CHARLESTON, South Carolina — On the heels of intense white violence against Black citizens, yet another act of white domestic terrorism is waged upon Black communities.
In Charleston, South Carolina a white gunman shot and killed nine African Americans–six women and three men, in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The gunman opened fire at the historic church Wednesday night around 9pm.
Although the white news media has been framing the murders as a hate crime, it is much more effective to understand the mass murders in other contexts.
This shooting joins the countless others of white violence on Black citizens for absolutely no reason. Undoubtedly, a white man shooting innocent Black people is yet another act of white domestic terrorism.
There is no provocation from Black citizens, they had no connections to this man, they were unarmed. This white man did not choose to shoot just any church; he targeted a Black church.
This white on Black violence is characteristic of such violence that we have seen in the American context: it is 100 percent unnecessary and 100 percent motivated by intense hate of Black people. When we start marking these white criminals as domestic terrorists, we will begin to note that this is not an isolated incident, but part of a collective attack of white extremists on innocent Black people.
Rather than merely a hate crime, this attack can also be seen as a political assassination. One of the deceased, senior pastor Reverend Clementa Pinckney, was also a Democratic member of the South Carolina Senate from the 45th District. Prior to that service, he was a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives from the 122nd district.
But we won’t hear the phrase white domestic terrorism or political assassination. No, we have heard white media spin these stories before. And soon white media organizations will fall back on “the shooter was psychologically impaired and had untreated mental illness issues” for this one.
Still, a mass shooting in a church strikes the majority of people, both religious and nonreligious, with a sting of irony.
The doctrine of Christianity would say to invite any stranger in as if he were family. But we have to seriously ask ourselves is this the type of behavior to follow when one race of people has declared war on killing the other: first a war with slavery, then a war with Jim Crow, then a war on drugs via mass incarceration, and now a gun war with domestic terrorism (mass killings) across the nation.
The tenets of Christianity, no matter how idealistic they are in their vision of mankind, cannot prepare us for such violence.
The church is a vulnerable space where people are taught to treat others as they, themselves, would like to be treated. Within spaces of worship, people are told to love the next man like he is their brother. These teachings operate well in communities of mutual respect. But sadly, as each shooting reveals time and again, white men refuse to give Black men, women, and communities respect.
Black people and Black communities are targeted for white crimes. Unfortunately, Christians, because of their doctrines of friendship, love, docility, and ultimately forgiveness, are an easy target.
In a statement, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., Cornell William Brooks, said, “There is no greater coward than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture.”
It is abundantly true that there is cowardice in such vile acts as mass domestic terrorism. Yet, it is also perplexing that during this era African Americans are so engaged in the study of scripture.
In most cities and states across the nation, unemployment rates are extremely high for African Americans, higher in fact, than groups of any race in the U.S.
For the betterment of all, why aren’t we more engaged in the study of agriculture to grow our own food so that we do not go hungry? Or the study of architecture, carpentry, and masonry to build our own houses so that we have a place to live? Or the study of entrepreneurship to open up our own businesses that will sustain our communities that are weakened by their dependence on people who don’t bestow upon us any respect?
Undergoing the painstaking study of Christianity, African Americans have seen many children and family members die at the hands of white violence.
Some of the most pressing needs in Black communities are not more churches that are open for longer and longer hours, but rather Black people need jobs, especially for the most disadvantaged of us all–those who have been marked as criminals by law enforcement. If white companies are not going to hire Black people with criminal records which includes a strikingly large portion of Black men in urban neighborhoods, African Americans themselves have to create those jobs and make it their mission that the employment rate goes down in Black communities where young children are most vulnerable.
A man wearing a shirt bearing the name of the Empowerment Missionary Baptist Church said during a prayer for the victims, “The question is, Why God?”
His question exposes the great conundrum of Christianity: that everything good that happens in one’s life is attributed to God, while everything bad that happens is attributed to the devil.
Children ask of their parents, why would God let something terrible happen to us? In responses, parents only urge the children to keep quiet and restrain from posing such trivial inquiries.
Why do good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to innocent people? Never receiving its fair reply, this question reasonably plagues everyone who understands that though optimism is necessary, blind optimism is imprudent.
By now, African Americans should have indeed grown tired of asking God why do these things happen, or how can we overcome?
The solutions to problems come with work, sacrifice, thought, reading, writing, education, job creation, and community building—concrete efforts set on establishing a more grounded community. Yes, faith, hope, and spirituality are part of the glue that holds communities together, but prayer alone cannot suffice in forging a better future.
It is in good faith to “keep hope alive” and “pray about” these things—as Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina urged the state’s residents to do—if that is to keep our bodies and minds in good spirits. At the same time, African Americans, historically and at present, have never had a shortage of prayers. Yet it’s 2015—the new millennium, folks!—and these white killings of Black people still keep reoccurring.
Maybe…just maybe… Black communities are in need of more than prayers at this venture in time. We are in need of constructive thoughts that turn into productive actions.
More than prayer, African American communities need good jobs to support their families. More than prayer, the United States needs stricter gun laws to prevent mass killings of innocent people like those in Sandy Hook, Columbine, and Chapel Hill. Only these actions will rid the United States of America of its terrorist alter egos: NRAmerica and Amerikkka.
Only then can the great Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision of a nation where children are not judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character be realized.
In Charleston and all over the nation, even after Obama, we are still waiting for that post-racial America to show its handsome face.