White Supremacy Is Still Welcomed In Charlottesville

White supremacists participate in a torch-lit march on the University of Virginia campus ahead of the Unite the Right Rally i
White supremacists participate in a torch-lit march on the University of Virginia campus ahead of the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on Aug. 11, 2017. 

Four white supremacists were arrested last week on federal charges that accuse them of involvement in the August 2017 terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The men from the so-called Rise Above Movement ― a white supremacist group that uses mixed martial arts fighting styles to commit acts of racist violence ― are finally being held to account for the brutality unleashed in the streets, and their arrests are of worthy consequence.

But there cannot be an enthusiastic celebration while racist terror and white supremacy persist in our community.  

#Charlottesville, the hashtag, was a beacon that lit the way for other cities to repel white supremacy. The August 2017 violence prompted actions of solidarity around the country.

But there is a difference between #Charlottesville and the community of Charlottesville. #Charlottesville has inspired cities and towns to remove their racist symbols and revise their racist policies. Charlottesville the town is now experiencing what feels like a rededication to overt and structural forms of white supremacy. Federal charges against four violent white men do not heal the relationship that Charlottesville continues to maintain with those who harmed our city in 2017 (and continue to hurt it today).

Our major educational institutions continue to privilege the rights of white supremacists over those of the larger community. Since the 2017 attack, the University of Virginia has arrested more people (its own students) for protesting white supremacy than it has people who violently promote white supremacy and attack its students. Following this disturbing trend, the city and county that comprise Charlottesville have arrested more than 60 anti-racist activists in the last 18 months.

Neo-Nazis and white supremacists encircle counter protestors at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson after marching throu
Neo-Nazis and white supremacists encircle counter protestors at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson after marching through the University of Virginia campus with torches in Charlottesville, Virginia on Aug. 11, 2017. 

You’d think the University of Virginia would have an interest in protecting its students and staff from someone who previously led a violent attack on its campus. But you’d be wrong. This spring, the Law School Library not only welcomed Jason Kessler ― the local leader of the same Unite The Right group that ignited terror in 2017 ― but also provided him a private office, a designated legal researcher and police protection.

In contrast, when a theology graduate student and anti-racist activist breached the police barrier in protest, he was arrested, charged with trespassing and banned from the school. The white supremacist who led a torch rally, attacking students and community members, was safely escorted away by UVA officials.

This unthinkable ethic is alive and well in Charlottesville, not just in our hallowed university, but throughout our county school system ― and here, dissent is also forcefully suppressed. In early August, the Albemarle County Public School Board refused to take comments and concerns about the destructive nature of white supremacist imagery from parents, students, teachers and community members. Members of Hate-Free Schools of Albemarle County planned to present evidence arguing the school dress code ― which allows students to wear Confederate imagery and other white supremacist insignia without punitive consequence ― is harmful.

Instead of listening to community members’ concerns (as is their jobs), the board chair chided people at the meeting for snapping their fingers in support of the first and only public comment. Ultimately, in a move that would make Hogwarts’ High Inquisitor Dolores Umbridge proud, the board shut down the meeting rather than tolerate the legitimate frustration and well-reasoned critique from parents. One board member wore a tie bearing a Confederate flag. Six community members were arrested at a meeting of that same school board a few weeks later, when the board again refused to hear any critique.

With this display of aggression, the Albemarle County School Board revealed it fetishizes order over justice. Their haste to maintain the white supremacist status quo by preserving Confederate imagery in schools leads to subsequent moral failures that ultimately harm students, parents and the entire community. This is especially clear in the case of one arrested man: a teacher’s aide, whose arrest was so violent he had to be processed at the hospital. He sustained a sprained wrist, cuts on his head and arm, and possible nerve damage to his wrist. And in a literal example of adding insult to injury, he was charged last week with felony assault against an officer ― an egregious abuse of state power, to say the least.

In 2014, Charlottesville was judged to be the Happiest City in America. The U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research, which sponsored the study, attributed the “joy” of Charlottesville to “a sense of community, broadly liberal values, a leading university (the University of Virginia).”  

What a difference a racist attack makes.  

One year after fear and hate marched, punched and sped through this community in a lethal rampage, Charlottesville still finds itself deep in the throes of white supremacy. Don’t let last week’s arrests fool you: This new form of bureaucratic bigotry may not be trained in mixed martial arts, but it keeps our community on the ropes.

Lisa Woolfork is an associate professor of English at the University of Virginia, where she specializes in African American literature and culture. She is an organizer with Black Lives Matter Charlottesville and is active in a variety of university and community initiatives, including the College Fellows Program to reshape undergraduate general education curriculum.