A Year After Charlottesville: Have I Practiced What We Preach?

A year ago, I shared that I had been in Charlottesville, standing up for love and peace against white supremacy. I told you that SNS was committed to dismantling systemic injustice like the racism that I saw that day, and asked you to join us in the work ahead. Privately, I decided that I would never return to Charlottesville, believing that it would only lead to relived pain and trauma.

However, I returned two weeks ago; and then again this past weekend. I had connected deeply with Charlottesville activists at a DC conference, where I was struck by their personal accounts of daily pain and threats that the community has faced since August 12, 2017. Thus, my original return to the city was to shoot a music video for “Fingerprints,” an original song that serves as my tribute of solidarity to Charlottesville.

My second return was this past weekend, after wrestling with whether to be there in solidarity, or in my own home of DC where the white supremacists would be holding their second annual rally. I decided that it was a “both/and” situation, and spent Saturday in Charlottesville, and Sunday in DC.

The returns were long overdue. As I saw the city simultaneously hold space for healing and mobilize for heightened threats, my own abandonment became glaringly clear. I had used my own fear as an excuse to stop showing up; meanwhile, local people of color and activists endured ongoing threats to their safety amidst burdens to continue the work.

This realization made me examine other areas of my privilege where I might be falling short as an ally. Have I shown up as fully as possible as a straight and cis-gendered woman for my LGBTQ siblings? As a Christian for my Muslim and Jewish siblings? As an able-bodied person for my siblings with disabilities? As a housed person for my neighbors experiencing homelessness? The answer is a resounding no.

Often, SNS receives requests to train Allyship from an anti-racism lens, and as a Black woman, I am transparent about my experience with abandonment from white-allies. But if I turn the mirror on myself, how often have I abandoned other marginalized siblings through my own silence when my voice mattered—or spoken loudly about my solidarity, but did not put action behind it? How often have I chosen not to show up when it mattered—or showed up for the moment, but not the long-haul? How often have I sought to show solidarity, but ended up inflicting harm— or being complicit in systemic oppression? Too many times to count.

Recognizing my limitations does not imply a lack of trying. It means that despite intentions to show up in solidarity, I can still fall short. Thus, my Allyship requires asking myself these hard questions, making a daily choice to show up as much as I can, to learn as much as I can (often through acknowledgment of my own mistakes), and to understand that this work is not easy, but it is necessary. Allyship is a lifestyle.

Reflecting on this past weekend, there is plenty to celebrate. My belief is that wherever hatred appears, love must show up 10 times stronger. Yesterday’s case was more like 100 times stronger in DC, where thousands of people celebrated life in community with each other as we stood our collective ground for love and peace. I saw Charlottesville hold spaces of healing, resilience and honor throughout the small town through art, direct actions, and warm embraces. This weekend, SNS’ assertion was demonstrated true that while Allyship means assuming the risk of the marginalized, showing up in our privilege actually subtracts the overall risk.

While there are aspects of this past weekend to celebrate, it cannot stop there. There was overwhelming concern around militarized policing that left people of color feeling more threatened than secure, and the fact of the matter is that white supremacists still did try to organize for hatred. I am inspired by how many people showed up in solidarity, but true Allyship will require showing up every day after that, in order to actively build a socially just world. I have a renewed commitment to Charlottesville for the long-haul. It is a year overdue, but I will make that choice every day, just as I must remind myself to do in regards to all areas of my privilege. Whether it is day one, day twenty thousand, or the return date after stepping away, I invite you to join me in the work of love-in-action ahead. Love must win.

In solidarity,

Whitney Parnell