This is the beginning of a series of posts interweaving artwork and reflections on how to lead a more positive, well-examined, and impactful life. See the “aspirations” page to read more.
I’m striving to break the cycle of scrolling through Facebook on repeat, and the despair-inducing flood of images of angry white men with tiki torches in denial of their own privilege.
I can’t help but feel small and powerless, and tempted towards hopelessness. I’m led to wonder, in light of these events – instead of flailing in my own emotions, how can I be a force for positive change?
In the aftermath of trauma, in this case, the hateful acts in Charlottesville: helplessness is best countered with action. Take concrete, productive steps to support others in crisis, and share these ideas with others. Despair can be paralyzing; instead of responding to tragedy with silence, let your good deeds be contagious and inspiring.
I’ve compiled some actions to take, both for my own learning and to share with others. This is specifically framed around responding to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville but the general rules can apply in many situations.
Understand the Story Thoroughly.
Education is always the first step. Read articles, listen to podcasts, be informed. This is more important than responding quickly. It can be tempting to fire off knee-jerk reactions, but ultimately this does more harm than good, and feeds into a culture where simple (false) narratives travel much faster than complex (true) realities.
To understand a complex reality, that means intaking from multiple reliable sources – and even taking the time to read perspectives with a slant you disagree with. This is a necessary exercise in critical thinking and maintaining perspective. An opinion is only as valuable as the robust thought process that supports it.
In Charlottesville, the rally began as a protest against the removal of a Confederate statue, though the narrative shifted far beyond the theme of historical preservation when the rally invited speakers from the KKK and other white supremacy groups. This Vice newstory is a chilling account from within the rally as it developed throughout the weekend, and very telling of its character.
Even the issue of the statue as cultural heritage is more complex than it seems on the surface. Looking at the years that Confederate statues were erected, it becomes apparent that many were commissioned during a wave of Jim Crow laws and heightened racial segregation. The statues were very much a part of the message of white supremacy.
Adequately researching the situation not only means being properly informed, but it also means not getting stuck on the story’s origins when the plotline has moved on.
Show Up – In Person.
After research comes the response. One option is to volunteer locally with an organization or for an event that brings about positive change. This has the benefit of helping rebuild, enacting change, connecting with other folks of aligned values, and helping change the overall narrative.
Participating in a peaceful rally or counter-protest can let the numbers tell a different story. The Wednesday following the original Charlottesville rally, a peaceful vigil was led with attendees far out numbering the original protesters. They sang hymns to overpower angry chanting and let love overcome hate. Similar counter-protests followed in other locations, including Boston and Vancouver. The wave of response has crippled the momentum of many white supremacy groups and has led to the cancellation of at least 67 of their planned events.
You can put your money where your heart is.
Many organizations work continuously to fight for safety, equity, and other positive change. Funding is crucial to supporting their work.
Be careful, as there are some unscrupulous folks out there and you don’t want to fall prey to a scam. Look to a reputable source for guidance on where to donate, and which organizations best align with your ideals.
Talk to Your Loved Ones.
This is both the most important and most difficult action to take.
The folks over whom we have the most influence – and have the most influence over us – are our loved ones, friends, colleagues. When someone makes a racist statement, explain why that’s a problem, and ask them to stop. If you have children, have conversations with them in age-appropriate ways about these issues and how to communicate about them. Share stories that draw on others’ compassion and humanity to avoid “othering” and keep the discussion thoughtful.
Look to Your Strengths.
What are your skills? Do you make beautiful paintings you could sell for a fundraiser? Are you skilled at public speaking and could speak out at a town hall meeting? Are you well connected in the community and able to organize a rally? The ways to contribute are limitless – look to your talents as your guide.
Artwork: Art x Architects submission, 2016. Theme: “What’s next?”
This trio of works was submitted as part of the Art x Architects charity fundraiser. They represent how green technology and positive human intervention can heal past wrongs, allowing nature to re-emerge in its full potential.