72 hours ago, a man sat behind the wheel of his silver Dodge, and, determined to take lives, placed his foot to the accelerator and pushed. After slamming into the back of another vehicle, he decided that he’d not done enough damage — it looked like everyone got out of the way, so he set his car to reverse, his bumper dangling and anger building. He flew backwards before hitting the brakes. I assume his blood was pumping a furious rhythm in his chest. The machine that powers him — for it cannot be merely flesh — was certainly oozing adrenaline and the tar of hate and the fire of cowardice. I imagine that the teeth of the clockwork holding it together were greased by the fat of the land and powered by bile he swallows. As the whirring “click, click, click” of the bile and fat-fed assemblage of tiki torches and wooden crosses sounded in his ears, he once again shoved his weapon of choice down onto its instrument and pressed.
This time, there would be damage. Life lost. Lives changed forever. A country would cry out in horror as the leader of the free world would blame the victim.
Heather Heyer will no longer take in air to speak her truth. She’ll never again tell her father that she loves him. Her fierceness of heart and the courage of her conviction will stand as her legacy. She is a hero. So far, we’ve heard less about how she came to change the world than how her murderer — a terrorist and radicalized white male — came to fight for the past. I only know of her what I’ve read in her obituaries. She’s been reduced to soundbites and 500 word pieces featuring her job and tidbits from her friends. We know about her Facebook profile, but little about her.
We do know that when she saw injustice, when she heard the words of men who would chant chants that hearken back to an era when other humans were bought and sold like chattel, and shoved into train cars that rattled along iron lines taking them to death’s cold embrace; that she said “NO.” She got up that morning with purpose and intent to make those cowards that once hid behind their hoods and now hide behind the false legitimacy granted to them by the highest office in the land, and she straightened her spine to steel and stood before them to tell them that enough was enough. She screamed that their words and their actions were not going to speak for her. The blood pumping through the gift that was her heart flowed twice as fast when boldly standing before the car that would claim her life than the bile and hate that fueled the monstrous recreant who hid behind rubber and iron.
But legacy is a funny thing. We often think of it in terms of what people leave behind, and how they’ll be remembered. We sometimes forget that we are living the legacy of those who were here before us, and that it’s our duty to alter and shift the emotional foundation that spins us all in its web. The collective history of the modern world is one that is buttered in the oily taint of colonialism. It’s one of dominion and deleterious dissimulated destinies. It’s a cancer that has never fully gone into remission, instead, it sometimes looks indolent, giving it the appearance of fatigue, of slowing down. Cancers spread unless the cells aren’t given nourishment, and this cancer has been systemic for a long time, and we’ve ignored it to our own peril.
We — specifically white people, and yes, liberal white people, too– have too long turned a blind eye to the undercurrent of hate that weaved its way through the fabric of our legacy. We shouted and cheered so loudly for the way the fabric of our country seemed to be gaining more color that we felt we could ignore the strangling thread that you had to look directly upon to notice. We didn’t see that it multiplied, metastasized, and began to reproduce.
We thought these threads were the lunatic fringe — when they were at the foundation of everything and they were pulling and plucking out the other fibers. We didn’t know the cancer was back to kill until the fabric started burning and people started dying. We didn’t realize it mutated until we were mutilated.
We blamed the deaths of black people at the hands of the authority on the system that created bad cops instead of admitting that we are the system that gives them the power.
We walked the world wrapped in a Tiffany blue ribbon-tied package of privilege and forgot to check it. We held back from involving ourselves in politics because we didn’t want to make waves, meanwhile we were also the ocean that was teeming with sharks that was drowning and eating anyone else who just wanted to swim.
Staying silent and looking away in the face of such unbelievable injustice is what led us here. It was our fear of speaking out that allowed men like Richard Spencer and his pale brigade of infantile invertebrates to think that it’s OK to call on the the name of an evil we thought we’d beheaded 70 years ago, and shuffle through a city with torches like a lynch mob.
It was the utter fear of that bow on our privilege package being untied that voted a man who emboldens them into the White House.
And here we are, being drowned by our own legacy, and we have a choice. Do we just move with the ocean, keep weaving the same cloth, ignoring the pain in our chest, or do we fight the current, tear the fabric, and lance the cancer?
White silence equals violence. You can pretend it had nothing to do with you, and you can tell me how your best friend is black, but in the end, you are the voice that is currently making the decisions. Your privilege package also works as a ticket to a world that our legacy has closed to others.
Speak up and speak out. Steel your spine and down’t back down. Call out the racist at the water cooler. Speak out against systemic injustice. Demand more be done. Find ways to make your voice matter.
See the color and its beauty and do what you can to let everyone else know that we are all given eyes to see it, but we’ve chosen to close them.
Donate your time, your money, your energy to groups that matter. In fact, here’s a list of great places to spend your time and money. How you live your life is your legacy — let it be a meaningful one.