Shortly after this paper went to press a couple of weeks ago with my commentary on the Rachel Dolezal scandal, a man walked into Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and attended a prayer meeting before pulling out a handgun, making racist comments and opening fire. Nine people were killed — nine souls who, in the hour before their death, embraced and shared fellowship with their killer.
At the end of my Dolezal commentary, I predicted a new “it” story concerning racism in America that would once again break our attention spans, forcing us to have an opinion on yet another issue of no real consequence. In this case, my prediction was only half right.
Yes, the church shooting is yet another “it” story involving racism, but the consequences felt more real than most.
I’m not going to talk about the terrorist who committed this act. In fact, I will not bother to mention the coward by name. His name has been cemented in the mainstream’s collective consciousness already.
I also will not elaborate on the fact that the coward was brought into custody by the same police force that has been accused of killing people of color for far less serious crimes. I will not explore the difference in the depiction of black criminology vs. white criminology. I will not talk about the Confederate flag that still waves over Charleston, as well as mostly every other Southern city, while we are being told we live in a “post racial America.”
While these are proactive topics that could very well garner attention for a writer, they will garner none of mine. A close friend of mine, poet and artist Baron Amato, once told me “always give your energy to the greater than” and that’s exactly what I plan to do.
On Sunday morning, June 22, less than a week after the domestic terrorist attack that took place within its walls, Emanuel AME Church continued with its regular Sunday morning service. Of all the angles that have been taken to view this tragedy, none sums up the underlying, yet most important theme throughout all of this: the resilience of the black spirit.
The truth is, the murder that took place June 17 was different from other racially motivated murders that have come to light in the past couple of years. Not to be dismissive of the other incidents, but this one is a beast of a different nature.
If the suspect’s intent was solely to take black lives, there are numerous places where black people exclusively gather. But I believe this was a direct attack on black spirituality.
The intent was to make a place most sacred in the hearts of many African-Americans — the church — and taint it. This coward attempted to replace sanctity with fear, joy with anger and God with hate. As the church doors opened the following Sunday morning, however, one thing was immediately apparent: he failed.
Being a black Christian is not an easy thing these days. Every day, there seems to be a new religion that is more “in line” with our ancestors’ beliefs. There is the pain of reconciling with the church’s misdeeds in the past. There are criticisms from the “conscious” black crowd that you are worshiping the God of your slavemasters (although Christianity predates the European slave trade), or that you worship a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, white Jesus (even though Revelations 1:15 says different).
And then there are situations like this, those that mirror the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham of 1963, where cowards allow their hatred and cowardice to spill blood against people who would probably offer the least resistance in the form of violence (I suspect there is a good reason why hateful men do not try the same antics at a Nation of Islam mosque).
The general, yet uneducated, consensus is that the black connection to the Christian church had its conception during slavery. Even so, it only highlights the fact that we are not the monsters we are fighting against.
The thing that probably has and continues to anger racists to this day is that, regardless of what horrors they may put us through, we are not them. Time and time again we fail to reciprocate the hate acted upon us throughout the span of hundreds of years.
While the world may view it as weak, I view it as possibly the most godly trait a people can have. God bless the families of those slain on June 17. God bless Emanuel AME Church as they pick up the pieces and continue to praise him. And to the bastard who committed the atrocity and to anybody who may sympathize with him or his reasoning, let me make one thing clear if it hasn’t been made clear through the centuries: WE ARE NOT YOU.
We never will be you, because hate is not in our nature.