Panel discussion takes on insurrection

Harrison Museum Zoom conversation focuses on America’s ‘BIG’ issue

by Shawn Nowlin

On January 28, Roanoke’s Harrison Museum of African American Culture (HMAAC) hosted a virtual conversation titled “The Insurrection in Black and White.” A variety of topics including law enforcement accountability and the juxtaposition of the treatment of white insurrectionists versus peaceful marchers involved in Black Lives Matter, were broached in intricate detail by a panel of four: Virginia Delegate Sam Rasoul; Matt Chittum, journalist; Leslie King, CEO at Black in Burg; and Idella Glenn, Associate Vice President for Equity, Inclusion and Community Impact at the University of Southern Maine.

Moderated by former Salem Economic Director Melinda Payne, the 90-minute conversation was conducted via Zoom and live-streamed on Facebook. During her opening remarks, Payne said, “This whole topic has been on the minds of many since January 6. So much has been learned and continues to be revealed about the attack in the nation’s capital. We solicited these individuals today because we know they bring a lot to the table and offer great insight.”

Viewers were encouraged to ask the panelists questions and HMAAC board member Jessica Arrington selected the best ones to present. One individual wanted to know how panelists felt about minorities slowly becoming the majority in the country. Another wanted to know how it is possible that so many good-hearted people can believe a probable falsehood.

There was overwhelming agreement that many in law enforcement do their job to the best of their abilities. No one, said the panelists, is above being held accountable though. All also were in agreement that there is much more that brings us together than separates us.

The following are excerpts from the event.

Q: Can you speak to the distinct difference in language – both body and verbal – from the President and other leaders regarding the Black Lives Matter movement?

A: “We often try to pretend that racism doesn’t exist, but it is there and it does have an impact. Some have been told all their life that ‘it is your birthright to be on top.’ Some fear that they are going to be treated the way they have treated others if they lose power. Racism sometimes can be very subtle. That is a reason why we must have these kinds of conversations and continue doing so in the future” – Glenn

“One term that President Trump often used regarding Black Lives Matter was ‘Law and Order.’ When he spoke about white nationalists, he said things like, ‘there are good people on both sides’ and ‘we love you.’ That was not by coincidence. The best indicator of future behavior oftentimes is past behavior” – King

“I remember when President Trump said of protestors last year, ‘when the looting starts, the shooting starts.’ Regarding the Proud Boys, he said, ‘stand down and stand by.’ There seems to be a fairly consistent number of examples where he used language with very specific origins. When it happens enough times, it is not an accident. Because of the newspaper, we were able to keep an eye on the man as best as we could. Of course we had our biases and we let down a lot of people for years, but that [holding him accountable] was the idea” – Chittum

Q: Why in America are folks more comfortable with protests from the Right than from the Left?

A: “Historically speaking, white Americans have had better access to education and other vital resources. Brown vs. Board of Education passed in 1952, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that many places got desegregated. Even though laws have since been passed that said this is not the right way to live in this country, for many, that didn’t change their hearts” – Glenn

“As a writer, language fascinates me. What’s encapsulated in the word patriot is the idea that ‘we represent the real American.’ To that I say, what is the real America? It’s not hard to find the significant overlap between the so-called Patriot movement and white nationalists and white supremacy. January 6 wasn’t the first time that such individuals attempted to pull something like this” – said Chittum

“I think it’s all about narratives. The history and legacy of slavery is something still felt today. If you explain away slavery, you have to find a way to justify the exploitation.  I think most African Americans have a complex relationship with the word ‘patriotic’ because of how it’s used and weaponized to create a distinction in terms of other. There is information that is grossly misleading and false, but yet millions buy into that narrative which is very hard to combat. Part of it too is this subtext of what it means to be American, and who is and isn’t” – King

Q: How can we encourage our faith leaders to learn more about racism and teach it to their congregations?

A: “I think faith leaders can play a huge part, as there’s a great opportunity to have meaningful conversations. Beyond changing hearts, I think it’s also important to move that conversation to changing systems and structures. The faith community can speak to these issues in ways that other communities simply cannot” – King

Q: Are there any national or local campaigns to create and foster public conversation around radical partisan politics?

A: “Everybody likes the concept of civility but no one votes for it. Trust me civility is a loser. What do people vote on? Winning. They want to win. simple and plain. They want their issues to win. I know that it’s tough to hear, but it is true. I used to talk about civility a lot when I first ran back in 2008. Think about how and why the unions were so strong back in the day. That was not because of the issues they stood for, it was more of a mindset of ‘your problems are my problems, and my problems are your problems.’ That’s how they were able to build. Unified America, like so many other organizations, is trying to promote this type of dialogue. At the end of the day, civility presumes that we are all sitting here and having a rational conversation about things. You can’t get to that part of the brain until you’ve built an emotional connection” – Rasoul

Those interested can visit to see the panel discussion in its entirety. Below is a condensed version of the powerful conversation.