If you haven’t heard about what happened in Charleston, South Carolina this past Wednesday night, here’s a brief summary:
A white man walked into a Bible study at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church– which is one of the oldest black congregations in the country and is an icon of the Abolitionist and Civil Rights movements– and sat in the service for an hour before shooting and killing nine black people, mostly women, while saying “I have to do it. You rape our women and are taking over our country and you have to go.” This white man has confessed to the terrorist attack and told the police that he “wanted to start a race war.”
There are no ifs ands or buts about this. This was a terrorist attack motivated by white supremacy. This white man did not do this because he was “troubled,” or a “disturbed,” or “mentally ill.” He did it because he is racist. He wanted to make it very clear to all of us that he believes he has the right to kill black men and women because they are black, and he is white.
As this woman of color put it (talking about the Santa Barbara mass shooting):
Unlike real mental illness, white male entitlement is a choice. It is the choice to see oneself as better than, the choice to see others as less than and deserving of violence, the choice to believe that one has the right to punish women/people of color/queer folk for daring to exist outside of servitude. White male entitlement is a learned cultural behavior that is the logical extreme of the systems of oppression at work in US society. So this gunman is not crazy, it is not crazy to believe things you have been told your whole life.
White people in America are all racist. All of us. Most of us will never walk into an AME church and murder black people, but there are slivers of racism embedded so deeply into our identities as white people that rooting them out is the work of a lifetime. All the unconscious things we believe about race add up to a worldview that condones this terrorist attack, that tells people like this shooter that other people– everyone like him, really– implicitly agrees with what he did.
One of the things that can help challenge our white supremacy is to listen to what black people have to say, so I am asking you to read the following articles and listen to them. Grapple with it. Let their words change you. Also, please don’t just read these few articles– start paying attention to the bylines of the articles you read, and seek things written by people who aren’t white, straight, and male.
“What I Need you to Say in Response to the Shooting in Charleston” by Osheta Moore.
“The pain we’re feeling right now is akin to the loss of a child because whenever black lives are treated as worthless, whenever our story is marked yet again with violence, whenever we’re forced to remember the brutality our grandparents endured when they stood for freedom and dignity- it feels like Dr. King’s dream is a hope deferred and our hearts are sickened. As a white person, you may have heard Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech and thought, “yes, that’s a nice sentiment.” That “nice sentiment” is a defining dream for the African- American community. We don’t want to be angry anymore. We’re tired of being afraid. We’re tired of these headlines. We want to have peace. We dream of unity too.”
“The Only Logical Conclusion” by Austin Channing
“The level of terror that black people feel in America at this moment cannot be underestimated. Because when the driving force of such a massacre is the very thing imbedded in the roots of America, thriving on the branches of generation after generation, sitting in the pews unchallenged every Sunday morning in white churches- there is no reason why black Americans should feel safe.
The sin of white supremacy is thriving in this country because white Christians refuse to name it and uproot it, refuse to confess it and dismantle it, refuse to acknowledge it and repent of it, refuse to say the words
“Its in my family”
“Its in my church”
“Its in my soul.”
“The Charleston shooter killed mostly black women. This wasn’t about rape” By Rebecca Carroll
“The shooter allegedly used the salvation of white women’s bodies as a motivation for his acts, an old trope that was once used to justify the lynching of black men and the denial of rights to all black people. The idea that white women’s bodies represent that which is inviolable while black women’s are disposable hasn’t changed enough since it was first articulated by white men; but again, aimed at black men on Wednesday night, it was predominately black women who suffered by their invocation.”
I am also asking you to read the following two books as soon as you possibly can. I believe that every white Christian should read these books.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone
Please listen to these voices and learn from them.