On last Wednesday night, a terrorist ravaged a community in the shadow of full masked confederate flags. Condolences have been offered, tepid political responses have relied on their inability to understand how something so horrific could occur for seemingly no reason and calls to prayer still echo as we attempt to wrap our minds around such horror. As time marches on and the grief settles in, what should remain clear is that although we wish we could explain away the hatred via mental illness or lone-wolf syndrome, until we acknowledge America’s violent racial history which dictates much of the rhetoric surrounding Black people, we will continue to suffer grave injustice.
Whenever Black lives are taken it is a tragedy. But there is a special kind of terror which accompanies acts of violence in spaces that are supposed to be sacred. To be gun downed while thanking God for your blessings could not be more horrific and disturbing. Black people have been told for centuries that prayer will save you, that it is your reward. If you are of the Christian mindset, you know that your real treasure awaits you when you pass on to the next life. But how do we reconcile these things when such trying times befall us in the very spaces we go to find solace in a cruel world?
As I constantly refreshed my Twitter feed waiting for news and hoping for the terrorist’s capture, my anger subsided and sank back into the fear I first encountered when I was 9 years old. In 1997 Spike Lee directed 4 Little Girls, a documentary about the 16 Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. I watched the film in its entirety as an eerie feeling lingered. By the end I began to realize that I was a little Black girl and I could be blown up at church. I was watching the film with my aunt and what strikes me most about that moment is that she never once reassured me that that same fate could not repeat itself, because that would have been a lie.
I couldn’t sleep the night I watched 4 Little Girls and the black and white horror replayed over and over in my mind. Last week as I poured over the news I could not sleep either. I was haunted by the reality of what I learned as young girl, far away from the confederate, safe and sound in the liberal North. But since the attack, the silence of the Christian right, who supposedly believe in faith above all else and America at large, has been deafening. There is no Charlie Hebdo-like hashtags or globally sweeping statements of faith. Instead we hear posturing and insulting questions via correspondents who bend over backward to humanize a deliberate killer.
The spirit of racism has a hold on our nation because it is an integral part of its founding. It is not a ghost. It is not a thing of the past hovering in our nation’s rearview mirror. Instead it hangs in the air like dense fog, clouding our ability to face the fact that we are a nation of people who are desensitized to the public violence against Black bodies. I am not sure I have been able to identify true shock as it relates to these tragic events, instead I have thought to myself ‘business as usual.’ I do not know how to pray about that. South Carolina officials report feeling sadness, remorse and confusion as they proudly fly a flag which symbolizes Black death en masse. As long as those symbols go unchecked, more bodies will be brutalized. But more importantly, more Black people with complex feelings, important lives and whole gifts will be lost and the world will continue to feel haunted for many praying Black folks.
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