My heart breaks for the families in Charleston, South Carolina. Their words of forgiveness to the perpetrator example a divinity that most Americans will never know. I have friends who are god fearing, atheist, agnostic, of varied faiths. I, myself, am spirit filled but I am not a “believer”. However, I respect and love the religious tradition of Black America. The members of that church are my Mother, my Grandparents, my Aunts, my friends, my loved ones. I have family members who are members of A.M.E. churches. My love for the faithful knows no disruption because they are me and I am them. I have attended service in an A.M.E church and wept because it felt like, no, it was, home. I embrace the totality of the Black American experience. We survive and flourish in different ways, none better than the other.
On June 17, I was binge watching OITNB. I finished around 11:00 pm and turned on the news. I saw that there was a shooting in Charleston, South Carolina at an A.M.E. church. A tentacle of the love that informs my life, lives in Charleston. I checked in with a loved one and made sure she was fine. I then reached out to my 23 year old cousin (a light in my life) who is god fearing and attends an A.M.E. church. For about twenty minutes, I could not reach her. They were the longest twenty minutes of my life. When I reached her, she informed me that she was going to go out that night but decided to remain at home. She was fine.
That was my introduction to these murders. For the next few hours, I was glued to the television because the murderer was still on the loose. MSNBC would give periodic updates. This did not become a story on CNN, with any consistency, until 4 or 5 am. How is that possible?! Not until social media exploded, did they take it on as a story. And the usual, “we didn’t have people on the ground in Charleston” cannot be used as an excuse (which is the excuse used for lack of coverage in Africa). We are months away from their coverage of the Walter Scott murder, there is no excuse for the lack of coverage during such a horror filled time.
My cousin is fine. I am still putting myself back together. Nine families, however, are not fine and will not be fine for some time. And, I will say, much of Black America and our allies are not fine. We will not be fine for some time. We are in pain. A 21 year old White male sat in a Bible study, one of the most humble spaces in our culture, and shot 9 Black people dead after interacting with them for one hour.
As someone who keeps an eye on White male violence, I still can’t wrap my head around this one. I have been watching the James Holmes (the Aurora, Colorado movie shooter) trial currently underway in Colorado. This is, after I read “One Of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik And The Massacre In Norway.” I have an incessant need to understand violence. A former crisis intervention counselor, I am interested in the specific way that people commit acts of violence. These White men (simply a few in the landscape of White male violence), murder people in ways that are up close and personal. They project their hatred of themselves onto other people and murder them in the most humble settings. The murders are intimate and vile. They do not drop bombs, fly airplanes into buildings, they stand in front of them, over them and they murder within such close proximity, that the carnage dresses their bodies. To not label them terrorists and to try and wrestle with whether or not they are sane, baffles me. If you can walk up to another human being and kill them at point blank range after plotting the murders and finding some (albeit irrational) justification for the murders, you are a terrorist. We did not argue over whether or not the 9-11 attackers were mentally ill, why do we afford Dylann Roof that luxury?
Dylann Roof is living out the legacy of his ancestry. If we classify him as a terrorist then we must indict American ancestry, the founding fathers of America. People who enslaved, dehumanized and murdered Black and Native Americans. These are the ancestors Roof inherited, as a White male, who lives in the American South. It is no wonder he honored the confederate flag. We now hear politicians, citizens, defending the right to fly the flag in Charleston, South Carolina at a state office building. In holding onto the legacy of that flag, many White Americans are holding onto a narrative and history that kept Black people enslaved and subject to violence. The people of South Carolina are told (because the flag is up) that they have to honor ancestors who enslaved and committed unnameable acts of violence against them. This is as the Emanuel Nine have not even been buried.
The confederate flag still waves without apology as the families of the Emanuel Nine example transcendence in their grief by expressing forgiveness. America then rushes to embrace that forgiveness as blanket forgiveness. I cannot speak for the families. The grace that they showed to that murderer is super human. And as I have no right to short change or question the depth of their forgiveness, America has no right to accept their forgiveness as the root of all forgiveness.
I am heartbroken. I am angry. I am filled with rage. I am speechless. I am, damn near, broken but I can still write. While grieving the murders, I have had to hear the 23 year old, light of my life, process racism. She is bearing witness in Charleston to the violence and, at the same time, she is relaying the gravitas of the racism that is still spewing out of people’s mouths in this time. This is something I never wanted to experience. I have accepted the burden of racism as a challenge for my life but I wanted to spare the youth in my family the load of the burden. I want the early 20 something’s, in my family, to be carefree, to be focused on love and wonder and dreams about their future. I am heartbroken that I have to witness their baptism by fire. In recent years, they have gotten to know this very intimate assault on their personhood.
I am beginning to think that the segregated lives that we live in America are not solely physical. The segregation is emotional, intellectual, psychological, spiritual. My flag is not your flag. My spiritual is not your spiritual. My hurt is not your hurt. Your ancestors are not my ancestors. I don’t have love for your ancestors who enslaved my ancestors. Why should I? My ancestors are a god-fearing, strong, courageous, traumatized, majestic, dynamic people who survived one of the colossal crimes of our time. I am consistently asked to embrace the founding fathers of this country and hold them up in esteem. Why? How?
The language of “we” and “our” is used when speaking about the founding fathers of this nation. I live on the outside of that “we” as I see their legacy still disrupts our lives. When the culture talks about racism or racist violence, suddenly America becomes “we”. Well, “we” ain’t been “we” all this time, don’t bring me into your “we” when Black people are murdered.
The families of the Mother Emanuel Nine expressed forgiveness to the perpetrator. Their forgiveness, in their hour of extreme grief, is consistent with the legacy of forgiveness that Black Americans have extended, for centuries, to this country.
Perhaps, one day, I will, transcend and extend forgiveness to America but, in the interim:
I do not forgive you, America, for dropping your legacy of violence into the lap of my 23 year old cousin.
I do not forgive you for waving your confederate flag, up on high, over bodies that are being prepped in funeral homes after they have experienced the most horrifying last seconds of a life.
I do not forgive you for complicating a narrative around Trayvon Martin and encouraging a mass murderer to believe that Trayvon was anything other than an innocent child purchasing ice tea and skittles. Although, I know that that mass murderer did not develop his rage from the internet or from the news of Trayvon Martin’s death.
I do not forgive you for an entertainment industry that continues to relay an outdated narrative about Black America and champions a lopsided narrative of this nation.
I do not forgive you for your inability to speak the word racism and talk about its structural impact and how it has diminished, marginalized and murdered Black Americans.
I do not forgive you for visiting every mass murder with astonishment, as if it is new and isolated and not connected to a legacy of violence. I do not forgive you and your children for the willful ignorance and silence you enact whenever a racist murder is committed.
I do not forgive you for using photo ops of Black and White Americans embracing and holding hands, whenever racism has stolen the lives of Black Americans, instead of doing the hard work of explaining that holding hands does not, in any way, change the economic disenfranchisement of Black America.
I do not forgive you for teaching your children to despise Black skin and those children grow up to become captains of industry, politicians, hollywood studio executives, decision makers at publishing houses, school teachers, deans of universities, loan officers, police officers, etc., who exhaust the lives of Black Americans in ways that are incalculable.
I do not forgive you for allowing Charleston, South Carolina and Brooklyn, NYC, etc. to become hotbeds of gentrification where Black residents are harassed and moved out so that White citizens can inhabit their homes with the same disregard that your ancestors used to colonize Africa and extinguish Native Americans.
I do not forgive you because your definition of progress includes nine Black human beings in a morgue who were murdered AFTER 20 children were slaughtered in an elementary school. And you refuse to enact gun laws that could protect American citizens as we remain sitting ducks while the elite navigate protected spaces.
I do not forgive you for sweeping your history under the rug as we watch the skeletons rattle out of the closet and bring us all to our knees in prayer. I do not forgive you because Black America is not safe- even in prayer.
We are the history that we’ve read about in the history books. We are that history because America claims forgiveness without, first, offering the apology.