Hate has spoken. Now what?

Cornel West

The nation watched in horror yesterday as hate literally barreled down the streets of Charlottesville, leaving death and trauma in its wake. The coming days offer us time to grieve the lives lost in such horrific and unexpected ways. Maybe we thought ahead of time that injuries would occur near the monument as angry men clashed with each other and police. None of us predicted that a young woman would be killed by a weaponized car or that public servants would die in the woods of Albemarle County.

Cities like Boston have proven that recovery is possible after tragedies like these. A renewed sense of community will undoubtedly bind us together in the coming weeks. I think about the fact that school’s will open soon and teachers will join parents in reassuring children that the evil we saw yesterday is not normal. Together, we will resolve that it won’t happen again.

It won’t, right?

The fact is, we don’t know. By all indications, those who care more about statues than human life have already decided they want to return to Charlottesville. We can’t stop them, but there is much each of us can do to empower our hearts, families, and community.

1. We can repent of our hate. When hate shows up with a torch like a dragon, it’s easy to condemn. But when it’s tiny like a termite, its destructive force is hidden until relationships crumble.  Each of us can embark on a journey of self-examination and confess our hate to God. Who’s on our nerves? Who are we giving the silent treatment? Who are we making the target of evil actions and words? While we’re at it, we can confess the many other ways we fail to love our neighbors as ourselves. Leviticus gets a bad rap for antiquated commandments, but the list at the end of this post is quite relevant.

2. We can repent of our apathy. The situation in Charlottesville is a prime example of the importance of local politics and community concerns. It has been well over a year since City Council embarked on its effort to remove the Lee statue, and no one could ever have anticipated our town would end up on Al Jazeera because of it. I am not saying Council was wrong to take up the issue. I am saying that local governance deserves more attention than we give it. There are vital discussions taking place in Charlottesville beyond historic preservation or creating a welcoming park.  The city’s painful racial history; its poverty rate; the relationship between town and gown; fair policing, hunger, and affordable housing are all serious issues that require collective energy and attention. If white nationalists can mobilize themselves well enough to terrorize our town, can’t we do the same to make it better?

3. We can let our lights shine. Few images from yesterday were positive, but seeing clergy from around the country locked arm and arm is one of them. These saints sang that childhood tune This Little Light of Mine with fervor, reminding all of us that we can brandish a spiritual and practical tiki torch if we choose.

Spiritually, that means discovering how God has gifted each of us and using those talents to bless people at home, on the job, and in the neighborhood. Jesus said there’s a plentiful field of souls to be harvested and he needs each of us to get our Christianity out from under its bushel.

Practically, that means finding ways to pursue peace and justice in Charlottesville and around the country. Yesterday, the organization I work for received 20 online donations. These modest gifts, ranging from $10 to $100 came from people who had no prior affiliation with City of Promise, but who through social media and the good will of local clergy and friends, heard about our work on behalf of people white nationalists would happily send back to Africa.

The highlight of my day was writing to my colleagues and letting them know that some of the donations were accompanied by notes of encouragement:

  • Keep up the good work! Education and a sense of connection are keys to change. A neighbor in California, thinking of Charlottesville (Katie from Oakland)
  • Be strong. We are with you. (Claire from Seattle)
  • Amazing work, keep fighting! Best wishes from Wisconsin (Thanks, Emily)
  • Our thoughts are with you. Stay safe. (Simon from Grand Rapids)

All of us may not work directly with the poor or marginalized, but all of us know someone who does. Each of us can write an encouraging word to them. Maybe we can stroke a check or volunteer.

What about a word to law enforcers who worked hard to protect the city?

What about first responders who tended the wounded?

What about our brown friends and Jewish friends who were too scared to leave home yesterday? I was so grateful for my friends who sent me messages of concern or made public statements on social media, condemning the ideology and events unfolding around us.

Don’t underestimate the power of your light, no matter how small you think it is. In the words of Dr. King: Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

And in the words of Moses:
11 “Do not steal or cheat or lie. 

12 Do not make a promise in my name if you do not intend to keep it; that brings disgrace on my name. I am the Lord your God.

13 “Do not rob or take advantage of anyone. Do not hold back the wages of someone you have hired, not even for one night. 

14 Do not curse the deaf or put something in front of the blind so as to make them stumble over it. Obey me; I am the Lord your God.

15 “Be honest and just when you make decisions in legal cases; do not show favoritism to the poor or fear the rich. 

16 Do not spread lies about anyone, and when someone is on trial for his life, speak out if your testimony can help him. I am the Lord.

17 “Do not bear a grudge against others, but settle your differences with them, so that you will not commit a sin because of them.

18 Do not take revenge on others or continue to hate them, but love your neighbors as you love yourself. I am the Lord.

Leviticus 19:11-18Good News Translation (GNT)

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