August 12th will never feel the same. Like clockwork for the past two years, I have felt the anxiety rising in my body in the weeks approaching the anniversary of that horrible day when white supremacists invaded Charlottesville, Va. Being there as a counter-protester changed me, and a similar feeling resonates with many of the activists who shared that collective experience. I wrote the song “ Fingerprints” to speak to that trauma.
I remember how intensely traumatized I was for months afterwards: How I navigated nightly nightmares, jumped at every car horn, and was hypervigilant in public settings. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something horrible could happen at any moment. I learned to manage that as time passed, and have adapted to my new normal.
The Charlottesville white supremacist rally also marked a critical moment in contemporary history. The world was appalled by how such vitriol could still arise, at the expense of Heather Heyer’s life and many activists’ physical harm. People of color were reminded that much of the world continues to see us as “others” — unworthy of existing freely and fully in this country.
August 12, 2017 marked a historic moment, but white supremacy is baked into this country’s very fabric. We must remember that we exist in daily white supremacy.
Yes, I can recall every emotion from the Charlottesville white supremacist rally: fear, paranoia, anger, intense sadness, and pain. But I also remember feeling similarly the first time that I was called the N-word. It was at the airport when I was saying goodbye to my parents for college.
I remember when my family had to move houses due to several instances of harassment. It was in high school after we recently moved to the neighborhood.
I remember when, just a few months later, I had to participate in a graded debate in history class about whether slavery was justified — an experience where, as the only black woman in the room, I was mocked and laughed at for my rightful rage.
I remember the first time a bus driver denied me access to ride, by shutting the door in my face and driving on. It was with my father as we were traveling to work for my summer job.
I remember when my friends and I had the police called on us for just living while black. It was on our college campus.
I remember being under 10 years old when my parents explained why they were so adamant about objecting to being seated by the kitchen at a restaurant, and how after getting my license, they gave me “the talk” about how to get home alive if stopped by police.
And then, just a few months later, I remember the first time I was stopped by police in a suburb while on a leisurely drive with my friend. He asked what we were doing there, and then told us to get back home.
I remember every time that I have had to advocate to get paid equitably for my work — an ongoing battle that occurs at least weekly.
Each of these experiences leaves permanent scars. Each has informed how I perceive and navigate the world. Each has weathered away at me just a little bit more — it’s a weathering that is scientifically proven to impact health.
Yes, August 12, 2017 was a horrible day that should be named for its extreme and intolerable act of white nationalism, but people of color are navigating detrimental impacts of white supremacy every day, both personally and institutionally within our education, economic, and criminal legal systems.
I go down a spiraling web when I start tracking what August, alone, marks. August 2014 marks the anniversary of Michael Brown being killed by police in Ferguson, Mo. August 2017 marks the Charlottesville white supremacist rallies. The same white supremacists tried to mobilize in DC for the one-year anniversary in 2018. August 2019 marks new deplorable acts of white nationalism that targeted our brown Latinx siblings in El Paso. More lives lost, more people navigating infinite trauma, more people reminded that they are never safe in their own skin — literally.
And August marks a moment 400 years ago, when the first African slaves were brought to Virginia, the state where I currently reside. August has a history. This country has a history.
There is a both-and approach to addressing this history, so that we can build a racially just world. We must absolutely address this radicalism that allows people to believe that they can resort violence based on their own discomfort with a diverse society. But their actions are symptoms of the virus that is white supremacy. It’s a virus that shows up on individual, interpersonal, and institutional levels. It’s a virus that manifests through intentional harm, and also through dangerous rhetoric. It’s a virus that arguably most often shows up through well-meaning people as bias, microaggressions, hiring practices, and harmful policies. We must be honest and recognize that this virus surrounds us. We can’t keep avoiding that truth. Many of our lives depend on it.
Whitney released “Fingerprints” as tribute to Charlottesville. All song proceeds will go to the Charlottesville Community Resilience Fund.