IT'S been a little over a week since the horror in Charlottesville, and the teaching moments abound. Some are still struggling to keep up with the rest of the class.
I know at least one person who needs a geometry lesson. There aren’t “many sides” or a right or left to the ball of malevolent chaos unleashed on Aug. 11. There is only evil’s hideous, jowl-cheeked head, a singular ellipse that temporarily blocks out the sane.
Maybe it’s better to frame it in biology terms for the slower learner:
This is America, a democratic body made of up a dizzying variety of humans whose ethnic and philosophical diversity serves to strengthen the well-being of the whole. Since its traumatic beginnings, however, it has been infected with a malignant ideology that hampers its self-evident truths. While it may have appeared to be in strapping good health over the centuries, it has always been racked with entrenched racism, violent misogyny, tacit corruption and rancid greed, currently epitomized by the festering pustule in the White House.
The disease reached a feverish peak as the Dockers-clad pathogens tromped around with their tiki torches spewing the same mucus as their Gestapo and Klansmen kin of yore. These self-absorbed parasites believe themselves superior, even as they aim to weaken and destroy their host by attacking its vital organs. America can be a lot like the human body, capable of being brought to its knees by brainless unicellular organisms.
Now, when you and I get sick, our immune systems rally to rid us of the offending antigens in several ways. The first is to expel the offending presence by coughing or vomiting, though in America’s case it would require a gag order from Congress to rid ourselves of the most nefarious contagion. With the exodus of Steve Bannon, however, we’ve still hocked out a formidable loogie.
Another option is to repel germs by making the environment inhospitable to them by, say, removing the conditions for them to thrive. Much of America is highly allergic to the false narrative of Confederate history, and banishing its monuments and memorials from public spaces seems an obvious path to relief. For sure, the citizens of Baltimore and Durham seem to be breathing much easier already, and over the weekend New Orleans and Boston demonstrated remarkable vigor.
There are many who disagree wholeheartedly with this prescription, wringing their hands over renaming streets of forgotten generals with cries of “where will it all end?” A good doctor might say that we can’t possibly know if a course of treatment will be effective if we never begin, do we?
There’s also something to be said for the homeopathic approach of using the malady to treat itself. Some support the notion that existing statues ought to be incorporated into a more complete narrative that presents the losing side of the Civil War in all its ugly enslaved truth, a process the City of Savannah has committed to take on since state law precludes taking down the memorial in Forsyth Park. (Mayor Eddie DeLoach also announced last week that it will support Span the Gap’s efforts to rename the Talmadge Bridge. Could lil’ Slowvannah recover from its racist past that fast?)
It’s important to remember that history is not made of stone, it’s made of stories—and can be told in a way that rips off the Band-Aid of apologist Southern tropes.
“Sometimes reinterpretation can be just as cathartic as removal,” suggests local tour guide Bonnie Terrell, who leads visitors along the cobblestones with her company Bonnie Blue Tours. “Our Savannah monument is a Confederate soldier looking north on Bull Street, where the monument commemorating the slave trade sits on the river. That’s pretty meta.”
When it comes to one of the world’s most recognizable and virulent strains of hate, the swastikas and chants of “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville have activated a robust response. Healthy cells react to vicious inflammation by swelling, which isolates the spread of toxins and acts as an indicator that something is very, very wrong.
Like so, comic book artist and musician Dame Darcy promises she will only amplify her voice since posting a screenshot of a local Subway employee bragging about “cracking a skull” at the petri dish in Charlottesville, even receiving after multiple death threats from him and his compatriots.
“I am not afraid of these people. I’ve been here before,” shrugs Darcy, a self-described “punk goth witch” who pushed back against rape threats and more from white supremacists in her native rural Idaho during the 80s.
“Guess what? We’re all in Idaho now. And I will not stand down. Not ever.”
As the most brave and strong go toe-to-toe with the diseased trolls, the rest of us can fight the virus by boosting our immunity from the inside out. Our bodies do this with a high count of called antibody-producing organisms called white blood cells, which really confuses this over-extended metaphor so let’s use their proper name, leukocytes.
We can build our communal leukocyte levels by practicing self-care, gathering publically in large numbers (Sunday’s Peaceful Art Protest brought color to everyone’s cheeks) and washing our hands often to rid ourselves of conversations and conflicts that don’t serve our mental and physical health. (That is not an invitation to disengage or not show up; it’s about not wasting your precious energy.)
Studies have also shown that singing every day can increase cytokines, another kind of molecule that helps the body handle infection and trauma. So find your choir and sing loud and proud, even if you have to make up the words.
By all means, punch a Nazi or three if the bile makes its way into the bloodstream. Protecting ourselves is vital, as is calling out the illness in others’ speech and behavior and speaking up for those who can’t do it for themselves.
But we must remember that the only true remedy for hate is love. (You can get a triple dose at this weekend’s Tybee Equality Fest, a family-friendly ode to unity on the beach August 24-26.)
No, it’s not a quick fix or a cure-all, and the effects aren’t always evident right away. Rev. Sharon Risher, whose mother, Ethel Lance, was one of the nine killed at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel AME Church in 2015, says she still struggles to practice love and forgiveness in the face of this week’s events, but finds strength in our country’s founding principles. (Read more about Rev. Risher’s guest sermon at Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church.)
“Everyone wants the same thing,” she reminded in a phone interview last week. “To live free. To make a life for themselves and their families. That is America. We are in this together.”
Remembering that might be our most powerful inoculation against the affliction. Both our democratic body and the individual bags of bones we inhabit are vulnerable, and both are capable of healing when the immune system fights back.
The neo-Nazis and white supremacists will keep trying to spread their disease like snotty toddlers sharing toys.
Let’s make resistance just as contagious.