It is the title of a new book that offers readings on race, racism and racial violence. Professors Chad Williams, Kidada Williams, and Keisha N. Blain, its authors, offer this collection of writings in hopes of strengthening our conversations about race after the Charleston massacre on June 17, 2015. On this terrible day, twenty- one year old white supremacist Dylann Roof entered Emaneul AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina and murdered nine of its members, including of its pastor. What began as a hash tag on Twitter with thousands of responses has become a publication.
I must confess that I wish that the course were not an offering. I am still lamenting the loss of those church members and am in no way prepared to learn lessons from their bowed and bloodied heads. It is just too soon for me. So, if you are able to turn the pages of this book, I will give you extra credit.
This morning, I learned of a seventh African American- led church set ablaze. The cause for the burning of Mount Zion AME church in Greeleyville, South Carolina is still under investigation. But, before the smoke signal of this latest burning reached the news, six others in Florida, Tennessee, North and South Carolina were struck with matches. Three of them have been attributed to arson though it is still unknown as to whether the motive was racial hatred or in response to the recent murder of nine members of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina by self- professed white supremacist Dylann Roof.
Needless to say, there are many who are disgusted, outraged and shocked by this new but old and familiar story of the destruction of sacred spaces where African Americans gather to worship. And this is not the first time that it has happened to one of the churches. Mount Zion AME Church was burned down by the Ku Klux Klan twenty years ago. Added to continued cases of police brutality involving African Americans, the fight over the Confederate flag and the recent comments of presidential candidate Donald Trump who spoke derogatorily about persons of Hispanic descent, it is clear that we are not as progressive as we might hope and that we cannot even begin the work of reconciliation.
There is much work to be done not just in courts but in our communities, not just in churches but in our conversations. We need to talk to persons of other cultures to establish genuine relationships and friendships. Don’t count them; just create them. There is not a quota. According to a Stanford study, “making friends across racial lines lowers prejudice.”
We also must challenge would- be friends of cross- cultural relationships to speak up and speak out when persons make racist comments or comparisons, remarks or jokes. And we need not make excuses for those who make their prejudices and stereotypes known. We cannot give them an easy way out but must hold people accountable for their false conclusions and judgments of others.
African American- led churches are burning again and again and again. We are repeating the sins of our fathers and mothers. Lord, forgive us. God, help us. Amen.
Jim Campbell, “America’s Long History of Black Churches Burning”
Emma Green, “Black Churches are Burning Again in America”
Ron Hall, Denver Moore, Same Kind of Different as Me
Sarah Kaplan and Justin Wm. Moyer, “Why racists target black churches”
Same Kind of different as me
The recent murder of nine church members to include the pastor, the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina has hurt me deeply. I am aching in places I cannot touch and for which I don’t believe that there is a salve on the market. It is one thing to grieve the loss of those from history’s past. I, like so many others, have watched footage after the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. I have even looked at photos of the bodies of the four little girls, distorted by bricks. I have sat in the sanctuary and listened to the testimony of those who survived this attack of hatred. But, it is altogether different to be living today and feel like you have been forced to time travel backward, forced to watch something that should never be seen again.
The actions of Dylann Roof are out of order, out of sequence and out of line. He said to one of victims, “You all raped our women and you’re taking over the country.” But, these are not his words; they are too old for him. Instead, they are identical to those used to lynch African American men without due process of law in the 19th and 20th centuries (At the Hands of Persons Unknown is a detailed account of the terror and injustice of lynchings in America.). Furthermore, African Americans are not taking over the country. If Mr. Roof is talking about numbers, then he wrong. It is projected that Hispanic Americans will be the largest minority. He need only pick up a newspaper or a book and learn of the unequal representation of African Americans in leadership in America.
Still, he is too young to know these words and to draw such conclusions. He, too, has reviewed footage of the terrorism suffered by African Americans and listened to conversations– but from another angle and perspective. This poor tortured soul has entered a war, a race war, for which there is no cause, holy or otherwise.
So, what do I say now? How can I talk to God after this happened in a place of worship? Most days, I can’t. I drive in silence. I sit in the sanctuary in silence, believing God knows and located the words that I can’t find to express the agony that I feel.
Thomas Merton believed “silence is the first language of God.” Perhaps, this will become my mother tongue as I still don’t know what to say. Pray with me.
Yesterday, during our morning worship service, I read the names of the nine people murdered at Emanuel AME Church last Wednesday by suspected killer 21 year old Dylann Roof at Emanuel AME Church last Wednesday. I am still at a loss for words that would capture all of the feelings and thoughts that are running around in my mind. I am sure that there are countless others who feel the same way.
And there are plenty of people who want to tell us how to feel and offer appropriate ways to respond to this violation of sacred space. But, amidst calls for justice and quick forgiveness for those uncomfortable with the reasons for their death– the fact is that Roof wanted to start a race war– still this indescribable loss of life death warrants grief. With too many instances of police and community conflict, this recent mass murdering calls for a time of lament.
So, how do we grieve? Elizabeth Kubler- Ross offers these five stages:
1. Denial: “This is not happening.”
2. Anger: “Why me? Why my loved one?”
3. Bargaining: “If I/ he/ she/ they do this, then everything will be as it was before.”
4. Depression: “I can’t do this. This/ They will never change. There is no reason to continue.”
5. Acceptance: “It’s unfortunate that it happened but I have to move on now. What can I learn from this?”
As we remember them, consider these steps in your journey toward healing.
This morning, I awake with the same sick feeling in my stomach, to the same troubling reality: Nine praying people, nine believing people, nine shining lights of Christ blown out… “blown away” they say by a 21 year old named Dylann Roof. They sat at a table in the presence of an enemy who poured a cup of violence (Psalm 23.5). He had hoped to start a race war. He had come to pick a fight with those who are called to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5.39).
They are the latest victims of hate, new victims of an old hatred and I want to remember them, six women and three men, today. I remember:
Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45
Cynthia Hurd, 54
Susie Jackson, 87
Ethel Lance, 70
Rev. Depayne Middleton- Doctor, 49
Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41
Tywanza Sanders, 26
Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74
Myra Thompson, 59