Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Narrative and Counter-Narrative in the Streets of Charlottesville: #DefendCville #CvilleStrong

by M. F. Simone Roberts
Poetry & Social Justice Fellow
at Split This Rock

A deep nourishment comes from working daily with poets and their voices, especially the Splitista poets who contribute their work so generously to the world through Split This Rock. These poets are public storytellers, bearers of the cultural memory of America in the twenty-first century, writing the words that arc toward justice. We at Split This Rock are always humbled and grateful for the poetic and social courage of our sibling poets. We lift with you our voices against the fractious and dangerous forces stalking our country and our lives.

White supremacy claims, among other grabby delusions, that only white (nationalist) people have the right to tell the American story. Control over the story of  “who we are” and “what we do,” and the resources that go with that control, are the content of this “white” identity based in a mythical notion of some shared European culture -- as if Europe were not a nearly continual war between peoples who conquered and enslaved each other for 3000 years before globalizing the model in the form of colonialist imperialism.

Our counter-narratives, however, are witness to the deviousness and violence supremacists use to sustain a mediocre, white, racist, heteronormative, and male domination of our institutions and culture. The damage they do is part of what they call “victory” in the false logic of zero-sum identity and a culture of scarcity and deprivation.

But our exposure of their vulgarity is only one danger for them. Our counter-narratives of community, resilience, subversion, and even joy are threats to their insecure, narcissistic ideology.

The poems Split This Rock posted in solidarity with Charlottesville, VA and all who resist these fascist, racist terrorists are clear evidence that it’s our imagination - that one capacity they don’t seem to have -- that threatens them most. The narrative embedded in the name Emancipation Park is open ended, unpredictable. They’re left trembling by our creativity for both methods of subversion and for embodying more just ways of living together. After all, imagining a new reality is the first step in creating a world where we all can thrive, all are honored, all our histories are celebrated.

Our stories reach forward into a future we take pleasure in imagining together. The courage those narratives give us to build a world that loves us has spurred our peoples to a long history of demonstrating the physical courage required to succeed. We testify to our resolute claims to exist, to thrive, to love each other. And that -- our pursuit of genuine community-- drives them into a curated rage and calculated acts of violence.

Charlottesville, Virginia, became a symbolic and real battleground for these terrorist groups because the community dared to take back control of its narrative and write one that owned up to the evil of the Antebellum and Confederate culture and economy of enslavement, one that would create more space to honor all the city’s people.

Putting history in its place, the elected members of the city council renamed Lee Park to Emancipation Park, and proposed to remove a statue of General Robert E. Lee, a symbol of confederate revolt against the Republic and of deliberate racist terror that continues, unabated from the founding of this nation to this violent and murderous weekend in August, 2017. For their vision, the people of Charlottesville were targeted for punishment.

The hate groups and the militias guarding them fully intend to continue their work, their “rallies,” and their plans “to take back” this country and punish all who oppose them. And for now, they have a president with a cabinet of advisers who openly support their hate, their violence, and their wholly fabricated reading of history and human nature. As of this weekend, thanks to a campaign ad and yet another violent tweet, the president has declared the majority of the American people his enemies.

This terrorist rally in Charlottesville is of a piece with police violence in communities of color, the school-to-prison pipeline, the logic of for-profit prisons, redlining and fraudulent lending practices, bans on refugee acceptance and immigration for Muslim people, threats to established rights of LGBTQ people, the hocus pocus of evolutionary psychology and legislative attacks on women’s physical autonomy, the droning refrain of their tired, but deadly serious, anti-Semitism. It is of a piece with the abuses demanded by neoliberal capitalism, and permissions given in rape culture.

The white supremacists at that rally were speaking specifically in favor of these practices, from the calls for the eradication of peoples to support for “a free market” to the disparagement of the activist Heather Heyer, murdered by one of their number, in some of sexism’s cruelest terms. There is no ideological gap here; these are gears that grind together to close borders, raise walls, and intimidate opposition.

But there are more of us than them, by tens of millions. Among our numbers are some of the most inventive and imaginative people in the world. We are poets, we are visionaries and advocates, we are certain of the justice of our causes. Let’s embolden each other through our poetry -- sublime and terrible as we must write it.

Let them shake.

My thanks to Sarah Browning and Camisha Jones for help editing and some excellent suggestions. We make each other better.


M. F. Simone Roberts is the Poetry & Social Justice Fellow for Split This Rock. Roberts is an independent scholar of poetics and feminist phenomenology, a poet, editor, and activist. She is co-editor of the anthology Iris Murdoch and the Moral Imagination: Essays and author of the critical monograph A Poetics of Being-Two: Irigaray's Ethics and Post-Symbolist  Poetics. Her poems are coming soon to a journal near you. Descendant of both aristocrats and serfs, she adventures this world with her consort, Adam Silverman.

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