By Seth Green
On August 5, I went to my first City Council meeting.
I was one of the few people left in the room when local activist Tanesha Hudson made her request for additional funding to bring the artist Wale, a well-known D.C. rapper, to perform in Tonsler Park as part of Unity Days. Councilor Wes Bellamy made a motion to support the request with money from the city’s Equity Fund, but the other councilors declined to support it.
Like others, I was dismayed to see that meeting end with some city councilors being called “best friends of Hitler” or whatever it was. I do not know the name of the woman who was speaking, but to my mind that comment was way out of line.
However…The sentiment and concern that she was expressing was real and, in my judgment, completely warranted. This obviously touches on a much larger issue.
I’m a 35-year-old white man who is a data scientist and software developer by trade. I grew up in western Albemarle County, went to UVA, and have lived within the city limits ever since graduating in 2006. By all accounts, this city has been pretty damn good to me.
Charlottesville is overflowing with culture and entertainment for me. It is overflowing with entertainment for my young children and for my aging parents as well. I invite anyone to take a look at the C-VILLE Weekly events page and do a rough tally in your head as to how many of the events are designed to draw the attention of, and cater to the preferences of, me and my family. Then consider how many of them are targeted to Ms. Hudson and her family and her neighbors and her friends.
To take one small example, I have been enjoying Fridays After Five literally since it began in 1988. It is an event designed for me and my family. We can discuss all the ways and reasons that it is designed for me and not Ms. Hudson, but I prefer empirical evidence. Just go to Fridays After Five and look who is drawn to that event each week. Those are the people it’s designed for. The film festival, the photography festival, the Tom Tom festival–literally all of our city’s flagship public events fit this exact same profile.
As another point of contrast, though, there are literally dozens of bars and music venues around this city, I am not aware of a single “black” bar currently in operation. By that, I mean a bar or music venue that is designed to attract primarily black Charlottesvillians as patrons. Certainly, if there are any that are designed for this purpose, I am not aware of any that are succeeding. The reasons for this are many, and they are not easy to solve with the push of a button. But a good first step would be for the city to help bring some legitimate professional entertainment aimed at Charlottesville’s black community. It is a step that seems very easy to take. But it is a step that I have not yet seen taken in my 35 years in this city.
I heard councilors’ many objections to Ms. Hudson’s proposal, and they were not unfounded. However, they felt to me (and obviously to her) to be in bad faith. What I mean is that they seemed to be coming from a place of “I’m not voting for this and I’m going to think of justifications for not voting for it.” Or, at the very least, “I’m not into this idea, and you’re going to have to seriously convince me if you want me to even consider it.”
The budget for the event, and precise amount for the artist’s fee, was obviously a concern of Councilor Mike Signer’s. But getting a quote for booking a nationally touring artist is far from an insurmountable obstacle. Likewise, Councilor Kathy Galvin’s point that $35,000 exceeded the $25,000 that council could procedurally allocate in this circumstance felt insincere. If she had championed funding $25,000 toward the event, conditional on Ms. Hudson raising the other $10,000 elsewhere, I would wager the evening would have ended very differently. And furthermore, Galvin’s point about the city never paying a “for-profit entertainer” to perform felt to be in extremely bad faith to me. Any nationally known speaker or performer is “for profit,” and cities like Charlottesville subsidize bringing them to town for free festivals all the time.
While I found some of Ms. Hudson’s and her supporters’ wording a bit regrettable, it’s really none of my business how they choose to express themselves; and I am 100 percent on board with their message. What City Council demonstrated in the handling of this issue was the exact thing she called them out for: a devotion to the kind of disingenuous racial and cultural double-talk that we need to move beyond if we would like this city to be known for anything more than just happy-faced hypocrisy.
Seth Green is a data scientist and former bassist for local band Sons of Bill. This piece is adapted from his open letter to City Council.
Updated 8/14 to reflect that the point about the city never paying for a ‘for-profit entertainer’ was originally made by Galvin, not Signer.