What Would Heather Do?

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

18 thoughts on “What Would Heather Do?

  1. Thank you Patricia. I had to wait a day for my own anger to dissipate. I did not condemn myself for my anger. I did not push it or that part of me away. I walked into it, sat with it and kept it close so as not to take it out on others. I wish I could say it is gone. It is not. But I have prayed that God would use it to help me move forward in advocacy where he deems appropriate. And when the anger did finally give a little ground, (I won’t lie about it giving all ground, no that’s not true), I cried. I cried and I cried. I felt ashamed in my weakness because anger has been my nemesis my whole life. Then I read Ps. 55:17 “Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress and He hears my voice.” I knew I am not alone. Then I put away the shame that accompanies angry tears and I remembered Sister Ruth’s workshop on “Speaking Truth to Power.” Now I am seeing clearer ways to channel my voice to the representatives of this country. I’m still shaky because I don’t know what to do and when I am angry I cannot trust my judgement. But I believe articles like this one and the ones mentioned in this blog are going to provide more clarity for the path I am to take. Again, I thank you. We must go forward but we must not deny our own outrage and be lulled back to complacency. No, we cannot do that. I love you. I really do love you. See you very soon.

    1. Your honest reply is a balm, dear Laura. May God guide our words and actions in this challenging season–indeed, for such a time as this. With much love and thanks, Patricia

  2. Thank you so much for this, Patricia. Yes, yes, yes we need to keep saying No to hatred and violence. We think America is beyond much of this, then we’re reminded that the poisonous cancer is still very much alive in our society, with terrifying affirmation from the top. I was in Rocky Mountain NP all weekend, my soul being nurtured by the mountains, so missed much of the breaking news. My husband marched in the anti-hate rally in Denver on Sunday and came home feeling strong and hopeful, that there are many voices willing to stand up and shout No. But it is a long and ongoing fight and good Americans must keep speaking out and not be fearful and apathetic.

    1. Thank you so much, Mary. This long and ongoing fight won’t last forever. But for now, we must fight. Even with humble pens. May God empower and strengthen us. Onward!

  3. Patricia, the pen is mightier than the sword, and if it pierces and convicts just one heart, you will have been successful in wielding it (I *know* it will . . . and even if it didn’t, you still will have been successful–in the best sense of the word–before the Lord). I took to FB, and I don’t know how to say what I said any other way than I did there, so (please indulge me), I’ll repost here what I said there, here:
    Racism is always vile, always grotesque, always inexcusable. While white supremacists (nothing supreme about them!) were ranting, raving, and mowing down victims with a car, my friend Lynne Jackson, great-great granddaughter of the slave Dred Scott, whose Supreme Court case catapulted the Civil War, was talking peace and reconciliation. Last Saturday, at the Missouri History Museum, she gathered a panel of descendants of key players in the Dred Scott Decision (descendants of Dred Scott, SCOTUS Justice Taney, Dred’s owner Peter Blow, and Confederacy President Jefferson Davis), and they dialogued peacefully about repentance, apology, forgiveness, reconciliation, and acceptance. And what each panel member said is that the ultimate solution to racial hatred is love. I was moved beyond words by this beautiful event. And one step in loving is speaking out in unmistakable terms against racism, violence, and hatred. That is something we should hate with a passion—not each other. Lynne Jackson, I love you my dear friend and sister in Christ. And I love what you stand for and what you are doing. And I hate racism!

    God bless you dear sister of the pen and of the heart, and I love you, too,
    Lynn

    1. Lynn, what a WONDERFUL event. I sincerely wish I could’ve been there. Last summer, my husband and I toured the downtown Courthouse in St. Louis and saw the amazing Dred Scott statue and walked through all the exhibits related to the Dred Scott decision. Thanks so much for sharing information about the panel you witnessed. As more Americans work to bridge our divides, praying all the way, the Lord WILL heal our nation. Even on our worst days, I still believe it. Show us how to love, O God!

      1. Oh yes, His love will certainly win, Patricia. I’m going to send Lynne your blog. I know she will love reading it, and appreciate how much you yourself appreciated seeing the Dred & Harriet Scott statue and the exhibit. You and Lynne would really connect at the heart.
        L.

      2. Patricia, how wonderful that you saw the Dred Scott statue exhibit at the Old Court House. I’m going to send your blog to Lynne. She will really appreciate reading this. Thank you so much for your good work, and yes, you would have loved her event!
        L.

  4. Sister, Author, Activist Patricia, I am so grateful for your contribution. It is powerful and poignant. It speaks volumes equal to a march or protest. It is shared from the ♥. It is an artistic expression about the most horrific acting out of evil. We can return to this message and be uplifted. These are trying times and truly there is nothing new under the Son. Love is the way. Yet we must stand and speakout in solidarity. Blessings on your Journey! Rev Dr Anne Rice-Jones (P. S. I’d like to share this with a small group of Faith Leaders )

    1. Your words are a mighty blessing, Rev. Dr. Anne. May the Lord take each of our small contributions–in word or in deed–and empower them to move mountains! For His glory! Thank you so much for your feedback. (And, absolutely, you may share!) In gratitude and love, Patricia

  5. Your article, “From Bitter Root to Flower of Forgiveness ” (Our Daily Bread) deeply touched my heart. I also just read your post about Heather & her very unfortunate death on Saturday. I’ve been outraged, sad & angry all summer at the hateful crimes all around us. I am a white Christian wife, mother, daughter & friend. I am not prejudiced & do not understand White Supremacy. God created us all. Jesus tells us to love one another. I pray for the hearts of these hateful people to soften. I enjoy your writing style. So glad your article was in the new “Our Daily Bread” I just received. May God continue to bless you, Patricia. Be well.

    1. Thank you, dear Heike, for reading–but also for your encouraging feedback. As writers, we can feel our words aren’t enough to make a difference–that they’re too small and helpless to change minds or touch hearts. When I read your support, however, I’m encouraged to keep at it, but also–as you say–to pray. Even for our “enemies.” Then may He soften our hearts, and hear us and heal our land. Thank you, indeed, Heike, for reflecting His love and for reaching out. May God bless your obedience and kindness. God help me to write in that same spirit–like Him. Peace be with you, Patricia

  6. Blessed Patricia,

    I so needed your perspective and wisdom. Thank you for your grace and strength, and for sharing your heart with your words during these very trying times. Thank you for keeping Heather D. Heyer at the top of our minds as we process Charlottesville and other events around the country. You and I have talked about how we might respond to this administration with our prayers. It seems that God is answering a prayer to shine His light on the darkness—and what a shocking, ugly darkness it is. My pastor said it plainly in church on Sunday: “Racism is demonic.”

    Raised in liberal Boulder, Colorado, I always thought I was far removed from prejudice. Your book “My First White Friend” opened my eyes. I want to say, over and over, I’m sorry. I pray for forgiveness for my own ignorance, for the times I was silent, and for the sins of my people. I’m so very, very sorry that such evil, bigoted hatred still exists in America today.

    I recently found an organization called “Nice White Ladies” that helps well-meaning women get educated about the issues of racism and take real action to make a difference. I promise to do all I can to fight injustice and dismantle racism.

    I promise to keep saying No.

    Sending you God’s love and light, my friend.

    1. Good morning, my dear Eliza,
      Your words are a comfort and encouragement–so timely and wise. You are correct, indeed. God is shining a bright light on the darkness of racism, injustice and hate. If we turn our eyes from the truth of this evil, and then fail to speak up, we’re hardly any better than those who practice it. So now for our children, and their children to come, may the Lord bless all of His warriors, writers included (and also the brave souls in the “Nice White Ladies” group), to be, like Joshua, strong and courageous for the battle before us. Then, like David, may we have victory in His name. For justice. For Christ! With His love, dear friend! Much peace, Patricia

  7. Yes, we ALL need to address these situations! I feel like I am not a person with any prejudice, but that only means perhaps there are things I do not recognize because maybe my life circumstances have shielded me or I have perhaps been oblivious. We need to be in prayer, asking God to point out to us where we fall short and to help us be changed in our actions and attitudes. Thank you, Patricia, for your comments. God bless you!

    Kathy Peterson

    1. You are so right, Kathy. Whereever we have blind spots, especially regarding racial prejudice, may the Lord show each of us what we are overlooking. I was just reading an article on the CNN website on how differently whites and blacks in the U.S. see racial discrimination. It’s night and day. Literally. To come together, we have to respect people when they say they are hurting and getting hated. What we saw in Charlottesville, with Neo-Nazis marching in the streets, was an abomination. You are right when you say we need to be in prayer. Only God can start the healing and change hearts. Praying with you for that to happen in all of us. Meantime, very kind thanks for reaching out today.

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