What does Charlottesville mean?

What does Charlottesville mean?

I feel like I should say something about Charlottesville, but I hardly know what.

Charlottesville is a charming, eclectic red-bricked hill town that today is known for something horrendous. Charlottesville is America in a teaspoon. It’s a conflagration of woes and victories, of Civil War monuments and liberal political thought. It’s white-pillared plantations and Jefferson’s call for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” As varied as its bow ties and pick-up trucks.

Charlottesville means Virginia, birthplace of eight Presidents yet the bastion of the Confederacy. It’s an enigma, a rich and confusing testament to the angst between race and privilege. Like many U.S. towns, it shows us something about where we’ve been and what our problems really are. Its recent conflict suggests that as a nation, we haven’t been asking the right questions, and we haven’t been listening to the answers. Or perhaps, we haven’t asked anything at all.

Harper Lee wrote in To Kill a Mockingbird: “People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for.”

If you say “We just need to love one another,” someone is angry and tells you it’s not that simple.

If you say “We need to get more involved,” someone tells you what your involvement should entail.

If you use words like terrorism, hate crimes, or intimidation, someone talks about freedom of speech.

If you say, “This rally should never have been allowed,” someone calls it a lawful assembly.

If you say, “How did this happen?” someone will point out that prejudice and privilege have always been a part of American culture.

Any statement, correct or incorrect, is a piece of a larger puzzle. Our conversations are hard because we tend to see pieces of the puzzle, rather than looking at the whole. We hear the words and phrases that stir our own emotions, and we falsely assume we know everything other people think about the topic the moment they begin speaking.

It’s the reason some of my readers have already stopped reading this blog by this point. They thought they knew what I was going to say somewhere earlier in the article. They decided that they understood my heart and my motive for writing. They judged me and closed down the window.

We all do it. And yet we are all too complex to be judged so swiftly. I wonder what would happen if no one ever jumped to hate–if we all observed life and asked the hard questions and were willing to hear the honest answers. There’s a part of all of us that prefers fantasy, especially when it comes to us.

Atticus Finch told Scout (in To Kill a Mockingbird), “You never really understand a person until you see things from his point of view . . .until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.”

What if we actually tried to observe life through another person’s perspective–inside another person’s skin?

What would happen then?

Not Charlottesville.

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