The Sunday after the Emmanuel African Methodist Church shooting, as part of our church meeting, the Dr. Reverend Jonipher Kwong asked us to meditate and remember the 10 lives that were lost the previous Wednesday. This was the picture we all looked at during our time of meditation as he said the names Cynthia Hurd, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Sen. Clementa Pinckney, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, and Dylann Roof.
This photo makes me uncomfortable.
I don’t like it. Part of me hates it. Part of me wanted to scream out “No!” He doesn’t deserve to have his face next to theirs. He doesn’t deserve to be memorialized with his victims for his act of hatred. Did we put Hasan’s face next to the victim’s at Fort Hood? Why does this white unrepentant man get to have his face next to the community of people he traumatized?
I was forced to sit with my discomfort during church that Sunday, so I decided to lean into it. I wanted to explore what it meant. At first, I tried to talk myself into feeling that Christ-like love and forgiveness that the families of the victims had displayed. Just as the historical revolutionary Jesus conflicts with the humble pacifist presented in the Bible, I internally struggled with my conflicting desires for accountability and forgiveness. If the families could forgive, couldn’t I? shouldn’t I?
The truth is that I’m angry, and I don’t feel like forgiving. I’ve been sitting with this anger. Normally, I keep it in a box hidden deep within myself, piled underneath utilitarian logic and lodged next to my box of shame. It is labeled: “Do not open. Angry black woman lacking meekness and piety. Warning: Will not be taken seriously.” These last few weeks, I have opened my box and poured out the anger within. I have tried to feel it. I have looked at and tried to understand and work through this anger. As a result, I have learned from my anger more than I have ever learned from hiding that anger in a box.
I have learned that I don’t need to forgive Dylann Roof because I am not angry with him. I’m angry with America, and it is here that I will seek accountability. To place my anger on that irreparable man who I find to be a measly pawn sacrificed to the gods of systemic racism is simply unsatisfying. He is responsible and deserves to be fully punished, but an act this hate-filled is so much bigger than one man. We built this monstrosity of a man with racist policies. He is the fall guy that was called forth from our shadows by the months of arguments that declared police brutality and racism as “justice” and “well-deserved” by White America.
Dylann Roof was what White America needed to be comfortable finally calling an act racist, and that is what makes me angry. I’m enraged that this is what racism has to look like. It fits a mold that America has become comfortable with. We refuse to see nuance and injustice unless a certain number of black and brown lives have been simultaneously lost. I’m angry that America cannot see how our culture and teachings have contributed to creating all of the Dylann Roofs. We are the ones that demand and push for radicalized acts because we won’t respond to anything less. I’m angry because this man’s acts have erased the months of individual black lives lost and stopped the discussion on McKinney in its tracks. I’m angry because now not even black churches burning will stir people into action.
In the aftermath of these murders, we are not experiencing unity like so many have said. We are experiencing Disneyland time travel. We are experiencing the type of racist act that many associate with the Civil Rights Movement, and that is how people will contextualize this: as history. For a moment we were transported back in time with rose-colored glasses viewing these atrocities through the lens of The Help and other shallow works of fiction that as my friend Erin once said “make white people feel better about themselves.” White America gets to take solace in the fact that they are not as racist as Roof, and White America gets to decide that black people really are overreacting when they call anything less racist. This act will be seen as an anomaly for our time, perpetrated by someone who was out of step with the rest of society. Sure, the Confederate flag will no longer be flown on government property, but I believe we have lost more ground than we have gained.
After weeks of contemplating and being uncomfortable with this picture, I realized that I reacted so strongly to this picture because I was conflating “lost” with “victim” or “innocent,” and that was not what Dr. Kwong had said. I have accepted that 10 lives were lost, not at all in comparable ways, but still lost. I blame this country that not only tolerates racism but has created a symbiotic relationship and clings deeply to it for survival. Dylann Roof is fully responsible for his actions, and as a country, we are responsible for creating a system that promotes this sort of hatred.
So, I’m angry at our society, our country. As I stood this Fourth of July looking out at the fireworks, I contemplated what it means to be brown and black in America. It means that the freedom and justice for all was never meant for me.
I am angry, and I’m a woman, and I am black, and I am not putting my anger back in the box. You can’t silence me, and I won’t silence myself anymore.