After Charlottesville, I Asked My Dad About Selma

Over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, white supremacists held a rally that escalated into violence. An activist, a paralegal named Heather Heyer, was killed after a man drove his car into a crowd of protesters. I usually write about video games on this site, but today I need to talk about my dad, who marched in Selma in 1965.

Credit: AP

I try to tell myself, when I feel especially silly for writing about Pokemon Snapchat filters, Sims vampires, or other light video game stuff, that the readers of Kotaku need distractions just like anyone else. If you're particularly traumatised from watching a video of protesters being run over, maybe you need me to write a funny quiz about Mario or whatever. Sometimes I feel guilty about what my contributions to society lack compared to those of my father, who grew up in the segregated US south. My dad protested and went to gaol and put his life on the line to make a better world.

I am so proud of my father, and I've started to use him as a marker to hold myself up to. When the world is violent and confusing, he's the person I turn to. When I was a kid, I didn't really understand the significance of what he's lived through, but now I try to ask him for guidance as much as I can. I've always wanted to follow in his footsteps. What better a person to ask about how I should feel and act in times of political upheaval than a guy who did the damn thing already?

I recall being 14, sitting in his sister's house, relaxing after dinner. I was a teenager, and moody, opting out of the post-dinner movie with my cousins and my brothers to catch up on a full schedule of sulking. As I sat on the couch, lamenting that I'd been dragged into a boring family trip, my father and his sister started talking about their childhood. He started talking about marching. I'd never heard him talk about this before. His voice was light and jovial. It almost sounded like he was telling a joke.

"So we go to the end of the bridge," he said, smiling, "and I see the dogs. I start asking myself, 'Well, am I gonna get bit by those dogs, or am I gonna jump?'"

Later in life I found out more things about my father. He was put in solitary for nearly a month for doing a sit-in at a lunch counter. He remembers the Klan marching through his neighbourhood when he was about five. Visiting me in New York, he remarked that the houses in Queens, with their small gardens and metallic fences, reminded him of Selma. I asked if he ever missed it. He said, quickly and with a great certainty, "No."

Before I began having these talks with my father, the Selma march was just a moment in my history textbook. That kind of violent racism felt so distant. I could drink from the same water fountains as my white peers, sit at the same lunch counters, attend the same schools. In my adolescent mind, segregation was as old as slavery. It had nothing to do with me. On that night in my aunt's house, as I sat silently on the couch, I learned how wrong I was. The history of segregation, of America's racism, was so close I could reach out and touch it. He was, and is, my guide on how to keep my head above water when things feel out of control. If he did it, then so can I. So can we.

Sometimes I look at my life and wonder what I am doing with my dad's legacy. He might not think of it this way, but I know that I do. When Selma marchers were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2016, my mother urged my dad to figure out how he could get one. I, his daughter, write about video games for a living.

It isn't like he isn't proud of me. I know for a fact that he prints out my articles and leaves them around the office. Whenever I go back to visit, my parents' friends tell me that he never stops talking about me. I bought him a Kotaku T-shirt for Christmas and he put it on right after he opened it. Still, I know that my father's actions helped shape the America that I live in. The Voting Rights Act of 1965, which he fought for, helped bring the vote to everyone. There is an Oscar-nominated movie about the march to Montgomery, across the Edmund Pettus bridge, where my father was chased by dogs. He would have been about 19 at the time. My dad helped change the world.

Dad does not like to look back, a trait I picked up from him. Lately, he has been forced to. In 2013, when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was partially struck down, I texted my dad to see how he was feeling. All he said was, "Sad." When George Zimmerman, the man who shot teenager Trayvon Martin, was found not guilty of second degree murder, my father and I were sitting in the living room of my childhood home. My dad loves to laugh and, whenever I'm having a hard time, his immediate response is to make me crack a smile. That night he silently left the room, went to bed early. On the night of the 2016 US election, I called my dad, drunk and sobbing. He had gone to sleep before the results came in. This is also his strategy when he's watching basketball and the game's going badly -- better to rest well with some hope than go to bed hopeless. I told him the news, and I heard the words catch in his throat, "You're joking. You're joking."

Today on the phone, my dad told me that when he was young, he didn't want to have children. "For a long time I didn't want to have any kids because hey, you know what, this place sucks. Why should I bring anybody into an environment like this?" he said. "I changed my mind. Sometimes I think, 'Oh my god, these kids are gonna have a big struggle, man.' Right now it's looking like the things I thought were behind us are not."

Dad told me that he didn't think I was going to have to go through what he went through, but now he can see that he was wrong. "This fight is a never-ending fight," he said. "There's no end to it. I think after the '60s, the whole black revolution, Martin Luther King, H. Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael and all the rest of the people, after that happened, people went to sleep," he said. "They thought, 'This is over.'" He says that the stories of the civil rights movement weren't recorded or celebrated the way that they should have been, and our history and heroes were too quickly forgotten. My father says that white supremacists never stopped fighting, and that while we rested on our laurels, they kept at it. "They still praise their heroes, like Robert E. Lee and all those people. But we didn't."

Repeatedly he urged me to make a difference. He says, with my job, I have a great potential to be a voice for change. But the suggestions he makes for direct action surprised me, especially in light of what I know that he did in the '60s. They're small, gentle actions. Tell the stories of the civil rights movement, and the stories of our culture now. "Including in games," he said. "It's a whole culture thing that we have to fight. At every level." For our generation at large, he tells me, again and again, that we have to do something.

"You gotta speak and engage with people. They have to know you and understand you and not feel afraid of you," he said. "You can't just sit back, oh, just because the country had a president like Barack Obama, that everything's OK. Individuals have to make a difference."

It's nice to hear this from my father, because these are things that feel doable. I worry, all the time, that I'm just not doing enough. I want to be able to be an advocate and to engage in meaningful activism, but to be honest I'm afraid. While I know my father and his generation were able to end segregation, in his day, he told me, the Klan wore hoods. In Charlottesville, over the weekend, the white supremacists did not cover their faces. They felt safe enough not to.

Before I hang up with my dad, I remind him of my drunken phone call from election night. That night, I'd asked him if he felt scared when he was young. That night, he told me that he wasn't scared. He thought he could change the world. "Do you think we still can?" I ask.

He paused. "I think that was the mentality in the '60s, that we could," he said. "I don't think we have that. But it can come back. We can come out, in numbers, singing and shouting, and we can bring it back. We can change the world, for the better."


Comments

    I dislike the current rhetoric about Charlottesville being a right wing issue, I have a lot of conservative friends that were disturbed by this and think it is sad that a lot of reactionary statements are distracting people of both sides from cracking down on these Nazi scum directly.

    It worries me the amount of people claiming these groups should have free speech; while I normally would agree that there needs to be room for discourse in discussion, the group in Charlottesville is clearly excercising their freedom of speech to reduce that of others, which is not actually covered by their constitution.

    70 years ago the world fought against a movement of evil, yet yesterday 700 morons spat on the sacrifices of those that went before us.

      Just like there are a lot of people for whom GamerGate was about ethics in journalism, just like there are people in Black Lives Matter who actually try to improve black lives, there are people who believe that embracing white culture is not about hurting non-whites. It's easier to tar everyone with the same brush though.

        What concerns me most is the lack of consistency when it comes to dealing with this heinous shite. The media is extremely quick to jump on these WN tossers, but Antifa...who are they?

        Call a spade a spade, even when they happen to align with your political values. Anything else is pure hypocrisy.

          Hypocritical is right. Antifa is a bunch of thugs. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-40930831

          You can't have it both ways. You don't excuse violence committed in opposition to someone who says or believes something you disagree with, because one day YOU might say or believe something someone else disagrees with, and find yourself on the receiving end.

          The media is to blame for much of this - whipping people into a frenzy and making them believe that if they don't do something now, society is going to implode (or something).

          Couldn't be further from the truth.

    You know who wears the hoods these days? Antifa.

    Gita’s father has some salient points that have been forgotten - namely engaging with people. Instead we see violent battles between ideologies, where black hoodies with red bandanas march through the streets to attack ‘fascists’ wearing red baseball caps... only to melt away in the face of literal Nazists they claim to fight. Groups like Antifa enable the actual Nazis to come out of the woodwork - because they tell you everyone who isn’t far left is the fascist enemy.

    This dangerous polarisation of politics honestly scares me. As a political moderate you’re forced towards either end of the spectrum because people maintain this ‘with us or against us’ mentality. There’s zero balance. You voted for Trump because you didn’t like Clinton? Oh you must be a FASCIST! Wait, you voted for Clinton instead of Trump? Oh you must be the regressive left!

    When terms like Nazi, fascist, regressive and liberal have been corrupted into meaninglessness, it’s no wonder people despair when the real enemy reveals itself. People have largely been fighting pointless shadows lately (with some exceptions) and justifying violence in the name of their personal political view. Now the true Nazis are back in public view in response - now you have a real enemy to fight. Time to put aside some of that vitriol and hate and channel it toward the actual white power parade.

      Let's take a stand for moderate centrism! Death to the right and the left! Now where's my bandana...

      :-P

      (I tend to shake my head at people who are extreme left/right. They usually end up making themselves look like tits)

        The real shame about the centre in Australia is that the closest power to centre is the Labor party, who are led by a flimsy sheet of plywood. It was only a couple of years ago I even knew who Shorten was.

        I remember liking Turnbull when he first usurped Abbott (might be more about hating Tony than anything else), but it has become clear that for all of his talk about being centrist he is more accurately just a coward, unable to move his more conservative party members.

          Both Labor and Liberals are center when compared with the USA parties.
          Libs would be even more so if it wasn't for the right leaning nationals and Abbott.
          My fear is that the alt-left and alt-right groups will force us further apart.
          You can already see that with increasing votes for independents and smaller fringe parties. The major parties will either lose their status as major parties, or they will swing further to the edges to ensure they win votes.
          It's important we remain as centred as possible to ensure everyone feels included to prevent division and violence on both sides.

    Thank you for writing that, Gita. And thanks to KotakAU for giving it the tick and bringing it across.

    It's always amusing how often people come out of these acting as if there's a balance. There are not two equal sides. There are nazis and people who protested against nqzis. Charlottesville was the rise of rightwing racist nationalism, it was a fundamental feature of rightwing rhetoric.

    I am a conservative, but i am not an idiot to pretend this is some alien feature belonging to the extreme. There is a rampant narcisim amongst the right, who act like victims the moment their privilege is challenged, or faced with the ugly truth if the views of nationalists.

      That’s fine, but when you’re called a Nazi for merely disagreeing with the far left (see: Antifa), your argument falls apart. People are so keen to polarise US politics and toss around terms like Nazi and fascist that they’ve forgotten what real Nazis are actually like. Cue articles like this expressing shock and despair that real Nazis exist.

      When you spend your days trying to vilify everyone you don’t agree with, you’re going to be in for a nasty surprise when true evil returns.

        Dude, we're talking about Charlottesville. Nobody's "tossing around terms like Nazi and fascist," the rallies were literally a bunch of nazis and fascists. If you're in any doubt, try looking for the swastikas and fasces on their shields.

          Dude, read my posts - I said that the people at Charlottesville are the literal Nazis. Where did I suggest that the people there aren't Nazis?

          My point is that groups like Antifa have been branding even the mildest Trump voter or right-leaning person a "Nazi" or "fascist" to the point where people are shocked when the literal Nazis turn up. This is what I've been saying all along - when we go about accusing everybody of being Nazis and fascists we forget what the real thing is - and now we've got a rush of articles expressing hopelessness, despair and fear that the actual threat appears.

          None of what I've said is a defence of Nazis or fascists, nor suggesting that the people who turned up at this event aren't actual Nazis. I'm commenting on the fact that "Nazi" and "fascist" have become such dilute terms that saying "You're against Nazis or you're a Nazi" has come to mean something very different - until now when we have literal Nazis to remind all the Antifa kiddies what a literal fucking Nazi looks and sounds like.

            Have another read of the post you replied to. It wasn't calling all right-leaning people nazis. It referred specifically to people at the Charlottesville rally and related protests.

            You then put words in his mouth that he was calling everyone on the right nazis, and @bondles called you on it.

              No I didn’t - I’m pointing out how dilute the word Nazi has become. Your choice not to read it that way.

                So which part of @idonegaminggood's post do you think was diluting the word "nazi"? Or do you think we should use some other word to denote "actual nazis" now?

                  Apparently I have to spell this out.

                  It's always amusing how often people come out of these acting as if there's a balance. There are not two equal sides. There are nazis and people who protested against nqzis.

                  I know he then goes on to note the event at hand - which involves literal Nazis. Maybe you can re-read rather than trying to straw man me like the ignorant Antifa kids. I was pointing out that the problem with this thinking is that groups like Antifa have been corrupting the term “Nazi” so much that they’ve forgotten what real Nazis actually are. They were the ones carrying torches through Charlottesville.

                  But hey whatever try and paint me as a Nazi sympathiser by suggesting we use other words or whatever it is you’re trying to do.

                  @soldant: it was a comment on a story about the Charlottesville protests, and he even specifically mentions Charlottesville in the sentence after your quote. You're basically stripping away all the context attached the post and then complaining that he's generalising.

                  You seem more interested in using it as an excuse to launch into your diatribe about antifa, which looks an awful lot like an attempt to minimise the actions of the nazis and white supremacists.

    the big thing to remember about saturday/sunday is that even though trump was piss weak, you had Paul Ryan, John McCain and Ted FUCKING Cruz and man other Republicans call out the Nazis and KKK along with rightly call the murder an act of Domestic Terrorism.

    But then you look over here and see that Andrew Bolt is straight out of the gate going on with Whataboutisms and refusing to call it an act of domestic terrorism that many of the right have called it

    Strange we don't get articles like this when a Bernie supporter attempts to gun down a Republican....

    Anyhow I don't understand what everyone is so worried about... You're more likely to get killed by a falling fridge than a white supremacist Nazi. Nothing to worry about.

      Strange that you love to call out SJWs for over-using the terms Nazi or fascist.

      Now, we have an actual, objectively verifiable bunch of Nazis, fascists and KKK members marching in Charlottesville. During that march, 19 people were injured and one died.

      Your response is "BUT WHAT ABOUT DER SJWs" and "it's nothing to worry about".

      Colour me surprised.

      Last edited 15/08/17 6:08 pm

        16 dead in Barcelona will we get an article?

        Or is it too racist to point out?

          Why would there be an article about that? This is kotaku. Perhaps you should stick to reading The daily Stormer. Seems like your kind of publication.

            Why would there be an article about that? This is kotaku.Same could be said for this article. It is in no way related to gaming, but hey it's here. (Not that I'm complaining. I think this is a great article. Just pointing out a contradictory point in this argument)

              Still belongs more than an article reporting on what happened in barcelona. If mypetmonkey wants an article on what happened he should go to one of the many news sites already reporting on it.

                Still belongs more than an article reporting on what happened in barcelona.How?
                I like this article, but it has absolutely nothing to do with video games or pop culture, which is what Kotaku is all about. So how can you say that this belongs more than a potential report on Barcelona?

                  Its a kokatu writer sharing his own life experience. He is sharing his own experiences with like minded people. He clearly wanted to share this with fellow gamers/ Readers of kotaku. A writer reporting on a terrorist attack has no basis being on here.

      Only an idiot would think there is nothing wrong with people proudly marching around in KKK uniforms and Nazi Flags/ Imagery.

      Do you really want to be a person that defends a group that idolizes a political era that directly resulted in the deaths of millions of innocent people?

        Yet you comment about a small band of Nazi's and yet here this weekend more innocents died at the hands of Islamofascists but falling fridges are more a concern....

          Yet you comment about a small band of Nazi's

          The entire thing was organised by white supremecists. Perhaps you should look up who David Duke is

          here this weekend more innocents died at the hands of Islamofascists but falling fridges are more a concern....

          So whats your solution then? The white supremesicst solution of treating all muslims like shit due to the action of a minority? Collective punishment?

          Your lot love to shout "MUSILIMS! ITS ALL MUSLIMS!" Yet provide no actual solution. ISIS has stated previously in interviews with the press they rely on hard right racist groups and recruiting tools because they push vulnerable young muslims into ISIS.

          You are nothing but a coward exploiting tragedy to further your political ideals. We want to solve the problem, You just want to blame and push hate.

          Last edited 19/08/17 1:42 am

      Ignoring your second sentence, as much as I understand the point the first sentence is trying to make this is very clearly not the correct example to compare to. What I saw in the footage at Charlottesville was so eerily familiar to what I remember reading in history books regarding WW2 and the KKK that it shocked me. As Gita mentioned in this article what we read in history books seemed to be, well... history. Ancient. Old news. But then something like this happens and you realise that what you thought was an aspect of society we rightly moved from was actually just hiding in the shadows.

      You want to point out the disparity that many sites may show in regards to wrongdoings committed by the far-left as opposed to the far-right? Fine. I'll even agree that is a problem. But this is an article addressing a recent event where we saw literal white-supremacists & Nazis parading proudly. Doesn't that scare you in the slightest?

      Last edited 16/08/17 2:33 am

        It scares me as the much as the fascist actions of antifa, the murderous actions of Islamic fundamentalists....

        All I ask for is consistency..... You see multiple barbaric acts from one source and you're told don't worry about it... Lone wolf, falling fridges are more dangerous, not real islam, or they are anti-fascists (while burning and trashing innocent peoples properties and premises).

        As soon as one event retaliates in a similar way its "all white people are white supremacists" and "this is a serious problem" and its apparently absurd or offensive to use the "one wolf, falling fridges" analogies.

          I'm really not sure how to respond to your comments. I understand the frustration regarding "All white people are ", sure. It is a stupid and racist saying and those that don't understand that or make excuses for it are idiots. Blaming all for the actions of few is never a good thing. But if I'm understanding this reply correctly then your original post (aka. second sentence) was using a shoddy defence to show it's a shoddy defence?

    Hello. I'm still here.

    Chill the fuck out, and do so promptly.

    Hi Gita - I just read your story as it was shared on Lifehacker. I'm not surprised your dad is proud of you. You tell your story and his beautifully and with power. The insight that the struggle for equality is ongoing is sad and true. I wish for humanity's sake we were better at learning the lessons of our history. With writers like you around, perhaps we will get better at it. Thanks for sharing.

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