|June 22, 2015
Just last week the news was easier to bear and a little lighthearted. As it turned out the head of the Spokane NAACP was a white woman, posing as a black one. My first reaction was ironic laughter. A white person posing to be black in order to get ahead in the world? Go figure. African American humanity, arts and culture may surely influence and enhance our modern generation, even setting trends. But I thought to myself as I read this story, does this person have any idea the hurdles and struggles black people still endure to get accepted and promoted in our society and be judged solely by their character and performance? One's personal appearance is up to them. How you think of yourself is your own business. But to me there was something disingenuous, even disrespectful in her behavior: using the unique and courageous history and identity of black Americans to try to include or promote oneself. It sounded mixed-up at the least. I grew up in the sixties and seventies and have always felt very much a part of the civil rights struggle, doing my very small part; not because I am black but because at its core I believe it is both a divine and human struggle that by faith is my struggle too. And I believe brotherhood and sisterhood extends across any racial divides. You can have your own history, but be kindred spirits.
But this week the news is different. It is unbearable. But bear it we will. A young white man gunned down in cold blood nine African American Christians at a Wednesday night prayer meeting in a great historic church known for its leadership in the emancipation and civil rights movements. A church like ours. You can not even describe the brutality and heartache of such a massacre. It makes you weep. It makes you sick. It makes you sorrowful unto death. For them and their families with my last hope I pray God's grace, comfort and peace.
Everyone is dumbfounded and sad about it. But it would dishonor the victims and be a bold face lie to God and ourselves if we claim to know nothing of where this came from, writing it off as sheer lunacy. Where do we think this young man developed his character? In an al-Qaeda training camp? Children are born sweet and good but surely also self centered and aggressive. But this kind of racism and gun violence are taught. And they are taught by us. We manufacture the guns and put it in his hands and do not regulate them. We create the racism and fear no matter how we dress it up in today's world. Ignoring a permanent economic underclass of citizens who are over proportionately African American. Imprisoning that same class in outlandish numbers. Forgetting Dr King's dream of having to work hard for an integrated loving society. Impractical and hateful immigration policies. We are as open about it as the confederate flag, no better than a swastika, proudly waving throughout the south and on license plates . And we are subtle, as we question whether our President is American enough or endure racist slights to the first lady on the internet in the guise of humor.
Was this shooter deranged? An extremist? No doubt. But this is a hate crime not without accomplishes. Some by perpetuating outright racism. Some by callousness and political code words. Some by touting slogans and ancient history while people get gunned down in movie theaters, elementary schools, and now churches. And some by our silence and inaction. Human evil happens. But not always, maybe never, out of the blue.
How can we possibly begin? Maybe at ground zero. Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina could start us off by having a decent hand gun regulation law in her state; having a law against hate crimes on the books; extending medicaid to the poorest of the poor in her state; and not lowering it but taking down the damnable Confederate Flag in front of the state capital. Maybe then our tears, our prayers and our love will be genuine.