with Janee Woods
Last week a white supremacist launched a terrorist attack against Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The next evening in Washington DC’s Mt. Vernon Square, I along with several others, most of us strangers before this moment, gathered to mourn the loss of nine innocent Black people murdered during their weekly evening prayer meeting. We formed a small circle, holding candles and summoning light in a vain effort to dispel the darkness that covered the sky and our hearts, trying not to cry as we held vigil.
The rain poured down so hard that umbrellas offered little protection. Our clothes and shoes were soaked but the discomfort felt right. The heavens wept with us. It seemed appropriate to see only clouds and not be able to count the stars, like I did when I was little and full of hope.
I read out loud the names of the dead:
Depayne Middleton Doctor
The Reverend Clementa Pinckney
The Reverend Doctor Daniel Simmons, Jr.
Our little group observed silence for nine minutes, one minute for each precious Black life violently taken in the name of white supremacy. Nine minutes is a long time to be alone with your thoughts. Nine minutes is also enough time to wonder where all the other people were who had committed attend the vigil — the mostly white people who said they would be there but didn’t show up. Some people might have had work or transportation issues, those things happen. Some may have felt too overwhelmed to join others in their grief, that is understandable. But I quietly questioned whether many had been deterred by the bad weather. There’s no such thing as a fair weather ally — either you show up rain, shine, snow, heat, come hell or high water, or you’re not an ally.
White supremacy is a disease and every white person in America is infected, even those who are in solidarity with the Black community. The terrorist who opened fire on Black people on sacred ground is the quintessence of white supremacist arrogance. He knew that Black people would open their arms and welcome him, a stranger, into their church without questioning his presence or right to be there. The arrogance of white supremacy assumes that whiteness is accepted everywhere, even in sanctuaries and safe havens designed especially to protect and celebrate Blackness. The centuries of resilience and everyday love inherent in Black Christian culture is what allowed the victims to overlook that arrogance, and accept this wayward white son into their fold as a cherished guest.
Those nine people welcomed the man who killed them into their beloved Mother Emanuel, which stands defiantly on a street named in honor of John C. Calhoun, a staunch pro-slavery racist. They lived in a state where the Confederate flag still flies high, and where you can easily find a plethora of other commonplace symbols of racism like public monuments and schools named after racists. Everywhere they looked, racism was all around them. The arrogance of white supremacy assumes that Black people will live without revolt in a land where we are constantly reminded that we were once chattel, slaves, only three-fifths of a person.
Yet the victims still embraced this man and chose the path of unconditional love and acceptance — so much so that the killer even made mention of their kindness in the aftermath. He killed them anyway. Setting aside respectability politics, the arrogance of white supremacy assumes that death of Black people regardless of their goodness, is progress toward creating a superior society.
This juxtaposition of unerring Black love and continued faith in the goodness of white individuals with the arrogance of white supremacy makes me want to scream when I see some of the clueless things white people have written in response to this act of terrorism.
The most frustrating are the comments from white people who say that Black people should temper their rage and refrain from name-calling or otherwise insulting white people because that behavior drives white people away from the cause. To say that people of color need to tiptoe around white fragility because some white people can’t handle being called a name is gross, and unacceptable. Especially when people of color have throughout time and history shown grace and forgiveness in the face of unspeakable acts by white people.
Would be allies, if your feelings really are that fragile, then you are still complicit in the system of white supremacy. If you’re serious about dismantling white supremacy, then bite your tongue, open your heart, lick your own wounds and stop looking for comfort from Black people. And perhaps most importantly, show up on the front lines to fight the fight.
This post (including the awesome graphics and photos) was published originally on Scenarios USA, where I am a new contributor. Scenarios USA is where young people and millennials go to talk about social justice issues, the Internet, culture, film and whatever else is on their mind! Scenarios USA is a national organization that uses writing and film to foster youth leadership, advocacy and self-expression, with a focus on marginalized communities.