By: Valerie N. Adams-Bass, PhD
The three, armed neo-Nazis who surrounded the synagogue last week during mid-week service forcing worshippers to go out the back door. The trauma of Holocaust survivors who were at the service described to me by my department chair. The fearful parents who transferred their children out of the synagogue’s day care. The installation of bulletproof glass at the synagogue. My Black male colleague describing what it felt like to be surrounded by armed neo-Nazis and alt-right protesters during what he described as a beautiful church service directed by one of his daughter’s young adult peers on 8.11.2017. Not being able to leave. The restaurant owner who refused to serve neo-Nazis last week when they held up swastikas in his restaurant, who then threatened to come back the next day with more of them, armed. He shut down for business the next day. The White American women at my husband’s job at the University of Virginia Hospital, a coworker, who matter-of-factly and casually said, last Monday, “they came all the way down here and all they did was kill a White woman.” to a group of racially diverse coworkers without missing a beat. The White female faculty colleague who nudged the dean and colleagues to say we need to attend to Black students who’ve always been in a precarious situation, and are now even more so, because they are Black and can be visibly identified, and the other White female faculty colleague who followed up with, all students are not safe and need additional protections. The multiple emergency alert text and email reminders on Monday to not look at the sun during the eclipse because it could damage your eyes, the glaringly absent email/text alert on 8.11.17 that an alt-right mass was marching on campus with lit tiki torches, that they surrounded the students led by the BSA president who were holding an anti-protest vigil on the lawn, the librarian who aided the students and who took a hit from a torch and had a stroke later that week, my student who is Latina and Jewish and pledged a White sorority who was one of the anti-march protesters who sat in class this
Tuesday with tears streaming down her face and who lives on the prestigious Lawn that was invaded by protesters. None of her White classmates checked on her as she sat there, only my faculty colleagues. My cousin’s text checking on me. His “f*cking hillbillies” text message. My sister checking in. I tell her I am currently in Las Vegas but yes, I am here, we live in Charlottesville, we were in town... A mentor checking in 8000 miles away from across the Atlantic. The video of President Sullivan responding to an undergraduate student’s query of “Where were you on Friday?” With a finger wagging, she replied, “You are all responsible for reporting this too.” The lack of messaging assuring the safety of faculty of color, the lack of LOCAL instant news coverage of the Walmart takeover. I tuned in to every local station. The 12 state troopers my husband and I saw Friday evening 8.11.17 at 5:45PM. The national guard we saw right after. No one locally checking on us. No one locally, except my fellow first-year junior faculty texting to “stay safe” on Saturday morning, the middle-aged White man hitchhiking Tuesday afternoon on a state road 9 miles from town, from campus, from the major commercial district with NO public transportation–DID he miss his alt-right ride home? My ethnically identifiable colleague who had an alt-right from LA interested in renting his home for the weekend. The young White male dressed in a confederate uniform with a semi-automatic rifle in front of the Lee statue on Tuesday who “does not support the alt-right but supports the confederacy.” The tiki torches for sale at the local market my husband said is for “them” not for ALL of us and warned me to be careful shopping there. The southern NICETY. The messages from the Mayor, and President of the University to ignore them, don’t protest, stay home, go on vacation, and they will leave. The tiki torch march in May the day before Mother’s Day. NO MENTION of the march in church the next day–a Black Baptist church. The same message in preparation for the KKK who marched on July 7th the weekend after the 4th. The robed KKK who came on campus in July, approached Black high school students on campus for a summer experience, SCARED them, harassed them, toured buildings, asked for program schedules. My White male student who was a program mentor who reported all of this to his superior.
My colleague’s wife’s heartfelt, heart-torn, emotional but clear essay about explaining to her six-year-old bright-light brown-eyed kinky-haired giant-afro daughter, “what just happened.” The White principal who said he doesn’t even send his child to the suburban district schools because of the homogeneity. The teacher in this district who taught about Africa in 2017 as if it is a place of savages. My friend’s husband volunteering to come to class to “re-teach” Africa. Shaun Harper daring UVa to change its curriculum if UVa is serious about confronting racism. My message to my HS classmate to INSURE her son, a freshman, connects with the BSA and OAAA because that is where he’ll find people who are skilled and genuinely ready to care for him. I recall our conversation that he hasn’t quite had an “encounter” yet. I am relieved when she says he is connected. Relieved. He is tall and brown, unmistakably, a Black young man. A declaration to my students that we will follow the Sankofa principle for any work that comes out of my class designed to address social inequity! My 90% White students! A declaration to my students that we will follow the Sankofa principal for any work that comes of my class design to address social inequity! My 90% White students! The Diversity Action Committee changing our common read from a book on autism to Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? My Black faculty colleagues sitting together at the faculty happy hour and I say, “We still sitting together in the cafeteria?” as we fill up our plates and find a seat together at the cafeteria style tables. My colleagues agree and later a colleague, who can pass, comes over to the table to ask if we are having a cafeteria moment? She shares a “fuck” or two or three about the White colleagues who felt safe sharing their feelings with her even though they know her ethnicity. The privilege of whiteness. The burden of whiteness/passing for racial minorities. My tenured Asian-American colleague who keeps apologizing and shares feelings of responsibility because she is tenured. My jovial-satirical sharing that President Sullivan needs Olivia Pope, “the fixer,” immediately to fix this mess, every email is worse than the last.
I share a joke by the beloved Dick Gregory, from earlier this spring heard on Tom Joyner this week, recounting how he received an invitation to receive an honorary degree from Penn State, but he refused because he said, “You are Penn State now, but after this investigation you might be State Penn.” to relieve our discomfort with our vulnerability. We laughed. We all laughed. I laugh hard because I KNOW Penn State. Plenty of talk at UVa about protecting the students not one sentence about protecting the faculty of color that have been aggressively recruited here. My inquiry with more mature faculty of color, what is the escape plan? What do we do if we are in danger? There has been no memo. Talk of gun licenses, pit bulls, and flashlights to escape in the night.
This is UVa Today.
When asked, how are you? I respond, “I am managing.”