Charlottesville Has Become 'Ground Zero For The Awakening' Of Covert Racism

Aug 11, 2018
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

LAKSHMI SINGH, HOST:

Now we'll turn to Wes Bellamy. He was Charlottesville's vice mayor on the day of the rally last year. He now sits on the Charlottesville City Council.

Wes Bellamy, thanks so much for speaking with me.

WES BELLAMY: Thank you so much for having me.

SINGH: Let's start with finding out how things are in Charlottesville these days.

BELLAMY: Sure. Yeah. Charlottesville is, in my opinion, a place in which may be ground zero for the awakening. Not only in our community, but we've shown for the country how we are still very much so dealing with issues revolving around race. And, to be quite honest, the covert racism - not the overt kind, but the kind of racism that is subtle, the kind that doesn't directly call you the N-word in your face, but it perpetuates systemic injustices as well as policies and practices that keeps a lot of people behind.

But the good thing about our city right now is that we have ripped off the bandaid, and we are realizing that we have to do deep surgery. You don't heal from surgery overnight, and change doesn't occur in our community overnight. But we're dealing with it, and I hope that we can be a model for many other communities.

SINGH: One of your colleagues, City Councilwoman Kathy Galvin, told The Washington Post that after the march last year, Charlottesville had lost its naivete, as she put it. What does she mean by that? And do you agree with her?

BELLAMY: Well, I think, for some people, that's definitely true, right? So I think, for a lot of people, we were seen as - and those who live in this community, they would say, oh, this is a great place. We're oftentimes rated as one of the happiest places to live in the country. This is the home of Thomas Jefferson. It has to be great.

But, in fact, we deny the fact that Thomas Jefferson was a treacherous slave owner. He owned over 600 slaves. But we don't talk about that part. And that's the naivete that I think Ms. Galvin was talking about. We often see ourselves as this utopia of sorts, but now you can no longer deny it. You have to talk about this in schools. You have to talk about this in the barbershop. You can't go anywhere without talking about the topic of race but actually dealing with it. And I think, again, that's a good thing.

SINGH: Right. Because last year, many of the people who showed up for the Unite the Right rally said that they were doing that in defense of the Confederate statues - not wanting them to be taken down. But, in fact, you said it was not only about that. It was about a lot more tied to this long history...

BELLAMY: Oh, yeah.

SINGH: ...Of racism in Charlottesville that people did not want to talk about.

BELLAMY: Right.

SINGH: So now, a year later, do you see, do you hear more people actually talking about it?

BELLAMY: Oh, yeah. I mean, we have those uncomfortable conversations all of the time. People don't even talk about the fact that here in Charlottesville, there was a community called Vinegar Hill, and which was the African-American community literally in the middle of the city. And it was decimated for urban renewal, right? So you think about the economic impact that that had on our community that a lot of people didn't know anything about. That's now being talked about.

The issue revolving around the fact that I was only the seventh black person ever elected, and now, for the first time in our city's history, we have two black people on our council - I don't know whether or not to rejoice or be sad. And...

SINGH: Why do you say that?

BELLAMY: Well, because, honestly, while I'm really proud, and I'm very, very proud of my sister, Nikuyah Walker, who's the first black female mayor our city has ever had, it's kind of sad that it's taking place in 2018.

SINGH: You know, look. Today, across Charlottesville, we know that people are planning these remembrances and planning vigils to commemorate the victims of last year's violence. And then, tomorrow, there will be another Unite the Right rally in Washington, D.C.

BELLAMY: Right.

SINGH: How do you feel about that?

BELLAMY: I'm praying for my brothers and sisters who are up in D.C. I'm really hoping that everyone can remain safe. I think it's another last-ditch effort from Jason Kessler and his cronies to be able to try and push this narrative of division.

SINGH: And Jason Kessler is organizer of the Unite the Right.

BELLAMY: Right. But I have news for them. And we've seen this in Charlottesville, and we've seen this in other places across the country. When they decide to push their hate, it only pushes us closer together. And it causes us - it forces us to see how much we truly have in common and how we must collectively stand against these racist bigots who believe that they are better only because of the color of their skin.

SINGH: That was Charlottesville City Council member Wes Bellamy.

Thank you, sir, for joining us.

BELLAMY: Thanks for having me. Much love. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.