As unfortunate as it is, I really needed to get this out and talk about what has happened to the Black community on the week of Juneteenth. As you know, there was a shooting on Wednesday night in which a white supremacist terrorist took the lives of nine people, six women, three men. His reasoning: “You’ve raped our women, and you are taking over the country… I have to do what I have to do.” Only three people survived. One pretended to be dead.
That night, that terrorist had been welcomed into the church’s bible study taking place at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest AME church in the southern U.S. He sat in that church watching these people praise and seek sanctuary before opening fire and robbing these people of their lives.
On Thursday, he was taken in alive and given a bulletproof vest for his protection. Yet through many of the media outlets, you don’t get the same since of upset, the building of the history. From reducing it to an attack on Christianity to allowing the Confederate flag to still be flown everywhere desired, you get a much tamer view of what happened.
Before I continue further with my thoughts, I want to take a moment to honor the victims, because they have died a death that was far from deserved.
1.Tywanza Sanders: Tywanza was the youngest victim, aged 26, and had recently graduated from Allen University, a notable HBCU.
2. Reverend Clementa Pickney: Reverend Pickney, 41 years old, was the father of two children and was a state Senator since 2000.
3. Reverend Sharonda Singleton: Reverend Singleton, aged 45, was one of the few staff members who died that night. A speech therapist and track and field coach, she inspired and helped many.
4. Reverend DePayne Middleton-Doctor: Aged 49, the late reverend worked as the admissions coordinator at SWU Charlston’s learning center. The university’s president Todd Voss reported her “a warm and enthusiastic leader.”
5. Cynthia Hurd: Cynthia, 54, had been an employee of the Charleston County Public Library for 31 years. Her dedication and hard work did not go unnoticed by the library.
6. Myra Thompson: A member of the church, she was very involved and cared a lot about others. Age 54, she was a Diamond Life Member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
7. Ethel Lee Lance: a sexton at the church, she had worked for 30 years in the congregation. She died at age 70.
8. Reverend Daniel L. Simmons Sr.: The late Reverend was the only victim who died in a hospital operating room rather than at the church. He was a retired pastor from another church in Charleston.
9. Susie Jackson: At age 87, she was the oldest victim. She was a longtime member of the church and sang in the choir.
These victims died horrifically and heroically and deserve to be memorialized. However, there are a few obstacles that I wish to get rid of.
1. The reduction of the massacre to an attack on Christianity
At some point this week, one of the popular news outlets took it upon themselves to declare this tragedy as an assault on Christianity. Just stop. By doing so they managed to successfully erase the important factor of race. Without that detail, we lose a lot of historical context. The history of bombing and killing in black places of worship spans over two hundred years. One of the most memorable instances include the bombings in Birmingham, Alabama. This is a black church that was bombed, not simply a church. The dynamics change when you remove that detail.
2. Mental illness does not excuse Racism
As it usually goes, the terrorist was given the life raft called “He Had A Mental Illness”, along with so many other murderers society wants to pardon. Mental illness, along with the other popular go tos, are always used to placate the seething mass. As if mental illness is an absolution for even the most heinous crimes. For someone to live with mental illness and only display symptoms when they’re committing a racist hate crime is utter bullshit. Nobody all of a sudden has a mental illness at the time they kill a group of black people. And even if they did, it doesn’t give him freedom of consequences. If he was honestly that incapacitated, then why was he permitted a gun and why was someone not taking extra care of him?
3. The Women of the Black Struggle
As a black young woman, I find it impossible to ignore the fact that six of the nine victims were women. These women spanned many ages and professions. All of them have a narrative. Yet it gets covered with the men’s story. And while I definitely do not discount any of their stories in any way, these women are important too. These women are by and large not the first nor last women who died for this struggle. As a black community we need to not be afraid to share their story, because they deserve to have their legacies heard and honored just as much as their male counterparts.
4. Fake allies
Yesterday I received an email from the President of my university that followed the lines of the media and then provided the links to help services. While I do appreciate the services offered, I don’t appreciate his hiding behind his “colorblind” goals. Him and many other allies say that their goal is to tackle these very ticking and weighing obstacles of oppression. Yet the second something happens, you, yet again, shy away from the fact that this was a racially motivated instance. This issue impacts many people of color and yet you don’t want to dig beneath the surface because you are “colorblind”. Stop. Your “colorblind-ness” does not address the fact that racism exists and need to be dealt with, and so I do not welcome your help. You are the people who give allies, the true allies, such a tricky job. Try reading a few books, educating yourselves, and opening your eyes instead of shoving it under the rug.
I know there are so many more obstacles, but if I continued, this article would never end. My advice would be to continue having these conversations, take good care of yourself, and let yourself learn from this. To the allies: first and foremost, thank you. Secondly, don’t try to empathize. It is not possible, and your attempt is pointless. Instead, take this time to understand how deep the racism goes and how ignoring it isn’t making it go away any time soon.
And of course, love yourself, and each other, as this is the first step to self healing.