An hour after waking up on Thursday morning, I checked my phone. It was filled with messages from out-of-town friends and family concerned for my well-being. While I slept, a hate crime occurred in one of the oldest black churches in the Holy City.
Let the record show that in addition to feelings of shock, frustration, and fatigue, I am also angry. Church? Seriously? This gunman, identified as Dylann Roof, was trying to make a statement with an act of terrorism, and he most certainly did. Roof has illustrated, with even more clarity than before, that black people aren’t afforded the opportunity to just “be free,” whether it’s at the swimming pool, at the lunch counter, wearing a hoodie at night, or praying in church.
Even as I write this, Dylann’s actions have reminded me of a few words spoken by a good friend of mine: “Black people can’t take a day off from being black.” We don’t have the luxury of not being aware of our blackness or that our blackness can be reason enough for us to lose our lives. We don’t have the privilege of obliviousness that comes with being white in America; we can’t choose to “not see color.” It’s not like we don’t wish we could forget about our blackness sometimes, not in a self-hate sort of way, but I’d like nothing more than to taste some of that racial obliviousness because, Lord knows, it gets tiring to stay on high alert at all times.
This feeling of despair isn’t limited to black people. Last Thursday, Daily Show host Jon Stewart was unable to tell a single joke; he was simply too weary from having to peer into this abyss of racial ugliness to find anything funny to say. Do you understand how key that is? A white, Jewish, middle-aged comedian who normally makes light of situations — and has made a handsome living doing so — was too emotionally drained to do his job because nine African Americans lost their lives in Charleston. Stewart also noted that in Charleston we drive on roads named after dead Confederate generals and live in a state where the very symbol of oppression those men championed flies high on Statehouse grounds.
Across the nation, Stewart was praised for his comments — and rightfully so. I believe that he was sincere, but I’d be remiss to point out that BLACK PEOPLE HAVE BEEN SAYING THIS FOR DECADES (not sorry for the all-caps). This is just one of the reasons for our fatigue from our “no days off” lifestyle.
As a black man, I don’t have the liberty to not think about “race” because society won’t allow me to. I mean, when more people call North Charleston City Hall outraged over the mistreatment of Caitlyn the dog than they did for Walter Scott, an unarmed man who was shot in the back, you can’t help but feel like your life really doesn’t matter.
If history is any indication, what usually happens next will go something like this: Mother Emanuel will be the topic du jour for a couple weeks, but ultimately nothing will change. We’ll go right back to the status quo. We’ll drive on streets and congregate in parks named after people that gave their lives to ensure black people never had the freedom to do so. The Confederate flag will still be flying at our state’s capital. And white people will fill the comment section of this column telling me why everything I just wrote is wrong and how I am the real racist!
However, I choose to be positive. I think this time may be different. Instead of showing signs of drifting back to the status quo, it seems that Charlestonians have decided to fight negativity with positivity, showing the world that, through it all, “Charleston sticks together.”
I’m not sure if Mr. Roof will have the luxury of reading the City Paper this week, but in case he does, I have a message for him:
You lost. Instead of tearing us apart, you actually brought us closer together. Instead of creating a race war, you helped create a Unity Bridge in which literally 10,000 people came together to stand against your actions. Black people still went to church this past Sunday; some even went because of your actions. Even now, local and state elected officials are openly calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from Statehouse grounds.
Now, we both know that removing the Confederate flag or one Unity Bridge march will not end the real, systemic problems that create racial disparities, but I am delighted by the positive steps we’ve made in the last week. And we have no one else to thank but you.
This is your true legacy, Dylann.