Last Friday, portraits of angry white men, their faces glowing in the light of a fiery mob, began circulating on Twitter. These images, taken in Charlottesville, Va., were promptly followed by a steady stream of white people making jokes about the fact that the torches in question were of the standard home-and-garden store variety.
As an act of self-preservation, many black people are increasingly becoming numb to these hate crimes. Brittany Mobley is among those who wasn’t shocked by the news out of Charlottesville. Although she graduated from Howard Law School, she attended the University of Virginia as an undergrad.
“I wish it were more surprising,” said Mobley, who graduated in 2008 and no longer lives in Charlottesville.
“My first week at U-Va., in 2004, a young black student who lived on the Lawn had the word ‘n — ’ written on her car. That was in the first week. I knew then that Charlottesville was going to be a new journey in a way that I did not anticipate.”
Living in Charlottesville, Mobley went to great lengths to feel safe.
“It was common for black students to regularly announce that they are students of U-Va., as a hopeful way to ensure safety,” she said. “It is awful to think that I worked so hard to make white people feel safe around me by letting them know that I am a student. Playing those respectability and racial politics created some of my most degrading moments.”
Fellow classmate Erica Littlepage had an even deeper connection to Charlottesville. Her mother was born and raised in the city, and her parents met there. Littlepage worked hard to get into U-Va., where she earned her degree. She still says, “I am a U-Va. graduate with pride,” but that made the events of last weekend even more difficult to grapple with.
“It was heartbreaking and truly made me feel helpless,” Littlepage said. “Seeing that kind of hate on the steps of the Rotunda made me so unbelievably angry. I felt red. I want the current students and incoming students to feel the same pride I felt when I graduated. I don’t want happened this weekend to tarnish that.”
Shannan Conley grew up in the North in a predominantly African American community, and she said attending U-Va., as an undergrad was tough for her.
“To say that these events have been mentally exhausting is an understatement,” she said. “I want to stop watching, to save my mental health, but I can’t stop.”
Like so many other black women across the country watching these events unfold, Conley turned to her community for support.
“I leaned on my friends who are all U-Va., alumni,” Conley said. “We all just wanted to make sure that everyone was safe, both physically and mentally. We were angry. We cried. And we laughed when necessary just to lighten the mood.”
With events like Charlottesville, members of the Jewish community remain in fear, yet they are seemingly left out of the conversation. No matter how they reorganize, white nationalists are looking more and more like the KKK. Both groups have a long standing history of antisemitism.
Activist, yogi and doula Erika Davis lives in the Pacific Northwest, and as a black Jewish lesbian, exists at the intersection of anti-blackness, antisemitism and homophobia.
“Being at the very axis of Nazi hate is exhausting,” she said. “For white folks who are cisgendered, straight and Christian, this new Trump era reality is frightening, and shakes a lot of people to their core. But white, cisgendered, straight, Christian folks get to come in and out of the fear. It’s usually events like Charlottesville that shake people up, but sooner or later, they go back to posting memes, getting mani-pedis, going to brunch, living life. I will still walk down the street in this black skin. I can’t simply go back to life if I’m always wondering if the white face coming towards me wants me dead.”
As a certified yoga instructor, Davis emphasized the importance of self-care.
“I can’t tell other black women what would and wouldn’t be best for them,” Davis noted, “and I realize that not all of us have the privilege of taking time for self-care, but I truly believe in it.”
Black people can’t just “call in black” to our jobs after every Charlottesville or Ferguson that happens. Despite some events like protests, riots and police brutality inflicting psychological trauma on black Americans, we are still expected to conduct business as usual. We have to go to work, take care of our families, and put on a brave face while we watch the world around us continue to burn because of racism.
Much like the reactionary commentary that happened after Donald Trump won the presidency, legions of our white peers, co-workers and allies are posting social media statuses and tweeting about their disgust and disdain for the alt-right. However, these empty declarations can feel violent to people of color. Flexing your “woke” muscles online has become a favorite pastime for people, with little to no action associated with epiphanies like, “Nazis should be punched.”
That’s where Safety Pin Boxcomes in. Safety Pin Box gives white subscribers resources to learn about racism, the role they play in it, and how they can help put an end to it while giving back to black communities, specifically black women. Marissa Janae Johnson, one of the co-founders of Safety Pin Box, said people who use the service are “involved in ongoing, proactive work.”
It is not uncommon for activists — especially black people — to burn out from the constant stress of fighting racism. It was no different for Johnson. During her first year as an activist, she felt very unhealthy.
“Suicide and depression are huge issues amongst black activists, given the work we do,” Johnson said. “I spent a whole year doing reactionary work, and a lot of it was … fruitful, but it also meant that I just became a mule. Anytime anyone has a need and they come to you, you feel obligated. You can’t survive that way.”
Although she was able to reinvent herself through the mission of Safety Pin Box and now sees a black female therapist, she recognizes that not everyone has access to mental health care services. One way white allies could take action, Johnson said, is to pay for for black people to attend counseling or therapy.
“The thing is that although we create content for white people, we very much center black folks and black women,” Johnson said. “Nobody else is actually equipping white folks to do tangible work in their communities the way that we are.”
This article originally stated that Brittany Mobley attended Harvard Law School. She attended Howard Law School.