It is 2017 and yet everything I witnessed in Charlottesville, VA this past Saturday seemed reminiscent of things I’d read and seen in my history textbooks. Crowds of people gathered flying Confederate and Nazi flags, shouting words of hate. Some counter protesters shouted back, while others stood silently in prayer or singing words of peace. I witnessed people bloodied. I saw people fighting. I heard tear gas being deployed – I could smell it and see it spreading.
Two days removed from the event, I am still grappling with my feelings and struggling to find the right words to share my experience. Yet, I think the easiest way to start is to say that, on that day, it was hard to love my neighbor. That it is hard to love my neighbor today.
On Saturday, as I stood in the relative safety of the steps of First United Methodist Church, I watched the group of alt-right member and neo-Nazis across the street and I thought, “How dare you?” How dare they descend upon my state and make me feel unsafe and afraid. It was bad enough that I already felt that way, even before Charlottesville. I’d heard first-hand stories of immigrants being harassed. We’ve all heard stories of people of color being killed under suspicious circumstances and of places of worship being desecrated by people with the same principles of those participating in the “Unite the Right” rally. It was all bad enough before they arrived in Charlottesville, yet here they were in my backyard boldly and proudly spewing words of hate in my state, a place where I have loved, and laughed, and cried, and worshipped. “Blood and soil,”* they yelled, and I thought of all the blood that has been shed on many a soil to end the evil that is racism. I thought of the blood that pulses in all of our veins in our common humanity.
Still, here they were under the pretense of righteousness and patriotism. And yet, I hope you agree with me when I say that they know nothing about it. All they’ve done is bring violence and chaos. They speak boldly, acting as if their white, blond-haired, blue-eyed Christ is on their side, but they are wrong. Jesus, a Jewish carpenter, who hung out with lepers, prostitutes and tax-collectors, would never stand for such evil.
The way of Jesus is one of love, peace, harmony and forgiveness and yet they are blinded with such incomprehensible hate that they cannot see that. I wonder, have they read their Bible? Have they read that we are all equal in His sight? Do they know that underneath my dark skin, hair, and eyes and regardless of my accent I am person who bleeds, has emotions, has a brain, has ideas, has talents, and has contributions to make. Are they intimidated by that? Do you they think that all I have to offer the world and humanity is going to take something away from them? There is enough in the world for us to share and there would be even more to offer if we all agreed to let go of hate and together come to the table to plan for the future.
I must admit that I am angry and, while I was afraid as I watched the alt-right gather for their horrid display, I feel a responsibility to not back down. I will stand with my brothers and sisters to fight for justice, as I promised when, through baptism, I joined the community of faith and as is my responsibility as a human being.
I am angry that, at the aftermath of chaos, people I know and greatly respect felt so much desperation and frustration as to consider stooping to their level – returning violence with violence. Yet, despite my anger and fear, I know that is not the way. We must not allow ourselves to go down the road of violence. It will reap more hate, anger, and division. Instead, we must pray that, no matter what comes next, we will stand faithful and will follow the way of Jesus – the way of love and peace. It is the only way.
I do not consider myself brave, courageous or special in any way for standing as a visible witness against racism this past Saturday. There are simply some things about which you cannot be silent and things you must stand against, even when your knees are quivering, even when you want to sit and cry and be outraged as you witness people who don’t even know yet you hate you and others like you and mean you harm for the crime of existing.
Refuse to stop letting your light shine. Refuse to stop leaving your mark in the world.
Stand up. Let your voice be heard. Be brave even in your fear. The time is now.
*“Blood and Soil” was a notorious catchphrase of the Third Reich. “Blood” refers to racial distinctions and asserts the superiority of whites over all others. “Soil” refers to geographical territory. In other words, those who shout this phrase insist that America is a white nation and belongs to white people.
Aisha Huertas serves as the multicultural officer, fulfilling one of the bishop’s five diocesan priorities. Previously, Aisha served as communications director. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Louisiana College, a master’s in integrated marketing communication from Emerson college and brings with her more than a decade of experience in nonprofit communications and marketing. Aisha is an active member of Grace & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church where she serves in various ministries and roles. When not working at the office or on church activities, Aisha enjoys traveling, concert hopping, reading and spending time with family and friends.