I just returned from a three-day MBA retreat in Warrenton, VA–about an hour outside of Charlottesville, a town that’s been in the news for all the wrong reasons this year. Since Friday morning, I have been in back-to-back classes, barely sleeping, and totally disconnected from the news. Yesterday, I saw an update pop up on my phone as I was walking back to class: “Car plows through anti-white nationalist protesters, injures 19 people.”
I brought it up to the people I was walking with as we moved from one class to the next, “guys, I just got an update….have you heard about this?” Their responses, with tones expressing a matter-of-fact-ness mixed with apathy and disappointment: “Yeah? you haven’t heard about it yet?” “Yeah, yeah…we heard.”
I didn’t bother to look up the story, read the facts, discuss or reflect about how I or they felt, find out more of the same violence as led by the white alt-right attempting to assert themselves on people of color (again)…I knew the ending to this story and I knew how it would make me feel. And I knew I was too busy and too tired to follow up.
You all know me, you know what I believe, you know my political leanings, undoubtedly you know how I feel about what happened, but let me explain to you the mental fatigue–and anguish now that I’ve finally looked up all the facts–I feel, and I’m sure many people of color feel as well.
This summer, I made the conscious decision to focus my time on self care, school, work, and CAPAL–with special emphasis on self-care. When I read the news, I deliberately focus on foreign policy. I deleted all my news apps, deleted most news podcasts, and turned off all my news notifications save for one news source: Quartz. The only reason for keeping Quartz was that it has a Trump filter and posts from reliable sources.
Why the effort to stay out of the loop? The amount of evident, SHAMELESS, unpunished physical and emotional violence committed by Americans against Americans–overwhelmingly white against POC– is too much, too distracting, and too demoralizing. The America we’re living in, or as I like to call it “The Timeline Where Trump is President” or “2017A,” can be insufferable. Where every day you expect to read news headlines that sound like chapter titles of history books. Nazism, the KKK, white supremacy, fascism, alt-right–whatever you want to call it, it is here with us the Internet and 24-hour news cycles have breathed new life (and legitimacy) to their causes
As a young person, I am still trying to build myself and find a role in society. I want to lead a fulfilling life and career after my MBA, so that I can affect positive change in my community while making a decent living for myself. But in order to get to the point where I could be an agent of change, I need to believe that there is something worth working towards.
Self-care and self-improvement require optimism, and optimism is hard work. It is much harder to be an optimist today than a pessimist. If I read the news, if I follow the tragedy, if I Google “the meaning of blood and soil” every. damn. time. white supremacy rears its ugly head, I will not make it through the day. International trade policy, economics, accounting, etc. will take a back seat in my brain to fear, distrust, and constant anger at the fact that the country I live in tolerates and sometimes encourages white supremacy. A person can only take so much.
Many of you follow the news all the time, I see your posts and your passion and I support your effort to speak up and show that acceptance, love, fairness, and equality are values of the majority even if they’re not the values of those in power and the bigots they rile up. For me, though, I have been trying “to fight the good fight” for a long time, and I need a break. At this moment, if I devote more of my emotion and my time to anger and pain, my brain might melt.
What happened in Charlottesville, VA this weekend was horrific, unconscionable, and depraved. I cannot imagine what those protesters went through and how they are coping right now. I cannot imagine the intensity of the driver’s hate for these people. Heather Heyer didn’t deserve to be murdered for being present at a rally.
I am twisted up inside and even as I type this I feel my throat tightening and my heartbeat quicken because on top of everything else, I felt close to Charlottesville and Albemarle County in some way. I spent two summer vacations there around Charlottesville because of how peaceful the place felt and the kindness of the locals. I even just visited UVA’s campus (coincidentally the weekend after the Robert E. Lee Statue was taken down). So for something so violent to happen in a place that seemed so safe also feels like a betrayal of trust.
So. The question that is on a lot of my friends minds right now is “How can we overcome this?” or “How can we fight bigotry and hate?” What I am starting to find out is that there’s only so much you can do until you begin to internalize a piece of the trauma yourself. We need to make allies of each other by showing compassion and understanding to each other and take turns opposing acts of hate and white supremacy. No matter how much I might want to be in in full activist mode all the time I just can’t anymore. It will, ultimately, consume my emotions and affect my work, school, and personal relationships. Right now, it’s not a price I’m able to pay.
*photo credit ABC News*