Heather Heyer was not a victim – so don’t cover up her message in the name of grief

Image credit: Ted Eytan

Donald Trump has repeated his claims that the violence in Charlottesville this summer had its roots in "both sides", and seems unlikely to sway from this rhetoric.

Heather Heyer was killed at the age of thirty-two when a car was driven into a group of people protesting a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville on 12th August. The Charlottesville City Council voted unanimously to cover the Confederate statues in the town with black cloths as a sign of mourning in response. But though there is praise for this act of solidarity with Heyer’s family, friends and colleagues; this sycophantic vision of a town united, if not socially, then by grief – questions are still being raised as to how far mere sheets of black fabric go.

The statues, which are at the very core of the recent contention across the States, are now to be concealed – not removed, as many were calling for in the name of equality, but merely shrouded in a membrane of honour for a white woman; eclipsed from the public eye only in part, with the contours of a sickening past still visible. A mark of respect for Heyer? Possibly. But the inescapable truth is that though several towns and cities across America have already made efforts to dismantle their own Confederate statues after Heyer’s tragic death; promoting the social equality she so desperately tried to instigate, the town in which Heyer died still refuses to do so. It has taken the death of a white woman to partially eradicate their presence - but they still will remain, only now in an arguably more dangerous form: out of sight, out of mind.

The inequality and hatred they symbolise has not been removed.

Meanwhile, Heyer’s loved ones are still reeling from the shock of losing such a vocal and just woman, a bastion of justice, at such an agonisingly young age. Friends and colleagues have spoken to the press in praise of her tenacity, with one childhood friend, Felicia Correa, speaking for Heyer’s mother with the statement “She died doing what was right. My heart is broken, but I am forever proud of her”; a sentiment echoed by many across the world. Whilst they are grieving as a result of her death, they are also desperate to celebrate her life; her ideals; her passion. They refuse to see Heyer as a victim of hatred, and instead regard her as a martyr for what is fair and right. They will not allow their grief to take centre stage whilst Heyer’s message of social justice is still unfulfilled. Which makes the decision taken by the Charlottesville City Council all the more ludicrous.

“They tried to kill my child to shut her up,” said Susan Bro, Heyer’s mother, during a speech in front of 1200 mourners at Heyer’s memorial service, only four days after her death. “But guess what? You just magnified her.”

And Bro’s defiant comments are certainly proving to be the mere tip of the iceberg of social justice Heyer represented. Heyer’s Facebook cover photo, which shows a bleak purple background on which the caption ‘if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention’ is emblazoned, has been shared thousands of times; whilst Bro herself has been praised on social media for statement that she had “no interest” in speaking to Donald Trump, whose inadequate condemnation of the forces who promote racism (and who killed Heyer) is facing international condemnation.

The white nationalists who took part in the rally Heyer opposed, meanwhile, have been pictured sobbing through fear of prosecution; and the KKK, whose ideas of white supremacism and white nationalism were being promoted, are also running scared: in a voicemail message to WBTV, the Grand Dragon of the movement, Justin Moore, said "I'm sorta glad that them people got hit and I'm glad that girl died”. But how can you have white supremacy if you can’t even face the international media; and instead stumble words of paltry support for white people also being annihilated?

Though Heyer has been killed, it is clear her efforts to promote social justice will remain. Her tragic death has in fact enabled the loudspeaker of the press to be held fast to her views; meaning that her efforts cannot, and will not, go unnoticed. A great deal is now being made of her opinions – and whilst it is heart-breakingly tragic that her life had to be lost before this could occur, at least it is happening now. Her voice is finally being heard.

And this was a voice for others, too. She dedicated herself to supporting those whose voices were quelled by society; striving to help those overlooked and promoting justice for everyone, regardless of race, or religion, or creed.  On Facebook, her refusal to accept inequality is paramount; whilst her Twitter bears the marks of a figure appalled by the current social situation, with tweets calling for prosecution of the killers of Mario Woods, a young black man killed by police in San Francisco in 2015; and the dismissal of Daniel Pantaleo, a New York Police Officer who strangled the black Eric Garner to death in 2014. Hers was a social media brimming with activism; the online fingerprint of a stalwart champion of civil rights. This was not your ‘typical lefty liberal snowflake’. This was an avalanche of social equality; a woman trying to make a difference.

And this is a difference that still can be initiated. Those who have shared Heyer’s message are now calling on those in power across the States and beyond to do the right thing; to encourage harmony instead of division, and equality instead of hatred. Instead of being united by grief, America now needs to be united by doing what is right – and, as those close to her insist, this is not something that will end with Heyer’s death.

As Heyer’s mother so eloquently said, “I’d rather have my child. But by golly, if I’ve got give her up, we’re going to make it count.”

Sheets of black cloth will not help us here.

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