That’s the real question. After Charlottesville. After Neo-Nazi thugs. After KKK “patriots.” After white supremacists with bad haircuts show up on your doorstep to spread terror and hate in your own hometown, what would Heather do? Well, we found out. Heather D. Heyer, who was murdered Saturday morning when a white supremacist plowed his car into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, showed up in real time and said no.
No to racism. No to terror. No to hate. Not to evil. And for her trouble? She was killed. So today we add her name to those we’re saying out loud. Heather D. Heyer. Yeah, just say it. It’s the very least we can do.
But then what? What else should you and I do about hate–and do today? Reflecting on Saturday’s mayhem, and on Heather’s death–and on Charlottesville’s sorrow–that’s the question I’m demanding myself to answer.
On Saturday, indeed, many of us watched Charlottesville from home. A safe place—unless you lived in the poor black projects of that town where the racist thugs planned to march and wreak havoc.
Many of us followed the news online, tracking the blow-by-blow—yes, literally—coverage of the homegrown terrorists and the chaos.
Many of us ignored the trouble altogether, turning off our TVs and phones, already overwhelmed by the daily news with its relentless coverage of the so-called “alt-right.”
That’s how I started the day, ignoring them and their hate, messing around in my front yard, watering plants and flowers—trying to make myself not think about Charlottesville and what was happening there.
I tried to defy racism by just ignoring it, arguing that the best way to fight modern-day racists is to deprive them of our oxygen, and our attention, as one commentator, writing in the New York Times, said he tried to do.
Like him, I told myself, I will grow not hate, but love—giving my time and energy to watering my doggone flowers.
Well, that tactic worked. For a while. The sun was shining. The bees were buzzing. For a summery August day, my potted plants looked pretty good—well-tended, proper and healthy.
Then later in the day, I finally turned on the news. My stomach seized. Three people dead. At least 19 injured, some seriously. And the racists? Still marching. Still befouling. Still hating.
I took off my gardening gloves.
Then I picked up my pen. Oh, it felt small. But it’s still a way to fight. Not as dangerous, nor as committed, as marching in the streets, as Heather D. Heyer dared.
But if just one writer’s words inspire just one reader to stand up, as Heather did, to domestic racists and their profiteering hate, those words matter.
Heather’s last written words, in fact, call us to the battle. As she said in her last Facebook post, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”
Well, we’re outraged. And we’re woke. (Thank you, Black Lives Matter.) So now go do something. Say no to racists as this white restaurant owner did in Charlottesville. Say no to racists as this Texas college which cancelled an upcoming white nationalists rally.
Then don’t stop there. Say no to racists in your family. Say no to your racist children. No to racists in your church. No to racists in your pulpit. No to racists on your job. No to racists in our government. Say no. Then say no again. In any legal way you can, say no out loud.
Then for Heather—and for every victim of white supremacy ever victimized across four centuries in this broken, bloodied, cross-burning, rope-swinging, God-needing nation—keep saying no. And this time, don’t stop.
Patricia Raybon is an award-winning author of books and essays on mountain-moving faith.
To travel along on Patricia’s faith Journey, please click here.
Any Scriptures quoted, unless noted otherwise, are the New Living Translation of the Holy Bible.
(For more inspiration, check out Patricia’s racial forgiveness memoir, My First White Friend, winner of the Christopher Award and a Books for a Better Life Award.)
Photo: Edu Bayer for The New York Times