I’ve been reflecting in recent days on how human nature can be so damn disappointing. No matter how hateful the act or how incomprehensible the pain others may feel, too many of us allow the comfortable safe distance afforded to us by nothing other than the privilege of whiteness to keep us from caring enough. Or even at all.
I can’t be okay with that. Can you?
Charleston’s loss and subsequent grief have been front and center on my mind since I learned of the hateful attack late Wednesday night. My mind and heart jump continuously between the cognitive dissonance of a mass murder occurring inside a sacred space to the simple reality that today must have been an excruciating Father’s Day for the victims’ families. I think of all the good that was embodied by those attending bible study Wednesday night: public service, parenthood, education, faith, friendship. Love.
But somehow, despite all that love, hate found its way in. It was welcomed in because that’s the way it is in church, especially on a Wednesday night in Charleston, South Carolina. They didn’t see a racist monster among them. They saw a fellow human being who may need something that they were more than willing and able to share. Their love of the Lord. The generosity of their spirits. The grace of their God.
How could they have known that the young white man in their midst already hated them? Not because he knew them. In fact, he had never met any of them before. He hated them because they were black. And so after meticulously researching the perfectly symbolic place to do the unthinkable, he committed a hate crime by murdering nine fellow citizens between the ages of 26 and 87 and in the process, terrorized a community. He told his victims he had to kill them because they were black. And he did.
I am a white woman. I have spent my life enjoying a seemingly invisible yet ever present sense of privilege. No one assumes I’ve committed a crime by the way I look. On the contrary, they likely assume I haven’t committed one at all. I’ve been pulled over, with cause, more than a few times but never asked to keep my hands where they could be seen. I’ve never even been spoken to in a disrespectful or profane way by a police officer. Never. Ever.
Lucky me, right. Sounds like I have it made, right? So why pay attention? Why speak up? Why push friends to engage in this uncomfortable and often tricky conversation about racial equity? Why behave in a way that has former friends and allies calling me a radical? A reverse racist? A fanatic?
Because it’s the least I can do considering that the killer, Dylan Storm Roof, involved me and every other white woman in America in his brutal massacre of nine beautiful and innocent lives.
“You rape our women. You’re taking over our country. I have to do it.” —Dylann Roof, Charleston killer
No. I don’t stay silent when he uses the word “our” in reference to white American women as if he is owner. Do you?
No. I don’t stay silent when he uses us, the white women of America, to slander and malign black men as being our rapists. Do you?
And No. I don’t stay silent when a whole city is brought to its knees because some shell of a man thinks he’s standing up for me or my white family or my white friends.
I am nothing like him. He doesn’t speak for me, with me or about me. Ever. And he doesn’t kill in my name.
My 10-year-old son has studied the civil rights era this year in school. He has read and written about about Jackie Robinson, the Little Rock 9 and Medgar Evers.
On a recent drive home from school, out of the clear blue, he asked me if racism still exists today. He seemed confident that much of what he was learning about the 1960s had changed for the better but he also seemed pretty sure that it just couldn’t be that simple and that equity still eludes us in ways. I confirmed to him that we’ve made progress but still have quite a way to go.
But never did I think, six days after he asked me that question, that the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina would be the site of a massacre of black Americans by a 21-year-old pro-apartheid white supremacist.
How do I explain that to my three young sons, lucky enough to live a life shrouded in privilege that they didn’t earn? How do I make the case that their voices are needed now and in the future on behalf of those who, no matter how loud they shout, continue to go unheard. Ignored.
It isn’t an easy conversation but one thing is for sure. We cannot lie to our children and allow them to believe that racism is a thing of the past.
In fact, to deny racism exists, even to the youngest among us, is to perpetuate its very existence.
So. Get in the game.
And don’t accept that Dylann Roof or anyone else murders the innocent in our name.