Last month Charlottesville hosted the 65th annual Dogwood Festival, a joyful and exuberant celebration of everything that is fun, delicious, and family friendly about the city. Over the course of the festivities, thousands of locals and tourists jammed the fairgrounds to play games, try out thrilling rides, and see their friends and neighbors in a celebration of the diversity and openness of Charlottesville.
Until it was time for the shotgun game. We both have sons who were thrilled to compete with shotguns aimed at targets, in the hopes of winning a prize. Except the target in this case wasn’t the familiar set of concentric circles, or a benign clown. It was a face. On closer inspection, the face is the face of a man, with a turban, a dark beard, hooded eyes and a helicopter and fighter plane around him. The star that represents the target in this game is located in the very center of his face; right where his mouth might be.
It has come to this then. At a family carnival in the tranquil foothills of Jefferson’s dream, we are teaching our children that it is not merely acceptable to aim at the bearded face of an ethnic-looking man, but also somehow heroic; something we should do.
We’ve seen the profound psychological and emotional harm that can be done in other countries where racial hate is taught —directly and indirectly—to young children. We deplore it when it happens abroad, and particularly when it is aimed at Americans. Yet this image was not-so-subtly teaching our children that bearded men wearing turbans are the enemy; that we need investigate no further before aiming and firing. This is unacceptable in any city, any country, at any time. That it’s happening in our small, family-friendly, diverse, and tolerant town should be an outrage.
We have no idea how pervasive the Afghani target is, in shooting games around Virginia and across the country. We know only that as mothers and as humans, such images and such violence have no place in Charlottesville. This is not reflective of the best this town has to offer. If this was simply an oversight or a mistake, we dearly hope that it will not find its way back to the Dogwood Festival next year.
Nothing about the combination of guns and racial hate is fun or lighthearted. We in Charlottesville must hold ourselves to higher standards, and work to ensure that in a city that is richer every day for diversity and its tolerance, symbols of racial violence are called out for what they are. It is just this kind of subtle but pervasive message that will shape our children’s lifelong perceptions of other human beings—whether they live down the street or across the world. Let’s agree that there is no place for this kind of imagery in our town, and hope that in standing against it, we can help quash it in the next town and the town after that.—Dahlia Lithwick and Lisa Colton
Dahlia Lithwick is a journalist and Lisa Colton is a nonprofit consultant. Both are mothers of two who live in Charlottesville.
Editor’s note: Dogwood Festival President Thomas Layman said he received one complaint about the shooting game during the festival, and he immediately contacted carnival company Five Star Attractions and had the targets replaced.
“The Dogwood Festival is family-oriented and community-oriented,” Layman said. “It was inappropriate to have that image up at that game.”
Five Star Attractions did not respond to a request for comment before press time.