It has been horrifying to see the hateful speech and hate-inspired violence in Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend. My colleagues and I at the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities emphatically condemn the perpetrators of prejudice. Words and actions motivated by racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and other forms of bigotry have no place in our Commonwealth and country. At this critical time, let us renew our commitment to stand together and to work ever more passionately for inclusion, equity, and justice for all.
Sadly, I must admit that the images coming out of Charlottesville this weekend did not shock me. Instead, they reflect patterns of intolerance that have long festered in Virginia and our country. Attendees of the planned “Unite the Right” rally felt comfortable chanting offensive slogans, displaying hateful paraphernalia, and perpetrating violence in public because of teaching and socialization they received long before this weekend’s events. They clearly didn’t fear consequences of being seen espousing their prejudicial beliefs. That means that they believed that their personal and professional networks condone or even support overt bias and bigotry.
Some have claimed that these individuals must have come to the rally from other parts of the country. While it may feel more comfortable to believe that, the same forces and beliefs sadly exist in many parts of Virginia as well. Indeed, this weekend’s events can be directly tied to reports released back in January of a 21% increase in hate crimes reported in the Commonwealth over a one-year period.
They are similarly linked to the fact that between 2015 and 2017, the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities has had to respond to a 1,300 percent increase in requests for support after incidents of bias, bullying, or discrimination. So if you, like me, are horrified by what you saw in Charlottesville this weekend, then we must be just as horrified by the ongoing presence of hatred and injustice in our communities.
How do we move forward? This is no time for empty platitudes. Rather, it is a time for active work to root out the seeds of intolerance and discrimination. It is time to commit to deep, authentic relationships across lines of difference in the service of true inclusion for all those who experience discrimination and prejudice across our Commonwealth.
Earlier this year, the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities and several partners shared a list of “Ten Things You Can Do to Stand Together” at a community-wide gathering hosted by the Islamic Center of Virginia. Here is an adapted version of those actions in light of this weekend’s tragic events:
1. Speak up and challenge bigotry whenever you see it
2. Talk with your neighbor or someone in your neighborhood you don’t know about why diversity and inclusion is important to all of us
3. Analyze the diversity within your neighborhood, workplace, local school, or house of worship and initiate conversations about where and why there might be a lack of inclusion
4. Read books that help you to learn about the experiences and perspectives of people from different backgrounds – especially those whose voices are often left out of community conversations
5. Learn about our community’s complex history – including the difficult parts – and consider the residue of that history on the present day
6. Write a letter to the editor expressing why you value diversity, equity, and inclusion in your community
7. Contact your elected officials to make sure they know your views, especially about policies that could disproportionately hurt members of marginalized groups
8. Attend community events that expand your understanding and perspective
9. Volunteer with organizations that focus on making our communities more equitable and inclusive
10. Donate to organizations and causes that promote respect, understanding, and justice
The events of this weekend remind us once again that true inclusion requires all of us to stand together against prejudice, discrimination, and hatred. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it provides some of the many steps that can move our communities closer to being places that are truly inclusive and just.
It is also important to emphasize that they also must be ongoing commitments. When the rallies are over, let us not pretend that the hatred has left. Instead, let’s use the experience of this weekend as continued motivation to root out bigotry and prejudice wherever it may be.
This is the moment for positive, vigorous action. Together, we can prove with one voice and with sustained effort that there is no place for hate in Virginia.
Jonathan Zur is the President & CEO for the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, headquartered in Richmond, Va.
By Jonathan C. Zur