On August 11 and 12, 2017, Charlottesville, Virginia—the home of the University of Virginia and this journal—played unwitting host to two days of white nationalist and neo-Nazi rallies and violence. For those of us in Charlottesville, those events were intensely personal and local. The white nationalists and neo-Nazis violated our physical space. They maimed and killed members of our community. They threatened the security and sense of belonging of our neighbors, colleagues, students, and friends. And they challenged the values of equality and tolerance we hold dear.
From the moment the events unfolded, it was clear that they resonated beyond Charlottesville itself. Such blatant forms of white supremacy came as a surprise to many. They preoccupied observers far flung from Charlottesville both for the violence and loss of life on display and for the stark evidence they provided of deep and enduring fault lines within our nation and our society. The intolerance and hate the white nationalists and neo-Nazis exhibited most directly and explicitly targeted Jews and African Americans, but their reach was far broader. Their intent to make vulnerable all those who do not conform to their image was potent and palpable. Moreover, the incident implicated numerous questions for the law, for politics, and for society itself. The discussions that followed engaged questions not only of race, religion, ethnicity, and nationality, but also of gender and sexuality, pluralism and tolerance, politics and civic engagement, social justice and economic opportunity, speech and violence, civility and protest and counter-protest, and more.
This symposium focuses on the racial implications and reverberations of August 11-12. The conference that produced these articles brought an annual national meeting of empirical critical race theorists to Charlottesville to train their considerable intellectual talents on the first anniversary of August 11-12. The resulting scholarship asks what we can learn from August 11-12 about the legal underpinnings of white supremacy in the United States, from the beginning of its history to the violence in 2017 and beyond. It investigates the surprise with which so many responded to August 11-12 and shows us why we should not be surprised.