In the past few years, a new era of civil rights organizing has emerged out of the depths of tragedy and despair. The list of names of young African Americans who have died at the hand of police, out-of-control vigilantes, and hate-filled white terrorists has fostered profound lament and intense anger. The simple phrase, “Black Lives Matter” has galvanized activism, mobilizing, and organizing.
This new civil rights battle includes legislative battles at state houses like South Carolina, leading to the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds. There is work to do in D.C. as well. Yet the real front of this new era will be on the corporate scene, on Wall Street and with economic power brokers and corporations. It is time to go “over the heads” of politicians and enter into dialogue and debate with corporations over the value and dignity of dark bodies, and how to reconstruct a moral economy that is not profiting off of people of color.
NC NAACP vs. McCrory is a necessary interruption to the institutionalized racism that is killing black and brown people. For all the talk around “black lives matter,” Rev. Barber warns, we are in danger of only affirming that black death matters if we accept that the martyrs of Charleston deserve nothing more than the removal of a Confederate flag from their state house. Yes, the flags should come down. But if they go away while the unjust laws remain, then it may be even harder for us to see that the root of injustice is in an imbalance of power.
And the fundamental power of citizenship in this country is still the franchise.
When the Confederate flag was removed from the South Carolina statehouse Friday morning, Gov. Nikki Haley spoke solemnly of the nine black churchgoers who were shot to death less than a month ago at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“We have all been struck by what was a tragedy we didn't think we would ever encounter,” Haley said of the horrifying massacre before she signed the bill with nine pens that will go to the families of the victims. “Nine amazing people that forever changed South Carolina's history."
Haley also referenced the “grace” shown by the nine families when they forgave the white gunman. She said their grace helped usher the state toward this long overdue decision. The assassinations at Emanuel AME, followed by forgiveness from the grieving families, were similarly cited by several South Carolina lawmakers as their reason for voting to remove the flag. Black Deaths Matter. That’s the painful and dangerous narrative being developed out of South Carolina. Only Black Deaths Matter. Our nation is capable of doing the right thing – such as taking down the Confederate flag in the year 2015, a flag that represents the racist, immoral, unconstitutional defense of slavery and Jim Crow – but only when black deaths happen and are met by a response deemed acceptable. Ever since this flag was raised in 1961 to send the message that South Carolina would not honor equal protection under the law, tens of thousands of small and large protests have not been enough to move the power brokers to take it down.
When members of the House Republican leadership met with several evangelical and Catholic leaders in 2014, they promised to our faces that they would bring serious immigration reform to the House floor for a vote. They failed to live up to that promise, deciding instead to cave to their white-washed right wing base. Some Republican members admitted to us that many of their constituents were expressing clear racial biases.
I believe Donald Trump is deliberately and directly appealing to that white racist core of the Republican Party, and that’s why he is currently number two in the Republican polls. He is selling racism and he is winning.
I know and trust Republicans and conservative friends who reject such racism — want to purge it from their party — and long for a wider, more diverse Republican Party for the future. Indeed, the Republican votes, and even impassioned speeches, to take down the Confederate flag in South Carolina show a tale of two Republican parties — and that is a hopeful contrast to the racist elements of the party to which Trump is selling himself.
It is time for them to stand up to Donald Trump and what he is selling.
I did not celebrate Independence Day this past weekend.
The truth is the United States has never been an independent nation. Built on stolen land by stolen labor, sacrificing Natives and Africans and their descendants to the mythology of “manifest destiny,” greed, oppression, and white supremacy, this has never been a nation of liberty and justice for all.
The ignoble myth of white supremacy that permeates the foundation of this country and underlies the policies and institutions that form the context of our lives has been rearing its ugly head so much lately that it cannot be as easily ignored or denied as it has been in the past. The recent massacre in Charleston and the burning of African-American churches add even more reasons to the hundreds of thousands to awaken to the reality of racism that undermines best ideals of this nation. Our country has failed to atone for, or even critically examine, its history of racial oppression.
For white people who care about racism, it’s time we stop pointing the finger at others and start confessing our own sin.
Every white person I know denounces the blatant, tragic racism of Dylann Roof. They abhor that this sort of thing could possibly happen in 2015. They can’t believe there still exists people who are THAT racist, who would fly the Confederate flag, who could possibly say (x and y and z). They shudder and shake at such insanity.
Many white moderates and conservatives I know would express such a view.
And some of those white people are also quick to point out “structural racism.” Chastising the “lone wolf” fallacies of those who think Roof acted outside of a racist context, these folks stress the importance of systems. For them, racism isn’t simply perpetrated by extremist Southerners or a few power-hungry police officers. Rather, it’s sustained primarily in local and national policies. With their cultivated, educated, birds-eye view, these white people expose “white privilege.” They, ahem, get it.
This is the enlightened white liberal par excellence.
But both views enable an understanding of racism that exists outside our own selves. Racism doesn’t exist outside our own selves, white folks. It doesn’t simply exist in THAT guy. It’s not just a vague political force in policy. It exists in you. It exists in me. I am racist. I am a white supremacist. And if you're white and reading this, you probably are too.
Our nation doesn't have to be this way. Churches do not have to be burning. Innocent lives do not have to be lost. Together, we can bring an end to this dark night and step into the light of justice and peace. But it will take a lot more than blog posts and prayer vigils. It's going to take those of us with privilege changing the way we live our lives; changing the way we teach our children; changing the way we interact in the world.
This is hard work, but it's work that must be done if we are to see an end to this violence and injustice in our nation. It begins with a choice to see and live in our world differently, starting today.
I own a Confederate flag. Growing up, the flag meant little more to me than school spirit, pep rallies, and Southern pride … until I left East Tennessee. I’ll never forget the moment things began to change. I moved into my college dorm room and established my new home at Eastern University in Philadelphia. I carefully set up my desk, put my posters on the wall, and displayed my high school yearbook — with a Confederate flag on the cover — proudly on my bookshelf.
It is painfully true that in our time, in this year, in the United States, there is still no safe space for black people in America — even in their own churches. Racism is America’s original sin. It expresses itself explicitly and overtly in what we horribly saw last week in a black church, but racism continues on, implicitly and covertly, in American institutions and culture.
The past 12 months of violence against unarmed black bodies continues to draw national attention to the ongoing challenge of police brutality in the United States. Under the collective action call of #blacklivesmatter, activists and concerned citizens across the country challenge the ideology of white supremacy undergirding our criminal justice system and demand an end to state violence against black bodies. Yet the #blacklivesmatter movement is about more than an end to police brutality; it is call for the health, wholeness, and vitality of all black communities and a world in which black lives are no longer systemically and intentional targeted for demise. This includes an account of the physical environment in which black communities reside.
The sickness in our society is driven by the way we mistrust and pull away from one another; how we decide to care only about ourselves and our immediate families; the way we choose to serve only those who are like us – same race, ethnic background, sexual orientation, religion, political views.
Everyone else gets minimized and pushed away. We arm ourselves to protect our shrinking little space. We live like moles, wary of predators.
In guns we trust. In fear we live.
White people can no longer afford to deny the violent racism that infects our lives. Rather, we must take responsibility for it. The first thing we need to do is to name it. Yes, name it in people like the terrorist who killed the nine people at Emmanuel last Wednesday. Name it in our political, economic, and entertainment systems that propagate and benefit from racist structures. For example, did you know that currently, “the U.S. has a greater wealth gap between whites and blacks than South Africa did during apartheid?” Name it for the sinful, demonic structure that it is.
But just as important, name the racism that infects you. It’s not helpful to just name racism in others if we don’t also take responsibility for the racism within each of us. Name it in yourself so that you can repent from it. And once you repent from it, name it again and again. Racism is so embedded in our culture that its evil will surely return to our lives.
Please don’t fail to recognize this vital moment in American history: when our fellow citizens screamed for equality, marched for recognition, and pleaded for justice. Because someday the next generation will ask us: What did you do?
And so today we must ask ourselves: What are we doing? What are we seeing? What does this all mean?
Because the last few years within our country — a continuation of the past hundreds of years — have been socially jarring for a society that considers itself a modernized, technologically advanced, and morally superior nation
I invite my Christian brothers and sisters of all racial backgrounds to join me in my prophetic grieving. Our cries cannot and should not be the same. For some of us, who inhabit black skin, our tears will be coated in rage and exhaustion. They will be punctuated by the stark feeling that we are permanently displaced in the only place we have known as home. We know that we fighting for our lives and have no choice but to cry out to God.
For others, particularly white Christians, the choice may not be as clear. Lament for Charleston cannot be separated from a challenge to the system of white supremacy that serves to protect white people and white interests. Prophetic grief requires a confession that the system of white supremacy infiltrates and shapes our worship spaces, theologies, and ethics. I have no doubt that this process will be risky for my white colleagues. Rarely does transformation occur without birthing pains. The reality of power is that while my survival is at stake, my white Christian brothers and sisters have the option to opt-out, avoid the pain, and remain silent.
We are brokenhearted by the murders of nine parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. We join our brothers and sisters in deep lament for the lives lost in this evil act, and our prayers go out to all of the victims, their families and their communities.
Atrocities like this wound the very soul of our nation. We must not merely attribute this horror to the depraved actions of one individual, mourn those we have lost, and move on as if there is nothing more to do. In his statement yesterday, President Obama quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s words in the wake of the bombing of a black church in Birmingham, Alabama in which four little girls were killed:
"...We must be concerned not merely with who murdered [these girls], but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American Dream."
The deep wounds of racism, America's original sin, still linger in our society, our institutions, and in our minds and hearts — sometimes explicitly, but far more pervasively through unconscious bias. Wednesday's terrorist act is the latest manifestation of this lingering sin. Are there no safe places for black people in our country, even the places where they come together to worship?
We all have the responsibility to overcome both the attitudes and the structures of racism in America. Today we mourn, but tomorrow we must act.
Lament is not a passive act. Many Christians may hear the word lament and assume that feeling bad about suffering is the purpose of lament. How sad that people died. How sad that the shooter had a mental illness. But lament moves beyond bad feelings for the privileged. Lament is subversive and an act of protest. The powerful and the privileged have no problem being heard. It is the marginalized that need to be heard. The voiceless speak through lament. They cry out that things aren’t right. They are not the way things are supposed to be. Lament voices the prayers of the suffering and therefore serves as an act of protest against the powers.
I am grieving and lamenting and beyond angry over what feels like open season on the black community/church right now in the U.S. White Christians, this is the time to pay attention and be part of our nation’s struggle to understand and address the continual violence happening against our black sisters and brothers. When one part of the Body hurts we all hurt. When one part of the Body is repeatedly targeted, killed, not protected, pulled out of swimming pools, seen as threats when unarmed – and then misrepresented, silenced, or made small through ahistoric excuses, side-stepping through political mess, or any other form of evil – we need to stand up. We need to show up – loudly. We need to demand a different response – and start with our people in the church.
Last night nine Christians were massacred while at Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. The dead include state Sen. Rev. Clementa Pinckney, senior pastor and state senator, and his sister.
The suspect, Dylann Roof, is 21 years old. He sat for an hour with the pastor and others gathered for Wednesday night Bible study, then open fired. Reportedly, he reloaded as many as five times while church members tried to talk him down. He said he "had to do it." This was a racialized hate crime.
I don’t know what Rachel has been through in her life, but Jamelle Bouie makes an important distinction in understanding Rachel’s situation over at Slate. He writes that, “To belong to the black community is to inherit a rich culture; to be racially black is to face discrimination and violence.” Here’s a bit of information about the modern black experience of racism, discrimination, and violence in the U.S. FYI – being black in America is more dangerous than gaining custody of an adopted brother and drawing with crayons.
The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops kicked off a gathering in St. Louis of approximately 250 of the nation’s bishops by referring to Ferguson.
“We mourn those tragic events in which African-Americans and others have lost their lives in altercations with law enforcement,” said a statement prepared by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., which was read by Bishop Ronny Jenkins, general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on June 10.
“Racism is an evil which endures in our society and in our church.”