Why was the beautiful little college town of Charlottesville Virginia the scene of ugliness and hatred caught by television cameras and beamed around the world this week? Why did the proposed removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee bring out the worst element of Virginia society?
Have you ever been to Charlottesville Virginia? It is unlikely unless you are an American history buff, went to University there, or were born on the East Coast of the United States. It sits about two hours south of Washington DC and is renowned for being the home of Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s original founding fathers and the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. He was much more than a footnote in history. As America’s 3rd President, he was an extra ordinarily educated, brilliant and cultured man whose love was Architecture. He designed his home, known as Monticello, and it is a tourist sight to this day. He established the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, world renowned for its law school and many other departments. He was eloquent, a man of values and standards, much to be admired. Whilst the owner of slaves, he took one as his mistress after his wife died, and had at least one child from her. Still, as a man of basic integrity, he also signed litigation to stop the further importation of slaves. Such was the complex world they inhabited.
When I was in public school in Virginia many years ago, I was taught about the original thirteen states and taken on tours of every possible monument, battle ground and memorial to the days surrounding 1776 and America’s independence from the British. Towns such as Williamsburg and Jamestown were revisited time and time again as were the fine homes and plantations of the first Presidents. We were brought up to be proud Americans, complete with the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag each morning. The negative side of this education is that it was so narrow. We Virginians learned about Captain John Smith and the Indian Princess Pochahontas annually, but we were never taught about the Korean War , World War I , World War II , The Holocaust, the Spanish Inquisition, British colonialism, or any international issues. The Middle East was never even mentioned.
Growing up in a bubble helps to explain why, when one reaches the ripe old age of 18, that there is a total lack of understanding of world affairs. It wasn’t a requirement to learn world history in order to earn a degree as a “Communications Major.” We never even discussed the Soviet Union and communism, which is beyond comprehension as it was the cold war era. Living through the years of the Viet Nam war was more of an international eye-opener than anything I ever learned in a classroom. I suspect that today’s public education has not come far in this regard. Each region has its board of education which decides what their students need to learn, selects the text books and is ultimately responsible for the proven historical ignorance of the average young person today.
Two hours south of this sleepy little town of Charlottesville , was the college which I attended my freshman year (before transferring to another University). It was called Radford College for Women. a State sister school to Virginia Tech nearby in Blacksburg Virginia. This is only relevant in as much as my one year there was my initiation into Virginia’s deep southern mentality, steeped in ignorance and prejudice. It was there that I first experienced overt anti-Semitism. I was told not to bother “rushing” a sorority as none would accept a Jew. There were many other instances which need not be mentioned, but one eye-opening experience is worth retelling. A young man was available to drive me home to Arlington Virginia during school holidays. I remember paying for his gas as it was a door to door service which saved me endless hours on the slow train from Radford to Washington D.C. For hours on end, this young man explained to me the glory which was once the South and how badly the Civil War had ended. He and his friends still displayed the Confederate flag outside their homes. It was bizarre that a war which had taken place one hundred years prior (From 1861-1865) was relevant to a young man born generations later. Twenty towns in Virginia end with the word “ville” …. Because they were tiny when created, and remain small even today. They offered little in the way of education or culture. What is most disappointing is that their education systems clearly did not eradicate the hatred, ignorance, and bigotry handed down from generation to generation.
When it was announced that the statue of Robert. E. Lee, who led the Confederate forces against the North in the Civil War, was to be removed, emotions boiled over. One might have thought that political correctness could have been put aside considering that the South did indeed lose the war, and that slavery was obliterated from the American culture. Fascinating, however, is how this connection to a once held pride, can still define a segment of the population and can today make people erupt in violence. It is clearly a product of a few people, imbued with no accomplishments or pride in anything they or their ancestors have accomplished over the past one hundred and fifty years. That is a terrible shame. Their culture has become based on deprecating the “other.” They actually find commonality through their hatred of Blacks and Jews. Out of curiosity, I researched lists of Mosques in the State of Virginia, I noted that only two appear to be in the southern part of the state, and those are in large cities. How will these very same protesters react when a totally different ethnicity appears on their doorsteps? There is clearly a reason why these locations have been avoided by Muslim immigrants.
When the rioters who were imported from towns outside of Charlottesville… tiny towns with nothing on offer, spoke of “making America Great Again,” they totally misinterpreted the President’s vision. Yet their words appear the same as his and hence cast a shadow upon him. They are not interested in job creation, bringing business back to the mainland, revitalizing national infrastructure or the development of natural resources. They erroneously connect with his stance on illegal immigration ,not recognizing that America is a melting pot of millions of absolutely legal immigrants who have made the country great over history. There is not one iota of bigotry intended in the President’s mantra.
The small towns of Southern Virginia live in a time-warp. Going to Charlottesville (population 43,000) to demonstrate, was for them “heading to the big city!” How pathetic is that? How empty must their lives be!
Even sadder than the lives of those who came to spew their hatred at the mini rally, is the amount of attention the media showered upon them. Is every protest to be covered this way for perpetuity? When the anti-police riots took place in cities in the U.S. over recent years, those were serious incidents impacting on the entire cities and states. The authority and credibility of their Police forces were undermined as the officers themselves became targets on multiple occasions. The recent events in Charlottesville pale by comparison. This small protest in Virginia has been used, once again, to promote a larger agenda on a National scale. The event was blown out of all proportions, but used well by those who saw the potential to promote their causes. There will always be those who are ignorant and people who hate. They must be stopped from doing evil, but giving them undeserved attention makes them more important than they ever dreamed possible.