While Charlottesville had a “Unite the Right” rally where a white supremacist took the life of an activist, my family and I were camping in Northern California. Having no cellphone use, I was oblivious to what was unfolding around the country.
We stopped for gas and my phone began to ding with messages. A friend sent me several notes asking if we were safe. Confused, I said, “Of course, we had a blast!”
I didn’t question his concerns, and he didn’t want to scare me back into reality so he said to travel safely.
I went into the store to pay and grab a few bottles of water. The clerk had a clean-shaven head and was proudly talking to his co-worker about the alt-right and neo-Nazism. I felt a chill run through me, and that chill was melted by slow burning rage.
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We drove on and eventually stopped at another gas station. While a few of us went to use the restroom, my son waited by the van. On my return, he said, “Dad, from now on whenever I come to a town like this I am going to assume that everyone is racist.”
I said, “What? Why?”
He said, “I’ll tell you when we leave.”
Once we left, my son said, “Those white people in the SUV behind were blowing kisses at me and told me to ‘get back in the van nigger’.”
I slammed on the brakes. I wanted to turn around and confront them — call the cops, make a scene so they would know it’s not OK to call people niggers. Then they sped past us, and screamed it as if it were a death threat.
There was nothing I could do other than give them the finger. And even that little gesture — which was completely justified — made me feel like they got the best of me.
We drove the rest of the trip in a suspended state of rage that eventually gave way to hurt. Because that is the truth. This all hurts so very much. I hid it from my family, but for the next 10 miles I wept.
Later that evening, I told my son he did the right thing by not reacting to them. As black people we know that a simple confrontation like that can easily go south. I’m scared even if the cops show up.
We live in terror.
I am terrified that if a cop asks for my ID, I’ll reach for my wallet and Bang! Bang! Bang! – because the cop feared for his life.
His body-cam footage goes viral, and my son would be subjected to video of my public execution every time he goes online. Maybe there’s a hashtag in my name. Then the country grows more divisive over whether Jordan Chaney’s death was justifiable. This fear is real to me; it haunts me daily.
Lately, we all have been up to our throats in racial injustice and in-your-face hatred. A lot of us have lost friends and loved ones over this social-political pandemic and there doesn’t seem to be a clear path forward.
The collective human soul is being tested right now. Your soul is being tested, no matter who you are, no matter where you stand. Everything you do or say affects the world. Everything you don’t do or say affects the world. The problems we deny today will grow, and are waiting for us tomorrow.
I can honestly say I am no longer angry. I am too sad for what our country is going through to be mad anymore.
The weight of oppression cannot be lifted by the oppressed alone. Our suffering needs acknowledgment in order for progress to be made.
I didn’t arrive at a place of compassion and forgiveness overnight. I have lived in fear, lost life-long friendships, I have been called a racist while giving talks on racism. I have fallen into deep depression and resentment over this subject to arrive at what I believe is a path forward.
I know that we can't just hug hate away. This is where hope comes in. This is where love and compassion must come in.
Recently, my friend Reagan Jackson counseled me saying, “Clenched fists do no building.”
I’m letting go of my rage and resentment.
It’s been the heaviest piece of luggage I’ve carried. I’m going to build again with friends, with neighbors.
Racism and injustice must be called out and confronted. Fight if you will, but if you can love, you must.
Jordan Chaney is a Tri-City poet and author who works with youth in the community on arts and leadership.