Last night, around 11:30 PM, I had finally decided to get into bed. I made the conscious decision to turn my phone off, as well as the television. It was time to “power down.” I’d had my hand glued to my phone, and I was actually quite ashamed. I had become engrossed in this Rachel Dolezal scandal. But tonight, I had decided that I wouldn’t give her story anymore attention. I wanted to free myself from her. She’d taken up too much of my time, and was beginning to steal my peace. Just as I scrolled through my Twitter feed for the last time, I came across a heart wrenching story. “9 Fatalities at African American Church in Charleston” the headline read.
I scrambled for details. I wanted to know more. I turned on the television. No one was covering it. The only “breaking news” CNN had been reporting was on Rachel, and the prison break we’d been hearing about for a week. Nothing on the Black lives that had just been lost. Taken.
— KHARY PENEBAKER (@kharyp) June 18, 2015
Then I found a link. Shortly after 9 PM last night, a 21-year old white man opened fire on a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Six women and three men were among the dead. A five year old girl survived after hiding and playing dead. My heart sank.
“We believe this is a hate crime; that is how we are investigating it,” Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said at a dawn news conference.
She's gone… They killed my grandmother…
— Darlin' Aja' (@steelydanalbum) June 18, 2015
Something extremely terrible has happened to my mom tonight, please pray for her and my family. Pray asap
— Chris Singleton (@csingleton__2) June 18, 2015
“9 Dead in ‘Hate Crime’ Shooting.” The words echoed in my head. I wondered who else’s heart, soul and mind was empty.
What can you even say to someone at a time like this? How can you comfort someone who’s lost their grandmother, their mother, their father, their friend? How do we make sense of something so senseless?
A long, painful, deep cry. I’d been holding back the tears for some time now. The last time I really cried like this was when Tamir Rice died. Shot down by police for playing with a toy gun…while Black. His mother had to bury him. He was 12. I guess that wasn’t too long ago…
Emanuel AME is a staple in the Black community. There is a rich history.
— Khaled Bey (@KhaledBeydoun) June 18, 2015
Built in 1891, the church is listed on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places. Affectionately called “Mother Emanuel” by local residents, it’s easy to understand the connection people had with the church. Perhaps what stands out most about this church’s history is one of its founders, Denmark Vesey.
Vesey was responsible for organizing a slave revolt back in the 1820’s, and lost his life, along with 34 others because of it. They were killed by police. The church was burned to the ground.
Even as this community was forced to sift through the ashes of their own church, forced to remember the venom, the horror, it didn’t stop them from gathering. After the mass hysteria that occurred when Denmark and other leaders of the movement were arrested, members held underground worship services from 1834 through 1865. During this time, African-American churches had been outlawed.
Black people could not pray to their own GOD without fear of being harassed, arrested, and without a doubt, ultimately killed. Some white folk didn’t want Black people conspiring to be free. As I write these words, it pains to me to know that we still can’t worship in peace, and most importantly, we still aren’t “free.” History repeats itself.
So I thought, “Where CAN we be Black, and where is God now?”
As we mourn, I wrestle with these concepts. My mind shifts to the Four Little Girls in Birmingham, Alabama. I think about my parents. My grandparents. My aunts and uncles. It could have been them. It could have been any of us. Five decades later, our experiences run parallel.
No, I am not being made to sit in the back of buses, I am not being attacked by dogs, or sprayed with hoses, but the trauma, the Black experience, the disregard for Black life is still present. It still makes the air thick, and it still presses on our lungs, and we still…can’t…breathe.
Sometimes I wonder what it must be like to be white in America. I close my eyes and imagine all the things I wouldn’t have to worry about. I imagine being able to play outside with a toy gun, I imagine being able to walk down the street (and take up most of the sidewalk), I imagine being able to wear a hoodie. I imagine being able to use slang and not have people think I’m uneducated, being able to wear my hair how I choose. Being able to yell, being able to drive at night, being able to walk into fitting rooms without the store employee counting your items three times, “just to be sure.” I imagine the freedom of being able to express myself without being the “Angry Black woman”, the convenience of not being the only Black person at work, the privilege of getting the benefit of the doubt…among the most basic things…the freedom to PRAY.
WHERE can we be Black?
“You’re taking over our country!” the shooter screamed, before he killed nine people in cold blood. The shooter was 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof.
This isn’t new. Disgruntled whites all across the nation have been telling Black people to “Go back to Africa” since we got here. (Well not exactly since we got here. They wanted us here earlier on to pick cotton, build this country and breast feed their babies…but you know, after that, some of them had gotten tired of us.)
Roof is one of those people. He’s tired of Black people “taking over” his country, and raping his women. He’s tired of all of our lowsy contributions to these United States- the light bulb, traffic light, the gas mask, 3D graphics, blood banks and open heart surgery. Nobody cares about air conditioning units, cell phones, doorknobs, hair brushes and stoves, right?
WHERE can we be Black?
Now politicians and law enforcement are asking that the people of Charleston remain calm and nonviolent. I don’t have a problem with nonviolence, but I DO have a problem with people asking BLACK people to be nonviolent. Especially in instances where they are the victims of violence at the hands of the state or racist terrorists. When is enough, enough? How much more of our blood has to spill into the streets, our homes, our churches?
There’s no doubt that Roof be coddled by mainstream media. He almost certainly won’t be given the ‘terrorist’ label he deserves.
Since most of these euro terrorist, killers, murderers, sociopaths are being deemed mentally ill, perhaps most Europeans have the condition
— יהנתן (@Oxy_Jon) June 18, 2015
So 'terrorist' is only reserved for those who are black/brown ?
— lex luthor (@annxmm) June 18, 2015
If they call this man a terrorist, would have to admit that the U.S. has been terrorizing black folk, on & off the record since its founding
— Johnetta Elzie (@Nettaaaaaaaa) June 18, 2015
— Seth Herzog (@Thezog) June 18, 2015
As this story continues to unfold, and we continue to try and heal our wounds, we know that the wounds will be re-opened soon. We know that this will happen again. We cannot CHANGE the minds of racists.
So where can we be safe? Where can we go to fellowship, celebrate, and love on one another? Where can we go in this land, that has our ancestor’s blood on its hands? When will the assault on our bodies, our culture, our psyche be over? Where can we go to exist? WHERE can we be Black?