Diverse panel speaks about Charlottesville

Photo by Tevin Stinson

Diverse panel speaks about Charlottesville
September 14
05:00 2017

Why did the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, happen and what does it mean for our country and race relations moving forward? That was the basis of a panel discussion held last week on the campus of Wake Forest University (WFU).

The open discussion hosted by the Pro Humanitate Institute featured a diverse panel of individuals with varying views on race relations, the incident in Charlottesville last month, and the backlash from counter neo-Nazi protesters that followed in various locations across the country.

The panel was moderated by Melissa Harris-Perry, WFU professor and director of the Pro Humanitate Institute.

Because of her deep ties to Charlottesville, there couldn’t have been a better choice to moderate the conversation than Harris-Perry. According to a press release from the university, she attended elementary and middle school in Charlottesville, and her father was the first dean of Afro-American Affairs and a professor at the University of Virginia (UVA).

“I have deep ties to Charlottesville,” she said. “… As a result, the events in Charlottesville are deeply personal as well as political. It means a great deal to have an opportunity to bring these incisive crucial voices together for an open productive, engaging conversation at Wake Forest.”

Individuals included on the panel were Michael Signer, the mayor of Charlottesville; Jamelle Bouie, chief political correspondent at Slate and UVA alumnus; Michael Dougherty, senior writer at National Review; Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change; and Takiya Thompson, activist and student at North Carolina Central University.

To jumpstart the conversation, Harris-Perry asked Mayor Signer to tell the hundreds of students and members of the community in attendance to discuss what the city of Charlottesville is like. He said Charlottesville is not the place that has been portrayed in the media.

“Charlottesville is totally different from this image that has been hoisted on us recently. People there refer to it as the hook. You come to school there and you want to stay because it’s such a fun, loving, cool, chill, sweet place where you can be who you want to be,” Signer said. “There’s something about the culture in Charlottesville that has always been magical. At the core of Charlottesville is a 50,000-person city that has one degree separation from someone from somewhere else.”

Even though the city has become progressive over the years, Signer said there is still a raw and dark history of systemic racism that is still an issue in Charlottesville.

“We are still just coming to grips with that in this recent period of political progressiveness. It’s a progressive place and a lot of those values are what’s driving politics in Charlottesville recently but until recently there was a country club that wouldn’t allow diverse members. It’s those wounds that are creating mass resistance.”

Dougherty, who moved to Charlottesville a few weeks before the incident on Aug. 11, said when he first arrived, nearly 50 members of the Ku Klux Klan showed up for a rally outside the courthouse. He said what was interesting from his perspective is that it was hard to tell who was coming from outside Charlottesville and who were people from the community.

“From my perspective, it was hard to tell who was from the Unite the Right gathering and who wasn’t,” continued Dougherty. “I saw this video where this guy took off his identifying clothing and all of sudden he blended in. In that there is something about how the kind of hatred and prejudice from Unite the Right doesn’t just exist hidden in silence in places like Charlottesville but everywhere.”

Thompson, a junior graduate student, is most known for her actions following the incident in Charlottesville. On Aug. 15, Thompson was arrested along with other protesters who tore down a monument dedicated to Confederate veterans in front of the old Durham County courthouse. When asked why she decided to join the fight against racism, Thompson said because what happened in Charlottesville can happen anywhere.

“I see no differences between Charlottesville and anywhere in America. If we look throughout history, Charlottesville has happened in Durham already. Charlottesville has happened in Philadelphia. Charlottesville has happened in Kansas. It just keeps reiterating itself,” Thompson said.

When discussing the topic of finding solutions to growing race issues in America, all the panelists said having meaningful conversations with people with varying views is the only way to bring about real change. Students didn’t waste any time doing just that. Following the event at Wait Chapel, students held smaller conversations amongst each other.

“I think conversations like this can really make a difference, but talking without action is really a waste,” said Janice Wilkins of Winston-Salem following the panel discussion.

“It’s great to see all these students coming together to find solutions, but we can’t just end it here. More has to be done if we really want to make a difference,” Wilkins said.

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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