The tail end of our trip to Charleston coincided with the terrible atrocity that took place at Emanuel A.M.E. Church last night. My prayers are with the victims and their families. Charleston is beautiful and inspiring, but it’s impossible to walk around the city and not be reminded that last night’s attack is just another in a series of racially motivated atrocities that have happened over the centuries, in Charleston and throughout our country. The statue pictured above honors the leader of a slave revolt, but the park it calls home is named after a Confederate general. Statues around Charleston commemorate Confederate officers. A Confederate flag flies at the South Carolina State House.
Let’s get this out of the way right now. This was not an attack on religion or Christianity. Christians, especially white Christians, this is not your persecution. Those people were targeted because of the color of their skin. (I hesitate even to use the word race because there’s no biological or physiological basis for dividing humanity into different races.) The congregants of this historic church were targeted because our society has failed to put to death the cruel, barbaric, toxic, evil monster that is Racism.
Most of us with any shred of a conscience will look on last night’s events with sadness and disgust. But few of you will recognize your own role in fueling the monster.
If you have ever shaken your head in disapproval at the sight of an interracial couple, you are part of the monster. If you have ever (incorrectly) railed against the cost of black people on the welfare system, you are part of the monster. If you have ever remarked in surprise at an African American’s articulateness or cleanliness, if you have ever uttered the phrase, “She’s pretty for a black girl,” you are part of the monster. If you display a Confederate flag and proudly claim it as your heritage, you are part of the monster. If you have ever snapped your fingers and mockingly adopted a black accent or derided a name that begins with La’ or Sh’, you are part of the monster. If you have used the N-word, whether casually or pointedly, you are part of the monster. If you don’t understand why African Americans can use that word and you can’t, if you justify the deaths of unarmed black men and boys at the hands of law enforcement because of their clothing, their use of marijuana, or their alleged crimes, you are part of the monster. If you’ve ever passed up an applicant’s resume because their name sounded black or insisted the Civil War was only about states’ rights, you are part of the monster.
And this is the hardest one to write. If you’ve ever sat silent while someone else made a racist comment, biting your tongue and feeling sick inside, you are part of the monster. I am part of the monster. My silence has made a comfortable home for the monster. My silence has made it possible for the monster to live another day.
Last night Dylann Storm Roof was the gnashing teeth and crushing arms of the monster. But we were its polluted lungs, the veins and arteries carrying its dark blood, and the foul skin holding it together. People of color can’t slay this monster. We white folks have to strangle the monsters in ourselves if this nightmare is ever going to end. That ability to change, the ability to grow and evolve is what raises us, the human race, above monsters.