Central Texans are expressing solidarity and concern after Saturday’s deadly white supremacist and neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
On Sunday morning, about 10 strangers, all of them white, gathered in a room at the Triumphant Love Lutheran Church in Northwest Austin. Most were drawn by a post for a Facebook event, which said a Charlottesville solidarity event was being held at the church. After a few minutes of pleasantries, people began talking about their roles as allies.
“We’re mostly white folks here,” said Austin resident Hans Maverick. “There’s a lot of tools online that explain how to really listen to people of color.”
Several other attendees echoed Maverick’s points about the need to listen to the experiences of African- Americans and other people of color. Temple, Texas resident Cecily Luft drove about an hour to Austin to attend the gathering. Luft, who is in the process of converting to Judaism, said it was surreal to see images of Saturday's neo-Nazi rally.
“I went to Facebook, and I saw page after page of white men carrying torches… swastikas, and I immediately just had to turn it off,” Luft said. “I felt an overwhelming sense of, ‘I can’t let this happen without a fight.’”
Eventually the group grew to about 30 people. A few people of color, and the event organizer Margaret Haule, arrived. Haule, who is African American and the founder of Black Lives Matter Austin, led an hour-long discussion on racial tension and how to show support for minority groups. She fielded questions on everything from which charities to support to whether wearing safety pins on your shirt is an effective means of showing solidarity. Haule said Saturday’s events in Charlottesville touched a nerve for many people, regardless of race.
“People need an outlet for what they were feeling, what they were experiencing,” Haule said. “This was a way for people to express their pain, express their grief, and just to do a catharsis.”
Haule also said that in her experience, white people and even some minority groups tend to unload their stories of racist experiences and guilt onto African-Americans.
“There’s a time and place, and also, black people are not monolithic, so it’s important that you tap into your humanity before you just assume that they want for you to bear your burden on them without them having the time to process their own burden,” she said.
One man pushed back on Haule’s statements, asking her whether the point of the event was to tell people everything they are doing wrong as allies. He said in his view, it was important to share stories of the human experience.
One of the few people of color in attendance was Margarita Bamba. She immigrated from the Philippines and recently became an American citizen. Bamba became emotional when talking to the group about raising her two young sons in a racially charged climate.
"I want to teach them what it means to be part of this country and do things that you believe in," Bamba said.
Speaking after the event, Bamba said that when people talk about being allies, it's important not to oversimplify the narratives of minority groups.
"When everybody was talking about people of color, I think I was grateful that there are so many white people here, but it felt almost like an out-of-body experience, like people were talking about me in the third person, like I wasn't in the room," she said. "It's become this idea of people of color, that we're this monolithic group, and we're not."
A white supremacist rally and a counter protest are planned for September 11th on the Texas A&M campus. Haule isn’t directly involved in that counter protest, and she says she’ll leave that effort up to local organizers in College Station, Texas. To those who want to be an ally, she says one of the most important things to do is listen.