Monday, June 22, 2015

What Do I Write About This? Thoughts on Charleston, Race, Hate, and the Place of Privilege in America

It felt like the collective fears of black people came to fruition on Wednesday night, June 17, 2015.

The evils of Jim Crow history were relived in vicereal ways for those who were alive during those tumultous days of hot hate and for those of us who were born the year of the Civil Rights Act's signing. This simply was unthinkable.

Yet, it wasn't.

The Black Church is a symbol, an institution of many denominations that is the keeper of the black soul space.

Through the last thirty years, this institution has had ebbs and flows as new spiritual practices entered the lives of African Americans. Worship became more contemporary in some denominations and staunchly traditional in others. There were some shifts in leadership with more women behind the pulpit and not just on the front row in white suits or standing stoically in aisles with gloved hands waiting to wisk away that chewing gum from a child's mouth. The institution has weathered declines in attendance, attention-shifting-weekends, and the emergence of media to compete with how worship is delivered.

Yet, the revered place of the black church remains.

The welcoming place with the familiar older deacons and mothers who always had a peppermint in her purse. The promising young minister who understood the modern times and the connection between a liberating theology and the urban struggles of today's millennial generation. There would be the little kids practicing their oratory skills and more than one vocalist or musician polishing their craft on Sunday morning.

It would be a place filled with women, black women, some of the most spiritual in the country, according to Barna research. These women would be the ones who would be teaching Sunday School, would be there for midweek service or Bible study, sitting in the pews for a moment of silent repose. The backbone of the church, the keepers of the history, the ones who were there on that fateful night.

The scene plays out over and over like a movie reel, imagination every bit as awful as the sinister darkness that filled the historic building late on Wednesday night.

Charleston, South Carolina is not a stranger to racism and the ensuing fear that grows from one side staunchly holding onto a dated propaganda about the other side that simply wants to live fully and free.

The young man who walked into that historic church, Mother Emanuel AME, knew about the war between the sides, He had steeped himself in it, became a victim and proponent of that further divide, his own imagination of the evils of one side much greater than a 21st century reality.

He had filled his young life, barely twenty-one, with as much right-wing, nationalistic, supremacist propaganda as his brain could hold. For months he planned his action, he had photos of himself in as much of the symbols of domestic terror as he could find. His young life was one as a reposit of everything that has been wrong with a segment of America since 911, no, since President Obama, no, since Mike Brown, no since Charleston, since, since, since.

I am not alone in my anger and pain in the mass murder that included professional blacks across industries It was an assassination of an elected official, it was the murder of mothers and fathers, ministers, librarians. It was unconsciouble and an act that was greater than the Boston Marathon Massacre and one that instantly had historians remembering another attack at another southern church, the Birmingham bombing in 1963.

Surly we were not returning to the times my father taught me about and hoped we would never revisit.

The questions and comments, the discussions and debates, the peril and pain felt by so many was on full display on twitter, Facebook, in articles, blog posts, essays, and news shows.

White power proponents were applauding the work of the 21-year-old white man whose name I refuse to write. Other white people were awakened to what many of us activists have been consistently talking about for years. Their eyes were opened in a very real way and some of them immediately took action to demand that Governor Nikki Haley remove the confederate flag that was still hanging on the state capital. Others in cities across the country had prayer vigils, led marches, one of the largest one was in Charleston with people of all races, faiths, and ages. There were discussions of his supposed mental illness from white people who refused to admit that what he did was racial. There was analysis after analysis and still, we sit here, less than a week later truly traumatized and forced to deal with the nation's original sin.

All of this, their clinging to a flag, the young man being captured alive and walked out in a bullet-proof vest, even the police treating him to Burger King, are all remnants of the white privilege that pervades the society. It is the difference in an unarmed twelve-year-old victim called a thug and a twenty-one-year-old terrorist called a boy. It smacks of the most egregious racialized terror that has been a part of the country since Denmark Vesey met at Mother Emanuel to plan an insurrection.

The man said to the people in the church, after sitting in Bible study and prayer for an hour, that he "had" to do it because they "rape our women and are taking over our country." The speech he gave, even sparing the life of one of the women to "go and tell what I did" was filled with the hyper-patriotic rhetoric that has swept the airwaves since 9-11. Surely he listened to fox news and talk radio and his membership in hate groups further expanded evil in his vacuum of a drop-out-mind.

I examined what could have possibly filled this young man with so much hate in his short life. He is barely one month older than my own twenty-one-year-old son.

Whiteness is commodity in the United States. Frankly, in the world, as the events in the Dominican Republic, Palestine, and continued mistreatment of darker skinned peoples in Indian, South Africa, and Europe attest.

When did this happen?

My mind did a rewind to all my readings, my history lessons, my studies, and it boils down to fear.

White people, period, fear being washed out, eliminated as an "aryan." That was Hitler's fear, the same paranoia that he drove into the hearts and minds of young people in the decade before WWII. The "purity" of their blood and the "protection" they needed to provide to their women. Racism was the vehile used to drive home this unrelenting terror of elimination. They then used weapons of fear - war, guns, rations - to create mindless drones who would blindly follow the one they thought would save them from the "savages."

Perhaps it is the fear that drove him, the so many of the hims that are either poor and white or working class and white.

I may be wrong, but rarely do I see the affluent whites waving the confederate flag or storming churches to kill black people, they leave that up to their lesser bretheren, while using the tools of economic segregation to make their point. It is the same now as it was almost four hundred years ago when race laws and codes began to seep into the books of our not-even-a-country-yet culture.

Fear is a monster that demands to be bed.

That boy ate from its teet for yeras. All the ones that fed his impressionable mind are just as guilty as he is of pulling the trigger. All the ones who tried to find reasons other than race, when he said it himself that it was race that motivated him, are just as guilty. The police that handled him with kit gloves and a Burger King meal, are just as guilty. The monster was nourished from the table of hate, division, racism, class, privilege, and sexism.

There must be a recognition of the part every white American played in the creation of this murderer. Reparations are the least of what needs to be addressed. The very lives of black people are not valued in this country. Excuse after excuse is given, pathology assigned to blacks, reasons why the 13% of the country are the downfall of the 87% are given over and over to justify the redlining, the destruction of inner city neighborhoods, the removal of programs, pools, and playgrounds, the elimination of safetynets and jobs, the continued assault by the polie. All of it is so that the middle and uppper middle class white folks can walk in their privilege and feel safe, all so the poorest of the poor whites can support their policies as long as they get to still hold onto whiteness and the now 400 year old lie that their whiteness made them exceptional. There must be a recognition.

Charleston was like a shock to the system and a scab pulled off an unhealed wound. It reminded those of us who have been writing and speaking about race issues for years that we are not post-racial or post-racism, that we are steeped knee-deep in the muck like the red clay southern soil filled with the blood of black people. It was validation, in a way, that we were not crazy for saying these hate groups were out there, plentious. This boy had been on the FBI radar for years and they did nothing about it. It was also a reminder of Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, Harriett Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and the countless other names that held onto their faith and took up their stance to fight back. It was a reminder of the chants of the Ferguson front line. Charleston now truly means we must fight back by any and all means necessary, economic boycott, calls for the flag to be removed, marches, protests, vigils, black men utilizing their second amendment rights to protect their communities from more boys like this, white folks waking up and speaking up to their cousins, elected officials truly acting for the people and pulling apart the systems that cause division and gaining some courage along the way. It will take all of us.

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