Charlottesville and the Effort to Downplay Racism in America

Charlottesville, Virginia, feels enough like Eden that it’s always been
easy to hide a certain amount of blood. The town is small—fifty thousand
residents, without the college population factored in—and green and
idyllic, a hideout of academic and historical reverence nestled in the
Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s a running gag in Charlottesville how
frequently the
town is picked as the happiest place to live in
It’s a community that manages to embody the honeyed ease of a small
Southern enclave while modelling the progressive values and professional
advancement of a liberal city. The idea is that there’s sophistication
and dignity in
food, tasteful living, and sun-dappled long afternoons. And there is.
But, as certain reactions to recent events from white friends and
politicians have reminded me, an air of enlightened blamelessness is
more often concealment than it is proof.

Over the weekend, Charlottesville became the site of an extended
white-supremacist revival meeting. On Friday night, like a nightmarish
graduation procession, a few hundred white supremacists marched with
torches down the long green lawn that leads to the Rotunda, the
University of Virginia’s signature building. They chanted Nazi slogans
in the open, undisguised, unafraid of being
proud to be seen. They circled a statue of Thomas Jefferson and
attacked a group of student
counter-protesters who held a banner reading “UVA Students Act Against
White Supremacy” at the statue’s base. On Saturday morning, flanked by
militia men carrying automatic weapons, the white supremacists assembled
in McIntire Park, with swastikas and Confederate flags fully visible;
David Duke was there, along with other representatives of the Ku Klux
Klan. The counter-protest had grown. Religious leaders had gathered at
dawn to pray, and progressive and anti-fascist groups tracked the
demonstration to Emancipation Park, which was once named Lee Park, after

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