Two years on from Charlottesville, America has failed Heather Heyer

The Anti-Defamation League estimate that right-wing extremists have been linked to at least 50 killings in 2019 so far. Women, people of colour and LGBT+ people are still living in fear

Victoria Gagliardo-Silver
In New York
Monday 12 August 2019 18:47
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White supremacist who killed woman after driving car into Charlottesville protesters begs judge to show him 'mercy'

The second anniversary of the white supremacist riots in Charlottesville, Virginia, is a time to reflect on what Heather Heyer’s death should have meant to America.

When 32 year-old Heyer fell victim to racist violence, losing her life while protesting against hate, there should have been a consensus that this tragedy was antithetical to American values.

What should have happened in the wake of Heyer’s killing was change, but nothing has changed. Instead, the very rhetoric that killed Heyer has continued to pervade our national discourse.

In the aftermath of Charlottesville, people came together to mourn, but there was little political or cultural mobilization. It was almost as if the nation was too paralyzed by shock to acknowledge exactly what it meant to have white supremacists killing anti-racist Americans.

After a couple of candlelight vigils, Americans moved on with their lives and returned to work as if this would be an isolated incident. There was no demanding massive change, accountability, and action in the name of Heather Heyer. This complacency allowed white nationalists, already emboldened and legitimised by the election of president Trump in 2016, to infect our nation's core with their toxic ideology.

In fact, Charlottesville did turn out to be a turning point in the modern fight against racism – just not the one so many of us had hoped. When white nationalists did not see widespread resistance to their ideology, it was understood that this violence was seen as acceptable, or even normal. After all, Trump himself said there were “very fine people on both sides” after Heyer’s death. I would say “very fine people” don’t run over anti-racist protesters with their cars.

Charlottesville: Donald Trump says there were 'fine people on both sides'

When the El Paso shooter targeted Hispanic immigrant families and allegedly cited Trump’s rhetoric as a call to violence in his manifesto, when the Dayton shooter may have targeted his closeted transgender brother, when places of Jewish worship are attacked, it is clear that America has failed Heather Heyer.

Heather died two years ago today. Now, the Anti-Defamation League determine that right-wing extremists were tied to at least 50 killings in 2019. Women, people of colour and LGBT+ people are living in fear. I am one of them and it is both terrifying and exhausting.

I am tired of being hyper-concious of being a black, queer, and Jewish woman in public spaces. I’m terrified of my identity making me fear that I am a likely target of white nationalist violence. I look for the best exit when I attend religious services and conferences. I fear that, as a woman in journalism writing about white nationalism, I may paint a target on my own back, but I cannot allow that fear to silence me.

Heather Heyer was not silent. She stood against racism and paid the ultimate price for her activism. In her memory, we can’t allow right-wing, white supremacist extremism to be seen as acceptable or welcome in America.

Together, as Americans, we can mobilise against violence. We should all be more like Heather and actively stand in opposition to the racism and violence which is tearing our country apart.

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