“How did we get here?” was the question of the evening at Wake Forest University’s panel discussing the events that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia. The panel was hosted Thursday, September 7, in Wake Forest University’s Wait Chapel and was organized as a response to the events in Charlottesville and across the United States. The event was free to the public and hosted by a number of Wake Forest’s organizations.
The panel was led by faculty director of the Pro Humanitate Institute Melissa Harris-Perry and featured Michael Signer, the mayor of Charlottesville; Jamelle Bouie, chief political correspondent at Slate; Michael B. Dougherty, senior writer at National Review; Rashad Robinson, executive director of “Color of Change”; and Takiyah Thompson, activist and North Carolina Central University student.
The organization of the panel followed questions asked of the panelists by Harris-Perry. They were individually directed, though other panelists were free to chime in. The conversation covered what led up to the events in Charlottesville, the merits of removing Confederate statues, and ways to enact actual change.
The discourse got especially vibrant in discussing the removal and legislation considering Confederate statues and symbols. Jamelle Bouie from Slate argued that leaving monuments up sends a message of domination and power. “They were placed not as historical markers, not even really as objects of historical memory, but as essentially objects of domination,” Bouie asserted. “That we’re putting this statue of Robert E. Lee by the courthouse…to say ‘this belongs to us, not to you’.”
Conversely, Rashad Robinson challenged that it was not enough to simply remove the statues. He stated that it was easy to remove the symbols of Confederacy without truly breaching the structures and systems that instated and upheld them. “The mayor of Baltimore can remove the statues in the middle of the night, but there’s still confederates in our police department and in our government.” Robinson argued. “We stop at the symbols too often.”
There was an overall consensus that the roots of the issues of racism and white supremacy must be tackled in full force, not simply the symptoms. Takiyah Thompson contended that the conversation has to go to the hidden violence within the system. “We talk about violence a lot, but I think the conversation always tends to go the physical violence,” Thompson said. “but subprime lending is violent. Defunding schools is violent. Having police with guns around kids, body slamming kids, is violent.”
The panelists introduced some new insights and strategies to dealing with what happened in Charlottesville and the future. At times, the dialogue was not as hard-hitting as it could have been considering the topic and several important points were often overlooked in the interest of time. The only woman featured as a panelist was a student and was only asked two questions throughout the entirety of the panel. Of the panelists, there was a surprising lack of policy makers.
What happened in Charlottesville and what has happened and continues to happen in communities across the United States needs to be discussed. The panel at Wake Forest University was an important step that provided a space for voices, ideas and strategies. In the long-term, however, the conversation needs to be redirected or taken from the classroom and the stage and moved to direct and effective action in communities and legislation.