After any given tragedy in the digital age, a hashtag is bound to emerge. From #JeSuisCharlie to #SaveAleppo to #BlackLivesMatter, these hashtags are usually well-meaning. They empower and unite people throughout the world behind a singular cause. They spread awareness, solidarity, and — most crucially — hope. In a way, they make us feel a little less alone. That sense of camaraderie can make all the difference in the aftermath of tragedy.
But that’s not what happened with Charlottesville.
Following a weekend of violence in the Virginia college town that resulted in one death and dozens of injuries, a hashtag began making its way from timeline to timeline: #ThisIsNotUs.
The only problem, of course, is that we aren’t better than this. Whether you like it or not, this is us. The white supremacists. The neo-Nazis. The Confederate monuments. The machine guns. The violence. The terror. The hate.
And if this shocks you, you haven’t been paying attention — likely because you’re privileged enough to not be obliged to do so.
From the genocide of Native Americans to the enslavement of Africans to the present-day demonization of immigrants and other marginalized communities, let’s not kid ourselves: Hate and violence are in America’s DNA. Imbalanced systems of power have been implemented and exploited throughout U.S. history. Whether you’re talking about Native Americans, slaves, or immigrants, the truth remains the same: This country was built on the backs of a terrorized people.
And if Charlottesville can teach the woefully ignorant anything, it’s that the terror never really went away. We’ve masked it throughout history with progressive milestones here and there, like desegregation and electing our first black president. But the core of this country — all that hate, terror, and violence — carries on unchanged. When the foundation of your home was laid upon spoiled land, should it be any surprise that cracks form and the bricks begin to crumble?
Some may argue that #ThisIsNotUs is a harmless hashtag that was trying to do some good. To those people I say: Try harder. Think harder. Work harder. Reflect upon how those words might resonate with a child whose parents were deported by ICE agents, with a husband whose hijab-wearing wife was detained at the airport, or with a mother whose unarmed son was killed by a police officer.
It’s one thing to be oppressed, but to be insulted too? That’s what a hashtag like #ThisIsNotUs does. It adds insult to injury. It pretends to be contributing to the conversation when it’s really missing the entire point (#AllLivesMatter is another prime example of this phenomenon at work).
#ThisIsNotUs exists in a world that is only accessible to a select few. It’s a world in which inhabitants gloss over and learn nothing from history while living in denial about the reality of our present.
Mekita Rivas is a multiracial writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. In addition to ROAR, her work has been featured in Bustle, GOOD, Racked, Romper, and Teen Vogue. She holds undergraduate degrees in journalism and English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her current projects include a collection of short stories and a feature film screenplay. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram.