My Violent “Welcome” to Charlottesville
Chinwe Oriji loves God, loves people, and hates oppression. She is a Woodson Fellow at the Carter G. Woodson Institute at the University of Virginia and a PhD candidate in African and African Diaspora Studies at UT-Austin. She is also the founder of a race and immigration platform at unispora.com and you can follow her at @ChinweOriji
I was aware. I thought I knew what I was choosing. But I didn’t… Now I do.
I knew I was leaving the white liberal city of Austin that hides the gaze of racism through slogans like “Keep Austin Weird,” which in my mind just means “Keep Austin White” in the most subliminal way. As the phrase upholds its narrative by actively erasing the rich and historical Black and Latina/o cultural presence that has been there way before Austin was ever weird, evident in the immense gentrification and stark racial segregation of the city.
I knew I was moving to a differing same.
I knew Charlottesville was supposedly Austin 25 years in the past. The burgeoning white liberal town encroached in the ghost of racism that’s not really a ghost but an ever present reality. I knew my body would not belong. I knew I would have to go to the greatest lengths to create safe places, safe people, safe spaces.
But I did not know.
I did not know the week I moved to Charlottesville would be a week forever marked with violence and forever inscribed in my memory. I did not know that riot, rage, and death would be my introduction or shall I say induction. I did not know that the city that no one ever knew existed whenever I told someone where I was moving would become the city making national headlines for all the wrong reasons. I don’t know why God chose this to be the week that I entered this space. I didn’t know. I should have known but I didn’t know.
The presence of pain and violence is still hovering. I can feel it.
I felt it as I entered church on Sunday. I felt it as we called out cries of lamentation to God. I felt it through the testimony of my Black brother who recalled witnessing the terrorist attack by a white supremacist who rammed his car through a crowd of counter protestors. I felt it through his cries. I felt it through his eyes. I knew he was forever changed.
I feel pain. I feel numb. I feel shaken. I feel unnerved. I feel. I feel…
But I know there’s hope.
I know there’s hope. And I am constantly reminded of that hope through our tears on Sunday. We found hope in a God that sees, feels, and lives through our pain. We found hope in a God that understands the systemic sin of racism that is in no way limited to the overt instances of anti-black, anti-Semitic, anti-everything-that’s-not-them racism such as this. We find hope in a God that stands, falls, and dies with the oppressed. We find hope in Him—an eternal hope that calls us to actively engage in strategic ways to fight against injustice with paradise in mind. Remembering paradise heals me. Remembering Him ignites me. Because ultimately He is my safe place.
I am here. Taking it all in. Still processing. Still breathing. Still broken. But still whole.
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