I’ve been trying to keep up with this blog and write thoughtful and spiritually connected stuff. Just as I was forming my thoughts, feelings and unlearnings around Caitlyn Jenner, Rachel Dolezal happened. I took a deep breath and did some reading and feeling around THAT. Then today happened. Nine people were gunned down in Charleston South Carolina while in a bible study group. A five year old watched as nine adults were murdered in front of her. The gunman reloaded several times and kept shooting her adults. The people who were there to keep her safe. She knew to lay on the floor and pretend to be dead so she would live. A five year old knew this.
The question going around the internet, the news sources and fox news is, why? The short naked truth is racism and hatred. There will be many spins on this truth of why, but ultimately that is why. That is why this little girl will live the rest of her life with the image of nine people she knew, possibly loved, were shot down because their skin was brown. They were shot by a man who took it into his own hands to decide who could live and who would not. He did so because he believed himself to be superior to people with brown skin because his skin is not.
How will she recover? How will she ever trust another person whose skin is not brown? People ask what institutionalized racism is. This is it. Children as young as five years old know what to do, how to live when a white man comes with a gun. He didn’t act crazy. He didn’t scream or shout, he loaded his gun and started shooting. He reloaded his gun and kept shooting.
If this little girl watched TV, and chances are good that she did, or listens in on adult conversations, again chances are good that she did, then she is fully aware of the rash of shootings of unarmed people, both male and female, by police and others. She has heard the heartbreak of her relatives and parents of friends, talking about what is a normal occurrence in the lives of people of color. She will have probably talked about it with her friends or her parents. And her parents, because they want naturally want to protect their small daughter, reassured her that everything will be ok. But for her, they will never be ok again.
Not just for her, but for thousands of children who have watched their parents be demeaned or disparaged in public by people who do not have brown skin. Children who have been thrown out of pools, snickered at, talked down to, called names, told to go back to their section 8 housing, or back to Baltimore by adults who do not have brown skin. They watch TV and see the images of people with brown skin sold as dangerous, not matching the people in their homes, their communities and yes, their churches.
They go to school where teachers may be “secretly” racist and posting pro-segregation thoughts on social media. Or where principles dismiss boys without brown skin who harass others as “oh they’re just boys” but if a boy with brown skin does the same thing they are suspended. Principles who call in police for kindergarteners misbehaving instead of calling their parents, because the kindergartener has brown skin.
How do we expect kids to ever trust people without brown skin when every shred of experience-direct or indirect- is telling them we are not to be trusted. WE. I said it. We earned the distrust. Not because of a few isolated incidents by a few crazy people. But by a long history of organized and systemic discrimination against people of color. A hatred that is fanned and encouraged by white religious organizations (Christian, Jewish, and Pagan), white news sources and hate groups across this country and others.
I am weary of all this hatred. If I am weary and heart heavy, I cannot imagine the weariness and bone chilling fear that is in the hearts of mothers and fathers of brown children. The weariness and heart heaviness of wives and husbands and partners of people of color. We did this. We, white people. We cannot blame the oppressed for their oppression. We are the ones doing the oppressing.
Intentionally or unintentionally. I am complicit if I say nothing and do nothing to address this festering pestilence that is racism so fueled by hatred and fear of other. Our fear is of our own making. Slavery in this country was race based and we have never forgiven ourselves for being enslavers and we have never forgiven people of color for being enslaved by us. Our fear is that they will treat US the way we have treated them. We say it wasn’t us. But it IS us if we hold on to racist attitudes and beliefs. It IS us if we do not rectify the inequities that are entrenched in our bureaucracies, schools, religious organizations and ourselves.
If you say nothing when racism is occurring around you, you are complicit. If you laugh or say nothing when a racist joke is told, you are complicit. If you think that it doesn’t affect you because you are not brown, then you are complicit. If you are weary and stop paying attention, then you are complicit. People of color don’t get to stop, they don’t get to be weary, they don’t get to rest. Neither do the people who love them.
That five year old girl deserved to have a happy childhood. She deserved to grow up believing the world is a good place. Every child deserves that. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. This little girl will not have a happy childhood. She can never believe the world is a good place. All because some man who’s skin is not brown decided he had the right to slaughter people who’s skin was brown because he believed his skin gave him the right. He learned that. Just like the little girl learned that men without brown skin cannot be trusted.
The rest of us who do not have brown skin need to spend our time proving that we are trustworthy. We need to stop being angry at people who have had enough and have no outlet for their despair. We need to start working on a solution for ALL of us. Not just for that little girl, but for all the little girls and all the little boys.
No child should be taught to hate others because of their skin color. But Dylann Roof was. It was his parents and community that taught him that. The state of South Carolina is codifying that belief by continuing to fly the confederate flag (a true symbol of hatred and as reprehensible as the swastika). We should not be surprised when more like Dylann Roof express their delusions of superiority via guns. We as a nation are condoning him.
I believe that as a community, as a nation, we need to acknowledge that we have a racism problem. We cannot fix what we will not acknowledge.