Last Wednesday evening, as former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu was telling a sold-out book festival crowd that the backlash against removing Confederate monuments was “not about the statutes,” and that white supremacists were “having a field day” under President Trump, Charlottesville police were investigating a threat posted on 4chan, by someone using the Pepe the Frog avatar favored by white supremacists.
The anonymous poster, later revealed to be a 17-year-old in Albemarle County, claimed he was going to commit an “ethnic cleansing” at Charlottesville High School and kill “n—s” and “wetbacks.” The threat closed all city schools for two days.
While Landrieu, who appeared with City Councilor Wes Bellamy, had not yet heard about the incident, he compared racism in America to a cancer, and said we need to confront it rather than pretend it doesn’t exist. Both he and Bellamy talked candidly about the violent threats they and their families had received for suggesting that Confederate monuments come down.
It was at another Virginia Festival of the Book event, back in 2012, when then councilor Kristin Szakos first publicly broached the question of taking down or recontextualizing Charlottesville’s prominent Confederate monuments. In response, she received “a firestorm of vitriol and hate.”
That kind of ugliness reveals what the statues really stand for—entrenched, institutional racism, Bellamy and Landrieu said on Wednesday. And while plenty of people would prefer not to think about it, acknowledging that legacy of racism is essential to confronting our current problems, they said.
On Monday, the Black Student Union at CHS seized the moment to stage a walkout and draw attention back to longstanding racial inequities in the school system. We live in a city with deep inequalities that stem directly from an ugly racial history, and where lots of good people are working hard to address those issues. Let’s talk about it.