I have been in a state of shock since the Charleston massacre of last week. I am heartbroken. Though I wasn’t personally acquainted with any of the 9 victims, I knew them all. They are me. They are you. They are our children, peers, mothers, fathers, grandparents, leaders. I am old enough to remember the death of Dr. Martin Luther King and the impact on my community. I was just shy of being six years old. People gathered in churches seeking comfort and consolation. We mourned the loss of a man who had become our leader. We held our breath.
Like so many people around the country I struggled to breathe while tears streamed down my cheeks as I watched the unfolding news both on my tablet and the television. My immediate response was a prayer offered of compassion and sympathy for those who lost their lives. As the night wore on, I felt angry, powerless, protective and devastated. Angry because no matter how people view these United States as the land of the free and the land of opportunity, this simply isn’t the case, especially if your skin is brown. I was out of sorts. I began to write: They are killing us. Walking while Black, swimming while Black, breathing while Black and now praying while Black! Do we not have the right to simply be without being under attack? Unable to write further, I sobbed.
The next morning I contacted my daughter via text, “Be safe in the world today my love.” What I wanted to do was to gather her along with my nieces and nephews close, I know this is what Black parents throughout the country were feeling if not doing as well. And yet we cannot shield or shelter our young from the world. We can however educate them and empower them to pay attention and to be part of the change. Sadly, we must also give them tools of survival in a culture that is pervasive with racism.
I am well aware of racism. I have watched those I love being followed in stores by over helpful sales attendants. I listened to countless stories told by my grandmother of abject poverty and how her parents, who were sharecroppers, were always referred to as boy and girl even though they had children of their own, by the farmers they served. I have been called nigger lover by white people who made an assumption based solely on my skin color. People only see what they feel most comfortable seeing. I am not Caucasian. I am a Black woman with Albinism. I am frequently mistaken for white.
Dylann Roof was welcomed by the Emmanuel AME parishioners last Wednesday evening, who only one hour later became casualties of domestic terrorism. His actions were intentional and deliberate. His actions were a blatant act of racial violence aimed at a people he deemed unimportant.
Just as the lives of my ancestors who were brought to this country against their will mattered, as do the lives of all African American people living and slain matter. Wake up America! Similar to the Civil Rights movement of 55+ years ago, we are on the verge. Will we bring forth change? Will we address racism head on? Or as the line from Redemption Song says, “How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?”