for democracy, (for) free speech, to stop hatred and bigotry.” The Huffington Post quotes Heather’s mother, Susan Bro, as saying,
“…I am proud of what she did. I want her death to be a rallying cry for justice.”
I find myself pondering what Thomas Jefferson would have thought of the tragedy that transpired in Charlottesville this past weekend. He was very much a product of his times. When the university took in its first class in the fall of 1819 he understood that these frail young States were evolutionary and not static. Mr. Jefferson also understood that diversity of thought was to be valued and cherished (now how that manifested itself in regards to representation is an entirely different matter for another day). I would like to think that had the foresight that we as a Nation would not squander opportunities that would present themselves that were born out of tragedy and loss. I believe that each of us has a role to play in this still unfolding saga of a Nation and society that is very much at a cross-roads. Each of us – and I do mean each of us – have a role to play. To do nothing is to accept the status quo. And that Gentlemen is not in our nature.
Xavier E. Romano Executive Director SIGMA LAMBDA BETA INTERNATIONAL FRATERNITY
A post-script from the Sigma Lambda Beta International Fraternity Executive Board of Directors:
“Sigma Lambda Beta does not condone killings of innocent people, racism, or bigotry. We stand together by those that have been affected and we must unite as one to continue the betterment for our communities, our country, and the world”
August 14, 2017