I wonder what you, Dear Reader, see in this photo, one of the many disturbing images to come out of Charlottesville last weekend. Because while this particular photo will remain etched with crystal clarity in my mind, I’m realizing we don’t all see the same thing here. According to our president, one of the men pictured here is a “very fine” person. The other is my son.
One of these people had a “permit” to protest the removal of Confederate symbols while chanting “Jews will not replace us!” while the other was “also very violent.” According to our president, there are “many sides” to this.
And indeed there are: This photo, in fact, does not tell the whole story. This photo does not show the banner my son and friends carried that read “The Confederacy Lost and So Will You.” You can’t see it because this message so enraged the man in the homemade riot gear that he ripped the banner out of their hands, grabbed my son by the shirt, and began hitting him with his baton.
The photo also doesn’t show the following seconds when this man trips and my son wrestles the baton away from him and proceeds to wale on the man who attacked him.
Apparently there is a YouTube video of this altercation. I haven’t seen it, and I don’t want to. I have enough images to fill my over-wrought mother’s brain as it is. But apparently the person taking the video was filming the vast array of bodies and anger swirling in all directions, then turned to capture the fight — the final 20 seconds where my son is beating a “very fine” person with a stick.
This, I am sure, if he were ever to view it, would be the only thing our president would see, the only point of view his apologists and supporters would care about. “Look at the violent left,” they would say and are saying right now, and suddenly my son would become the symbol of their moral equivalency; the personification of their “violence on all sides” rhetoric. Now that I have foolishly posted this to the internet, no doubt a troll somewhere is hard at work, photo-shopping an Antifa logo to my son’s back so they can reposted it with words ( “See?! See?!”) and suggestions that somehow my kid — and that dear child Heather Heyer — deserved this.
Of course, my vision is a blur of maternal adoration and hero worship of a kid I begged not to go last Saturday. I’d like to think everyone would see him in the same light. But then on Tuesday, as the president chose to slap radical alt-left labels on the protesters and then continued — for a second time! — to carve out room to suggest the “very fine” man with the stick had ample reasons to beat my son, I hope you’ll understand that I saw red. Lots of shades of red: blood red, molten lava red, MAGA-hat red.
“But how can you blame Trump?” his fans ask me in Facebook go-nowhere debates and the conversation grinds to a halt as we continue to stare at each at our screens in disbelief, unable to come to agreement on the letters on the nationwide eye exam. “How can anyone be that blind?” we each ask ourselves. I’m not sure what kind of corrective lens will help those who refuse to see.
I wasn’t there at Charlottesville, but this much is immortalized in my mind’s eye: the “very fine” man came armed with a stick. My son came armed with a historical fact. Our president and his supporters can choose to look past this fact, around and under it; squint their eyes and try hard not to see; or work fast to invent some alternative narrative.
But even if Trump can’t quite see it, the rest of the GOP may want to open their eyes wide to the immutable truth on the yellow banner carried by some very brave Americans who are not letting go and not backing down. Racist policies, Confederate symbols, and Jim Crow statues lost the respect of the American public long ago. Continue to ignore this very obvious truth, and so will you.