I fear if I don’t write this now, I won’t write it at all…. That the magnitude of the moment and the magnitude of my response will, like most faraway tragedies, quickly fade into nothing. Until the next one.
My heart, like millions of others, aches over the loss of those 9 lives in Charleston. My heart, like millions of others, is enraged over the injustice… the senselessness…. the depravity…. of one person’s actions.
I could stop there… And sit in the grief… let it wash over me. Just the tragedy alone is enough to cause pause… in a nation. But then there’s just so much more… Layers and layers of pain and injustice represented in one action. Such a costly action. I hear their names and ages and brief 1 sentence bios, and it just hurts. A woman in her 80s… her life taken. A life that I’m sure endured her fair share of struggles… as all life has struggle… But a life that also endured an unfair amount of struggle. The struggle of being a woman. The struggle of being black. Good God, the struggle of being both…. Only to die, at church, in America… praying for others…. At the hand of someone who hates….Black people.
Everyone wants to make sense out of this… place blame somewhere…. Perhaps on the misguidance of youth, or mental illness, or societal obsession with violence, or accessibility to guns (all valid concerns)… But I think as a nation we do ourselves a grave disservice if we don’t look squarely into the ideology behind this atrocity and face it. The very funny and often insightful Jon Stewart made a cutting comparison to how we as Americans deal with “terrorism” as opposed to these domestic incidents. If we are attacked by an Islamic extremist, we blame the ideology… and we go after it, even wage wars against it. We politically and legislatively move our asses to make America safer.
I feel that we must look this ideology straight in it’s face… and start tackling it head on. Like the disfunctions of a family, each generation must do it’s part to unravel the mistakes of the past. Time alone will not solve racial tension in our Nation. Integration into schools, Voting rights, Housing equality, Job protection, a BLACK president…. All good things… but it’s not over. Our nation, which I love and respect, has a history. And if we think that progress has unraveled the wrongs of our history… we are naïve and mistaken. There are still threads of hatred weaving their way through our society. There are still injustices that need to be revealed and mended. Acknowledging these things is not an admission of guilt… It is a way of embracing the threads of this country that make it great. Freedom, justice, liberty, equality.
America’s relationship with black people began with slavery. Can we just sit with that for a minute? Can we think about what sort of mindset is required in order to enslave another human? Can we think about the ideology involved with that? Threads of that ideology remain. It travels down throughout generations… The idea that black people and white people aren’t the same. Through the many movements of progress, much of the thread has diminished. I can only speak from my own experience. A white, 35 year old woman who lived most of her life in the south. Ours was a military family, and that seemed to shield me from certain realities. We always lived on base, which meant diversity. The military lifestyle also meant that while we looked different, we had a common cause. We were family. When visiting relatives in the south I would be exposed to a more “typical” southern (white), way of looking at the world, and of black people. When we moved to Florida, at the age of 11, I was told that living off base would be different than what I was used to. I was told I had been in a bubble. It was somewhat true. I cherished and respected the way both of my parents, children of the south, had broken out of the predjudiced mindsets of their generations and communities. Even so, they weren’t exactly thrilled about me dating a black boy. The thread, even though diminished, remained.
I say all that merely for a personal reference point… to say… It’s there, in some degree or another. And in certain communities, the thread is vicious… deadly.
Our history is a recent one. It is a beautifully evolving one, but we must not be naïve…. There are threads of hate within our own borders. The tensions of this history boil beneath our surface. We see it in the way we react to things. We see it in the subtle prejudices that occasionally cause not-so-subtle actions. We see it in the discrepancies of power. We see it in the headlines, and we see it in our silence. When someone says something even slightly racist, and we don’t speak up.
White people: Talking about this is not an admission of guilt… it is an acknowledgement of what we’ve been, and what we want to be. Which is, a family that heals… A family that is affected by the consequences of the generation before it. A family that vows to bind together and heal together, white and black and all the others colors on the spectrum. A family that diligently seeks to be it’s best… not just a newer version of it’s same self. A family that openly discusses the shameful threads of it’s past… so that it can be better.
Humanity is a tribal species… We bind together in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons. Family, culture, faith, ethnicity… all beautiful ways to bind together… The actual pigment of our skin should not be one of these. And our tribes have to acknowledge the beauty and the purpose of all the others. We are ultimately one tribe. Can we believe that? Can we live that way? Can we cherish the small group of people that we identify with, while absolutely respecting the sanctity of the larger whole? We can certainly try.