“I’m OK,” was the message sent by my best friend, Camille Rudney, from Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12 at 1:49 pm.
When I read this message, I knew something must have gone terribly wrong at the rally they were attending. And indeed it had. A car driven by James Alex Fields, Jr. had plowed into a group of counter protesters killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring at least 19 others.
Since then, U.S. President Donald Trump accused the counter-protestors of being radical, violent, “alt-left” extremists equally to blame for the “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides” in Charlottesville.
As Camille explained, the counter-protesters were the ones being attacked, and that they had to defend themselves because it was clear no one else would. At one point, Camille said, a line of cops leaned over a barricade and watched as people were beaten by the neo-Nazis. Those same cops then escorted the neo-Nazis across the parking lot to their cars.
During Friday’s march on the campus of the University of Virginia, hundreds of white men and women wielded torches and chanted, “You will not replace us / Jews will not replace us.”
The day after the Charlottesville events, I reached out to a friend who, like me, is of Black and Jewish ancestry. “Sometimes grief and fear are so huge that they eclipse my words, my energy, my rage, even though I know and I agree … that we also need to keep speaking and raging,” I wrote.
“I wonder, at times like these, if it’s possible to take turns – like, this weekend you and I had to just keep breathing, but maybe in the coming days we can take the baton from those who were not so winded by their breaking hearts? Because in a few days they will be tired and maybe we will feel stronger.”
That day, I couldn’t write anything articulate because I couldn’t stop thinking about how my friends were almost mowed down and how Heather didn’t make it.
A few days have gone by – yet I still have tears behind my eyes. I am a pacifist and a poet, but I am tired and I am angry and I am frightened. I am Jewish and Black and mixed-race and queer, which means that what those neo-Nazis stand for is the eradication of undesirables like me. Maybe like you?
In “Skin in the Game: How Anti-Semitism Animates White Nationalism,” published in the Summer 2017 edition of The Public Eye magazine, American civil rights organizer Erik K. Ward, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, explains how “American white nationalism, which emerged in the wake of the 1960s civil rights struggle and descends from white supremacism, is a revolutionary social movement committed to building a whites-only nation, and anti-Semitism forms its theoretical core” and “positions Jews as the absolute other, the driving force of white dispossession.”
Ward also notes that white nationalists refer to the U.S. as the “ZOG, or Zionist Occupied Government” and that “at the bedrock of [their] movement is an explicit claim that Jews are a race of their own, and that their ostensible position as white folks in the U.S. represents the greatest trick the devil ever played.” According to Ward, to deny the inherent connection between anti-Semitism and white nationalism does a dangerous disservice and hinders the process of working towards civil rights for all peoples everywhere.
In his article Ward writes, “We do not yet have a fully activated white nationalist administration. If we did, we’d know.” I am afraid that, in the span of but a few weeks, Ward’s worry has come true. But are we ready to admit it?
As for me, I still don’t know what to write. My eyes are raw from crying, and I find myself clenching and unclenching my fists. The palms of my hands are imprinted with the crescent moon shape of my nails. It’s hard to focus with the pressure behind my eyes and the soreness in my chest where my heart broke apart.
“I’m OK,” wrote Camille. But we’re not.