Great. Charlottesville used to be a town, a hip but livable small city with a lot of country comfort to it, and a pretty good university. Now it’s a hashtag.
Not a place, but a place holder. “Charlottesville”, like “Birmingham,” like “Oklahoma City,” like “Charleston,” shorthand for the confrontation between racists, neofascists and their opponents.
It’s not that. It’s not a natural location for a proxy war between hate and hope.
The violence didn’t happen there because Charlottesville is a fertile field for hatred. In the 1970s at the University of Virginia, northerners (I was one), women and black students were distinct minorities, sometimes to uncomfortable effect. Now UVa has become more homogenous, like the town, like Virginia the state, like the South writ large. There are still people and groups who chafe with each other, but it is a town that works, grows, and generally operates with mutual respect among town and college, conservative and liberal, people of color and white folks.
Why there, then? It happened in Charlottesville because some of the more vicious factions of the alt-right decided to plant their rebel flag at the statue of Robert E. Lee, a symbol of the time when Virginia and the South gave legal cover to white folks’ hatred and subjugation of black Americans. It happened there because the U is the alma mater of Richard Spencer, who coined the term alt-right and is the closest thing the movement has to an intellectual leader.
It happened because the temper of the town is liberal enough to encourage freedom of expression, even expression of beliefs that appall the people who actually live there. And even (foolishly) expressions is of hatred and rage spewed by armed goons bent on provoking violence.
It happened because it had to happen somewhere, and it will happen somewhere else again, because this nation is full of people who are alienated and disadvantaged by economic and educational realities.
It happened because cynical demagogues who tell them that their racial identity has somehow dictated their destiny. And it will happen again because their leaders, and our leaders, refuse to condemn it.
White people have deep problems in America today, as do their black and brown countrymen. These real problems involve race, but also transcend race. It’s sad that those rioters “on many sides” can’t see that their warped interpretation of the call to make America great again doesn’t lead to a better future, but to a depraved and disgraced past.