Tragedy has yet again struck the Black community. This time in one of the most sacred of spaces for black folks: the church. On the evening of June 17th, 2015, during a regular Bible study session, a young white male – guided by white supremacist ideology, unleashed a fury of bullets on the Black parishioners of Emanuel AME Church (Mother Emanuel) in Charleston, South Carolina for no other reason than the color of their skin. Depayne Middleton Doctor, Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Clementa Pinckney, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Ethel Lee Lance, Myra Thompson, Daniel L. Simmons, and Susie Jackson all ascended to glory following a violent exit from these earthly pastures; their names added to a long list of ancestors who preceded them.
The inconvenient truth is that none of this is surprising when considering the fact that this happened in a Southern state where custodians of confederate heritage, unwilling to confront its dark racial past place their flag—a powerful symbol of hate and white supremacy—on the grounds of its statehouse. That this happened in the very same state and city where Walter Scott, an unarmed Black man was shot dead in cold blood by a white police officer only months earlier. That this happened in a historic Black church widely known to have been a hub for the civil rights struggle dating back to its inception by co-founder and freedom fighter Denmark Vesey in 1816.
What is also not surprising is that many institutions of higher education per status-quo failed to utter two words of this tragedy. That I along with many other Black colleagues and students were – are expected to get over it and adopt life goes on healing mantras. That those white colleagues who are socially conscious conveniently defer to their respective diversity offices to offer up support to the grieving and affected communities. To best understand why these things still happen in 2015, according to 2013 FBI report 48.5% of America’s hate crimes were racially motivated with 66.4% of them being anti-black in nature. What continues to be disconcerting is that very few white people (some who identify as allies) have been willing to break their silence.
To them I say: The shadows betray you. If eradicating racism is truly an objective and not an on and off past time of yours, show up. Show up at the table, in your classrooms, and in your daily lives. To be clear: there is no such thing as a passive anti-racist. Bell Hooks asserts that “All our silences in the face of racist assault are acts of complicity.” Believing that a better day will come is simply not enough. We need white co-workers for justice who are willing to do the tough self and structural work necessary and to push themselves into deeper levels of uncomfortability, for as someone once said “A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.” Privilege affirms that you don’t have to, but justice stresses that you need to.
Here’s how white people can take the reins of eradicating racism.
Say Their Names.
More often than not, the media puts forth an incredible amount of time humanizing white bodies over black ones; killers over the victims; sinners over saints. Every single one of the Charleston nine was a human being, who in many respects embodied the best of what America has to offer. Learning their names as well as their stories and talking about them in your social circles goes a long way towards honoring their memories. Remember them as we do; and may their legacies galvanize a spirit of urgency in your advocacy.
Read the #CharlestonSyllabus.
Understanding the past puts into context the racial violence of today in South Carolina and across the nation in general. Shifting through the historical texts will open up eyes to the reality that what is presented as a regression in race relations is in fact in line with what has taken place in days past. I am of the belief that true justice and deliverance (when Black people are no longer viewed and treated as a problem population) will come when we root hate out of our hearts, minds, and lexicon. It will be this vision of justice that is achieved when whites stand in complete solidarity with Black people publicly from the boardrooms to the campus quads. That only happens with a commitment to first unpacking the history of our present circumstance.
Talk to other white people.
This was a great suggestion made by our colleague Bulaong Ramiz during ACPA’s Community Conversation on Racism and the South Carolina Massacre that I believe is spot on. It’s as she put it “emotional labor” to expect Black people to have to deal with our “stuff” and simultaneously coach white people through theirs. Challenging those around you to think differently is imperative. Otherwise, how can we ever expect effective change to come? We (Black and Brown people) come together to process through the trauma, but the collective reckoning of white people could birth the needed desire to move the needle towards racial and social equity.
Heartfelt thoughts and prayers offer only temporary solace. As President Obama said recently “It would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for if we allow ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again.” And there will be a next time. In fact, at the time of this writing, eight predominantly black churches have been burned within the last 10 days; three so far are being investigated as arson. How many more lives will have to be lost before courage is found?