The eyes of the nation turned to Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend as massive protests broke out in response to a white supremacist rally. The events started Friday evening when a "Unite the Right" rally walked through the middle of the University of Virginia campus carrying torches and chanting white supremacist mottos. Throughout all the live streaming, cable news coverage, and photojournalism since this incident began, a single image of the Charlottesville protests exemplifies how bigotry continues to contradict itself in the worst ways.
The image, first shared on Twitter by Huffington Post national reporter Christopher Matthias, shows a young black man in a brightly colored State Police vest standing in front of a crowd barricade. Behind him, scores of protesters are armed with shields bearing white supremacist coats of arms and military grade helmets. He stands alone with his chin tilted toward the ground, un-swaying but unsupported, too. Somewhat ironically, one of the protesters flies a thin blue line flag, symbolizing support for police and military.
The photo captures the feeling of what it's like to be an American right now, to feel surrounded by so much hatred and divisiveness while still uncertain as to how to make a difference. The most beautiful parts of the landscape — the trees and blue sky, the stately brick building off in the background — are completely eclipsed by the symbols of hate and violence.
The photo also calls to mind many of the police shooting cases that roiled the nation over the last several years. Beginning with Michael Brown in the summer of 2014, a heartbreaking number of unarmed black women and men have been shot dead by law enforcement officers, inciting racialized national division. In many of these instances, white Americans have expressed support for police, creating slogans like Blue Lives Matter.
The image of the police officer before the white supremacists in Charlottesville underscores the point of those who argued against the Blue Lives Matter contingent: that the issue was never about the color of the uniform.
This image is a reminder that the events of the past weekend are nothing new, merely a new expression of something very old. Similar images were captured throughout the 20th century civil rights movement — this type of violent hatred against marginalized people has existed forever. And it's long been time that the country unites to put such hatred and bigotry to an end.