As a professional extrovert, I am rarely at a loss for words. I always have something to say. Movies, food, history, theology, science (the parts I understand), literature, etc. will typically generate some thoughts that translate into words from my mouth every day.
But, unlike ever before, I have not had anything to say these last few weeks.
I didn’t want to write. I didn’t want to watch the news, hop on Social Media, or be aware of what was happening in the United States. I didn’t want read about Sandra Bland, or watch the Samuel Dubose video. I didn’t want to go into my closet, pull out old photos of my childhood, and throw away all the ones with me imitating Hulk Hogan. I didn’t want to celebrate the removal of the Confederate Flag as though it was some monumental achievement in history.
I felt—still feel—this way, mainly because of another place I have never been to that is trying to define a new normal: Charleston.
It wasn’t that a young white supremacist walked into a church and killed 9 Black people like a scene from the decades between the 1860s-1960s. It wasn’t that Dylann Roof confirmed the fears of Black people around the country—that hatred and racism toward us is still so deeply ingrained in a person that this horrific act could occur.
It was the responses that disturbed me the most.
I sat back and watched as the families of Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Hon. Rev, Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sr., Rev. Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson were asked to forgive Dylann Roof before the blood stains in the carpet had been removed from the pews in the church. Incredibly, these 9 Christian families—whose faith is clearly real—extended that forgiveness without hesitation…and that was it.
The country and most communities without little to no Black people when back to business as usual.
I watched most of the 2016 Republican Presidential Candidates express confusion as to why the shooting occurred. “It’s a mental illness,” they said. I watched the 2016 Democratic Candidates express their condolences and ask for better gun control. I read the Tweets and Facebook posts of prominent Evangelical pastors to see if they made any remarks. I googled their names along with “Charleston” to see if anything was said during these events, but I only found them promoting their books on discipleship and missions.
I checked to see if any other late night talk show host, other than Jon Stewart, said anything about Charleston. Not Jimmy Fallon, not Jimmy Kimmel, not Seth Myers, nothing. Larry Wilmore and John Oliver jumped in to respond, as they always do, but the majors sat this one out…as they always do, too—unless a lion is killed.
I was puzzled as I watched celebrities, politicians, news anchors, pastors, some co-workers, and even some friends not be able to simply say, “This was racism…Racism exists in the United States.” No explanations, no justifications, no debriefs, no critiques, no books to read, just a declaration of the truth.
It didn’t happen…again.
We, the Black Community and our beloved cross-cultural allies, haven’t healed from any of the unarmed killings of Black people this year because they keep happening, and the responses are the same.
I had a few friends and a mentor challenge me on my writing a couple of weeks ago. I was told that when I address race relations, I write about the United States and the Evangelical North American Church as though they are one in the same. Most of those friends and that mentor said, “I see them as radically different.”
“I don’t,” has been my reply.
The responses are the same: silence, apathy, unwillingness to acknowledge truth of the events and systemic issues leading to those events, and as a by-product, an unwillingness to change any of the systemic issues so these events end. I turned off the politicians and listened to my friends talk about their pastors not mentioning what’s been happening this year, including Charleston.
I asked, “Did you say something to one of your pastors or ask about their silence?”
“No, I don’t think he would understand.”
How are we to respond? Well, many of us have started to withdraw from multi-ethnic contexts to predominately Black ones to heal, to be heard, to be understood, to not be rushed into forgiveness and back to being marginalized. We don’t have to bandwidth, the space, the capacity, the hope to translate, explain, or defend another case this year. Not when the same narrative plays out in the country and the church over and over and over again.
I paused my writing and stepped back into seminary classes. This quarter, I am learning about Christian Ethics. One of the sources for the material is a gentleman by the name of Immanuel Kant, one of the most influential philosophers in Western history…
And he was inherently racist.
He wrote, “Humanity is at its greatest perfection in the race of the whites,” among other things including his rejection of interracial marriages, and the vanity and stupidity of the African people (ask Google to find and translate Kant’s Beobachtungen üner das Gefül des Schönen und Erhabenen, Ak 2, written in 1764).
If history records the dominance of racism in the US, if we continue to study the philosophers and theologians of these time frames that supported racist ideologies, if people of color have been/continue to be disproportionately arrested and killed while unarmed every week, if more money is spent on elections and police militarization than on poverty and education and job creation, if politicians are deflecting the issues, and the church—which is the hope of the world—is silent, I am unclear as to how I am supposed to live peacefully in this messy historically and theologically racist cocktail we call the United States.
Normally, this is the part of the blog where I give some practical steps for moving forward…not this time.
This time, I want to acknowledge the truth: we have moved backwards.
We have moved backwards as a society, as a country, as the church of Jesus. Even more, I don’t know if we ever took as big of a step forward as this younger generation was led to believe. We took down the Confederate Flag, but we didn’t take the racism, bigotry, and hatred out of our hearts.
Dr. King once remarked, “There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over.”
My friends, now is that time.
There will be no peace until there is justice.
My hope is that justice comes quickly.
My fear is that justice will not come without more martyrs.