Victims of the Charleston church shooting.
Top row: Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
middle row: Daniel Simmons, Rev. Depayne Middleton Doctor, Tywanza Sanders
Bottom row: Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Susie Jackson
This tragedy brought against both faith and race represents unmasked evil. And it appears to be another incident pointing to the shockingly commonplace sin of racism in our culture. Every few days now we hear of black men and children killed unjustly, and now a terrorist attack levied against believers in a prayer circle.
Those of us within the body of Christ must grieve with our brothers and sisters in Charleston. When the apostle Paul says that “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Cor. 12:26), he is saying that when evil visits Charleston, it visits all of us.
Nine people are dead today and I am angry. I have no doubt the anger I feel is righteous. My God is one who stands on the side of those who are marginalized and oppressed. My God is not docile, and is big enough to hold my anger, frustration and questions. My God understands that narratives of reconciliation and peace are not what my community needs right now. What we need is truth-telling and accountability. We need this horrific massacre to be named for what it was: a racist act of domestic terrorism. We need those in positions of power to acknowledge that this was not simply a "single incident," but the latest in a 400-year history of violence against black people in the United States.
Someone’s mom, uncle, son, nephew, grandmother was shot up in church. Three days later, they’re standing up in court preaching forgiveness. Black people are emotional superheroes, man. But also, this whole “be strong” thing is killing us softly. Let us be in the fetal position sometimes. Let us cry to the heavens. Let us not have to care about others’ feelings so we can take care of ourselves. Let us not have to preach mercy and peace-keeping in the middle of evil inflicted upon us.
This other America has not been simply silent but rather oblivious to these racial incidents. These events haven’t been brought up in conversation, points of prayer during church, or as words of comfort on social media. I am accustomed to my people being vilified by mainstream media and news outlets. (I do not accept it, but I am aware that is how we will be portrayed.) Every black person that has died this year in an unarmed confrontation with the police has been a “thug,” “delinquent,” “troubled youth,” or some other negative connotation. That’s about the extent these events have registered in this other America.
At this point, I’m not interested in your listening. I think the danger in this listening posture is, while it seems like the mindful and conscientious thing to do, it can also be far too convenient. It’s a great way of doing nothing. For the sake of finding the right action, you take no action instead. We have had the benefit of years — centuries, literally — of thought, narrative, scholarship, literature, film, fiction, non-fiction, and discussion to help us all understand these issues. We’re the most connected and information-overloaded that human beings have ever been. We can transmit entire books to our hand-held devices. Class has been in session. The school bell as now rung.
The Confederate flag’s defenders often claim it represents “heritage not hate.” I agree—the heritage of White Supremacy was not so much birthed by hate as by the impulse toward plunder. Dylann Roof plundered nine different bodies last night, plundered nine different families of an original member, plundered nine different communities of a singular member. An entire people are poorer for his action. The flag that Roof embraced, which many South Carolinians embrace, does not stand in opposition to this act—it endorses it. That the Confederate flag is the symbol of of white supremacists is evidenced by the very words of those who birthed it.
That means that instead of using empty terms like diversity and equity and inclusion and multiculturalism have to be addressed in the body of work of Anti Racism. That means we can’t substitute those kinder, gentler words when we really mean race. That means tearing down the “But we’re all just the human race” low-level thoughts that lead us to the racist monocultural efforts of our ancestors. That means we have to admit that you can be a multicultural institution but still not be antiracist.
The two most effective beliefs that prevent us (whites) from seeing racism as a system are:
that racists are bad people and
that racism is conscious dislike;
if we are well-intended and do not consciously dislike people of color, we cannot be racist. This is why it is so common for white people to cite their friends and family members as evidence of their lack of racism. However, when you understand racism as a system of structured relations into which we are all socialized, you understand that intentions are irrelevant. And when you understand how socialization works, you understand that much of racial bias is unconscious. Negative messages about people of color circulate all around us. While having friends of color is better than not having them, it doesn’t change the overall system or prevent racism from surfacing in our relationships. The societal default is white superiority and we are fed a steady diet of it 24/7. To not actively seek to interrupt racism is to internalize and accept it.”