In the time since a white racist opened fire in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, there has been many words spoken, many words written, and many varied reactions to this hate crime. I’ve followed the news coverage online. One of the benefits/drawbacks of reading a news story online is the comments on the story. Some of them are intelligent, some more emotional in nature, and some just plain boneheaded. Here’s a few things I’m really tired of reading, followed by one thing I was very thankful to hear.
“The Civil War wasn’t about slavery!” Really? Then why did several of the seceding states say that slavery was a huge part of their decision to leave the Union? South Carolina, Mississippi, and Georgia identified themselves with the institution of slavery in their declarations of independence.
- South Carolina’s laments that their Constitutional “right” to be a slave-owning state has been denied.
- Mississippi’s second sentence declares, “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world.” It then continues in a nasty vein about the black race. “There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.”
- From Georgia: “For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic.” Therefore, of course, Georgia had to secede from the Union.
State’s rights? Sure, that was the reason: the U.S. government was threatening the state’s right to keep people enslaved.
“There’s no such thing as white privilege.” I’ve heard this one in various forms over the years. (Strangely, it’s all white people speaking.) But if someone has a privilege, will they necessarily see that they have that privilege?
Think about this in a different context. Every time I’ve listened to people who have returned from a short-term mission in a different country, they comment on how they didn’t realize how rich they were until they saw Third World poverty.
- They didn’t see their economic privilege of having running water until they saw people who walk miles to the nearest well.
- They didn’t see the privilege of having a floor until they walked into a hut with a dirt floor.
- They didn’t see the privilege of owning shoes until they saw people who didn’t.
If you’re immersed in a white bubble, can you even see how that bubble protects and benefits you?
Silence. This is the comment that is most disturbing because it’s not a comment at all. It’s just silence. No reaction to racial violence, no tears, no anger, no grief, nothing. There’s no acknowledgment that this act of hatred ended the lives of actual people. It’s the comment that means you might view the nine victims as numbers, abstractions, statistics.
Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Susie Jackson, Rev. Daniel L. Simmons, Sr., and Depayne Middleton-Doctor.
They are more than names. They are people. Not statistics. Not abstract concepts. People. (Read more about them here.)
As Kiara Imani Williams writes,
“The next time you think about these issues, don’t think about them in the abstract. Don’t think about them in a political framework. Make it personal.”
When I make it personal, I see:
- my daughters’ close friends, two vibrant, funny girls;
- the vice president of our ladies’ association, who also manages to be the soccer team mom and work and keep our fundraising activities running smoothly;
- her daughter, the 6th grade SGA president and member of my daughter’s soccer team;
- her teenage son, who always greets me with a friendly smile even though that probably isn’t ‘cool’ in junior high;
- my neighbors, the ones who bought my younger daughter an Olaf-the-Snowman t-shirt for her birthday, the one she wants to wear every day;
- the store greeter who smiles when I come into the store and brightens even a shopping trip at Wal-Mart.
When I see them, it’s impossible to stay silent.
That’s why I was thankful that my church talked openly about the tragedy. Considering that this is a small, almost entirely white church, I feared that it would be glossed over. But our minister spoke about it and about how our own denomination is finally facing its history of racism. The guest minister mentioned it several times in his sermon on (appropriately I think) the armor of God in Ephesians 6.
I’ve had a lot of issues with this church; I’ve written about them in the past. But if they’re serious about racial reconciliation and rooting out the sin of racism, then I’m thankful to be there.