ELIZABETH'S STORY: LIFE AS A WOMAN OF COLOR IN CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA
I moved to Charlottesville from Baltimore roughly a month after graduating from college in 2016 to pursue my first real world job. I walked into my first day wide-eyed, nervous, but full of hope. These feelings carried me blindly and happily until about mid-October. Up until that point, I loved Charlottesville and thought I had found a new home. That all changed after one trip to bar called Biltmore on the Corner; a popular place for undergrads of the University of Virginia. While waiting for my drink at the bar, I accidentally made eye contact with a white male student. I looked away, but not soon enough, because the next thing I knew he was next to me offering me a drink. I politely declined as I had just ordered one for myself. This did not sit well with him.
He began screaming at me to “take the drink” and to stop being an “ungrateful tease.” Shocked and confused, I took the drink and sat it down on the bar. He began to belligerently screech that “in Trump’s America, brown bitches like [me] should be deported and don’t belong here!” Although my stomach twisted, I calmly responded with the fact that I was from Baltimore and no different than him. He then noticed my Arabic tattoo and called me a “terrorist” and threatened to report me to the police. As if I was in a strange dream, I looked around to try and ground myself in reality. There were roughly twenty people within a five foot radius and not a single person stepped up to help me. I left the bar immediately.
I honestly didn’t know if I would make it home without being physically or sexually assaulted. I carry mace and found myself fiddling with it, while scouring for an Uber to take me home. This was the moment I realized this small city was likely not going to be the welcoming home I imagined.
A few weeks later I was shopping at TJ Maxx. I brought exactly six items to the dressing room to try on, which I knew was the limit of clothes anyone could try on. I waited patiently as the older white woman working the dressing room happily assisted a blonde-hair-blue-eyed woman unload an arm full of clothes on to the unwanted clothing rack. They said their polite goodbyes and I stepped up. Immediately, the woman’s demeanor changed. She went from employee-of-the-month-bubbly to icy and unwelcoming. Her first words weren’t “Hello” or “How is your evening?” but rather “You can only have exactly 6 items.” She took the clothes from my hands and counted them out loud. Disappointed that I could count to six, she sent me off to the dressing room. I decided I liked all six items and returned the dressing room card to the woman behind the counter. I then remembered that I needed to grab some snacks. I began walking towards the food isle when I noticed that she was following me.
I turned around and asked if there was an issue. The woman, very indignantly, asked if I intended to pay for what was in my arms because I “didn’t look like the type of person to pay for my clothes.” Needless to say, when I left the store I proudly waved my shopping bags above my head hoping that the dressing room woman would see.
I’ve faced racial profiling and racially based verbal abuse at various points of my life, but nothing so brazen and public as these two instances. My life has been far from easy and Charlottesville hasn’t made anything better. Just recently I saw a group of women posed under a poster for the movie “Not Your Negro” in the middle of the downtown mall. They were making monkey sounds and gestures, while spectators just stood and took photos. When I told them they were being (at the very least) insensitive, I was told to “Fuck off” and they shouted “bite me brown bitch” as I walked away.
Unlike most of people in Charlottesville, white nationalists choosing this place as their hub, does not surprise me at all.
There is a deep-rooted sense of white pride and privilege that runs through the veins of these streets, whether people realize it or not. There are signs of acceptance; the ally safety pins hung on doors and diversity and inclusion departments coming out denouncing the actions of the white nationalists and racism as a whole. Some people believe this is enough, however no one is taking the steps to actually remedy the situation. Most are content being passive and hanging their signs.
In Charlottesville, I feel unsafe, unwelcome, alone and unequipped to handle the situation here. I am a woman of color in a city where minorities are few and far between. My words are only taken as antagonistic when I calmly confront situations of racism. And even after the extremely violent weekend of August 12th, 2017, few people are calling out the subtle or even extremely blatant examples of racism in this city. The only way for the situation here to begin to be resolved would be for this to change. White people need to speak up when confronted with racism or racially insensitive comments, behaviors, or actions. I would like to think that this could change Charlottesville, but in the mean time, I am actively seeking employment elsewhere. I can’t be here much longer without completely breaking down.