Responding to Charlottesville — The Fight-or-Flight of Activism

By the time you read this, I’ll be in Alaska. Or maybe we’ll all be dead by then, reduced to ash thanks to a man who can’t bring himself to condemn Nazis, but can wage war via Twitter. At this point, I’d honestly just like some type of resolution. Are we going to be obliterated or not? I’m exhausted from worrying about our imminent doom all the time, and it’s creating dark circles under my eyes. Concealer can only do so much.

Alaska?,” you might be asking. Yes, Alaska! I’m headed out for a week of solo adventuring as I type this, so I’ll admit to a little senioritis — I don’t want to be writing about Nazis any more than you want to read about them. But Alaska, land of salmon and bears and humpback whales, seems like the perfect place to remind myself of the promise our country once boasted.

The plan for this trip came about in less than a week. I managed to find cheap fares to Anchorage and pulled the trigger as soon as the first frisson of fear crept down my spine. I’d already gotten a confirmation email before awareness set in. I’m not ashamed to admit I panicked as soon as the notification popped up on my phone.

Part of the fear stems from the fact that the Alaskan wilderness is so all-encompassing there is no word for it in Inuktitut (the language of the Inuit) — it simply is. Part of the fear factor is due to … well, bears. But mostly it’s the knowledge I’ll be 4500 miles from everything I know, by myself.

The funny thing, and it would take years of knowing me and/or psychoanalysis to understand this, is that overwhelming feeling of lightheadedness — the way my body processes fear — is exactly why I’m going. It’s the way I’ve made most of the major decisions in my life.

Jumping off a cliff into an abandoned quarry at 16? Sure! College in New York City? Why not! Moving to California at 22? Cool! Skydiving? But of course! Buying a sailboat in San Diego even though I didn’t know how to sail? OK! Writing about my mental illness? Check! The greatest growth spurts in my life can be directly attributed to this desire to outlast my fear, and I’ve never been disappointed with the results.

When I called my mom to let her know I’d booked tickets to Alaska, the first thing she said was, “I’m so proud of you.” The second thing was to ask if I was frightened. When I related that I was terrified, she told me a story about her own trip to Nepal — her first time out of the country — and mentioned that she started sobbing the moment the plane took off. Of course, she was on six week-long trek to hike Base Camp One of Mount Everest, but that’s neither here nor there.

Currently, I’m watching a video of a Nazi intentionally ramming a car into protesters in Charlottesville play over and over on the news at the Dallas airport. It’s 2017 and white supremacists are employing the same tactics as ISIS. So when I think about what it means to be an ally today, and tomorrow, and every day after that, I think the most important component of the resistance will be our ability to keep moving forward despite our fear. What could be more terrifying than Nazis? 

Months ago, Melissa Harris-Perry wrote an excellent New York Times piece about how the NAACP could keep from becoming irrelevant. She called for the organization, a historically powerful agent of hope and progress, to return to its roots of radical resistance or face a slow death at the hands of bureaucracy. She pointed to the NAACP’s pivotal role during “the bloody times,” as the height of their influence. It was a compelling argument, and it’s prescience is almost chilling with the images of tiki torch-wielding assholes splashed across my news feed.

I would love to be wrong, but a bloody time has come. One can only hope that the resiliency we’ve been building to our fears, through a variety of less dangerous means, will continue to serve us in the face of actual Nazism. Fear not, comrades, we will overcome.


Sultana Khan can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Last modified onWednesday, 16 August 2017 09:57