To be clear: Heather Heyer did not sacrifice her life in defense of liberty and justice for all.
Her life was stolen from her prematurely, by someone not yet old enough to drink, yet so full of hate he felt justified in driving a car into a crowd of peaceful protesters. The final Facebook post of Heather Heyer before she was killed was: If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.
Heather Heyer, 32, was a paralegal from Virginia. On August 12, 2017, she was in Charlottesville as a counter-protester. Advertised in The Daily Stormer as “an historic rally… and battle cry for the rising Alt-Right movement” and “the biggest event of its kind in living memory… when we began to turn back the tide of brown sludge,” this gathering of racists was initially planned in to protest the removal of the Lee Monument. They came waving automatic rifles, and Confederate and Nazi flags.
To be clear: General Lee was a traitor and a loser.
It’s an historical fact that the American Civil War was fought over the South’s desire to protect the institution of slavery. Anyone defending either the confederate flag or monuments built to fallen Civil War generals from the South can claim they are defending their heritage, but what they are actually defending is white supremacy.
In any case, the south lost, as did the Nazis. Anyone waving a Confederate or Nazi flag might as well be waving a flag of surrender. Fathers and grandfathers and great grandfathers honoring these traditions are honoring the legacy of traitors. This is exactly the opposite of patriotism.
There’s a reason there are no statues of Hitler in Germany to tear down.
Through her presence in Charlottesville, Heather Heyer made it clear she was willing to stand up for the rights of all people, including and especially people who did not look like her. If we are to honor her legacy, we must follow in her footsteps.
And by we, I mean you: white people.
The kind of hate that took Heather Heyer’s life can only exist if white people allow it to. The onus of education and action begins and ends with people who actively or passively benefit from a system which advantages them on an institutional level. To ignore these issues, or wait until they impact you directly, is to give tacit support to oppression.
To be clear: Heather’s death is as much on those who allow racism to persist as it is on the driver of the car that killed her.
It will make for uncomfortable conversation at Thanksgiving. It will mean confronting family members, friends, co-workers, and classmates who are actively or passively racist. It will mean making peace with your discomfort–as Heather did–and having the courage to stand by your convictions. To do anything less is to forget the lesson of Heather Heyer.
If you’ve been able to turn a blind eye to systemic injustice in America up to now, may the death of Heather Heyer at the hands of racists serve as your wake up call. May the injustice that drove her enrage you as much as the loss of this heroic woman’s life.
To be clear: If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.
On Tuesday’s Weekly #StopRacism Call, we will be talking about #Charlottesville. Hope you will join us:
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