What more is there to say? Why do I have to say anything? At this point, any attempt to comment on, shed light on, explore what happened in Charlottesville will come off as opportunistic and extremely unnecessary. At this point, does America really need another another twentysomething Caucasian male’s blog post condemning racism?
These were the thoughts that circulated through my brain this past week, as I considered what I should write about. I worried that I would be out of my depth, or that I would just be regurgitating what’s already been communicated so well by others. So, to that end, I plan to get out the way as soon as possible. I’m not here to “shed light” on anything. I’m just here to paint a picture.
It’s Saturday, August 19 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It’s late afternoon, early evening. The sun is hanging low in the sky, and the waning daylight slants through the trees, casting the crowd in hues of sepia and gold. The lawn is overflowing with people: people in Tommy Bahama beach chairs, on picnic blankets, in camping chairs, with ice chests and takeout KFC and bottles of Chardonnay. There’s not a spare square inch of grass in the place. For the moment, the crowd is waiting. The concrete dance floor in front of the stage has been been vacated. Canned Latin music pours from the speakers. The band is taking a fifteen minute break, and will be back shortly. In the meantime, the crowd rests. Some mingle. Some eat. Some take a stroll around the park, stopping at various fenced off tar pits and reading from the display about whatever mammoths or prehistoric birds were trapped there thousands of years ago. Kids dart in and out of clumps of chatting adults. The crowd fills time, refuels, hits the bathroom, waiting for the band to return.
And then they’re back. The Bobby Matos Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble has returned to the stage. A cheer goes up from the crowd. The Cuban man in sunglasses behind the snare drums leans into the microphone and rasps out a few acknowledgements. The audience applauds. By this point, the dance floor has been replenished with eager dance partners. There’s a moment of mounting anticipation as the band adjusts their instruments, fiddling with cords and mics and what have you.
Then, someone onstage gives a “One, two, three,” and they go. The piano kicks things off, quickly followed by the trumpet and flute and the violin, and the conga drums and snares jump in, too, and soon the maracas and guiro and cowbell find their way into the mix. The lead singer, an older Spanish woman with a shock of short white hair, dangling earrings, and a flowing blouse, sways and holds her sheet music aloft as she belts out the lyrics. At certain intervals, the musicians will tilt toward the microphone and punctuate the song with the phrase, “Nadie baila como yo...” In English, “Nobody dances like me.”
As one surveys the dancefloor, it’s difficult to say who truly is the best dancer. The dance floor is alive, it is one surging seething joyous organism, it is a cross-section of humanity with practically every age, race, and creed on display. Take, for instance, the man and woman to the left. He’s a tall, thin white man with a mustache reminiscent of a caterpillar, a teal polo shirt, and a cream-colored fedora perched jauntily on his head. She’s also tall, a middle-aged African American woman with a sleek black dress, bare feet, and a mysterious smile on her lips that never wavers. They casually slide and step together, eye to eye, hip to hip. Every so often she leans forward and whispers something in his ear. The corners of her eyes crinkle when she smiles and laughs.
Or take this couple of here, closer to the stage. He’s of Pacific Islander descent, possibly Hawaiian, with severe dark eyebrows and brooding brown eyes, and she’s blonde, blue-eyed, pale-skinned. They’re young, maybe early twenties. They dance like young people, with intensity and urgency, their bodies undulating and spinning, their movements serpentine and virile. They move like contestants in a dance competition that only they are privy to.
Take this elderly Hispanic man in the Hawaiian shirt decorated with bottles of tequila, and watch as he weaves in and out of the crowd, slowly shuffling and bobbing his head to the music. See the mother who is stooped down to dance with her young curly-headed son, who swinging his head back and forth like a metronome while batting at his mother’s canary yellow skirt with his fists. Notice the little Indian girl in the pink tutu who is hopping around on her tippy toes. Watch the jewelry-laden Asian woman and the balding white man perform some rendition of ballroom dancing. Look at the shirtless, sun-reddened guy sitting on the wall behind the stage, slapping his palms against the cement along with the music. And whatever you do, please watch the violinist, origins unknown, as he closes his eyes, kicks and shambles his shoes, and attacks the strings of his instrument with a ferocity unlike anything I’ve ever seen. See the bliss on his face. Can you see it? And can you see everyone dancing?
I paint you this picture because last Saturday, we as a nation were faced with a very different picture. You’ve no doubt seen the images. White men with anger on their faces and torches in their hands. Images of violence and hatred and fear. And let me say this: that’s real. If the events of Charlottesville has reminded us of anything, it is the fact that, yes, hatred and evil still exist in our country. Evil is real, powerful, and present. We should recognize it and decry it for what it is: evil.
In fact, in the face of Charlottesville, the picture I painted might look feeble. A bunch of people from different walks of life went to a jazz concert in LA and danced together. So what? What does that solve? I don’t think it solves anything. It doesn’t negate what happened. But it still gives me hope.
Why? Because for me, it meant that hatred and bigotry aren’t the whole story. There are still places in our nation where people of every age, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, and background can come together, smile, and dance. That can happen, and does happen somewhere everyday. There are places and moments where evil does not dominate. Sometimes, love and joy do actually win the day.
When I was at the concert, I was reminded of one of my favorite passages from any book ever, from Stephen King’s 11/22/63:
“For a moment everything was clear, and when that happens you see that the world is barely there at all. Don't we all secretly know this? It's a perfectly balanced mechanism of shouts and echoes pretending to be wheels and cogs, a dreamclock chiming beneath a mystery-glass we call life. Behind it? Below it and around it? Chaos, storms. Men with hammers, men with knives, men with guns. Women who twist what they cannot dominate and belittle what they cannot understand. A universe of horror and loss surrounding a single lighted stage where mortals dance in defiance of the dark.”
At the concert on August 19, I felt hope, and I wish you could too. The dark is there. But that’s not all there is, friends. Somewhere in our country, people are dancing. And when that happens, nadie baila como nosotros. No one dances better than us.