Recently, I have chosen to be extremely reflective in my thoughts so that I can use my words to empower and uplift others rather than using them to incite and create intentional conflict. It is with this same thought that I am choosing to write my reflections about the South Carolina shooting. Nonetheless, it is important to note that this reflection is not intended to be a passive approach and that I believe that “righteous anger” is necessary. I choose to stand in solidarity with my community as they express their hurt and pain and even anger about another attack on black bodies in America because of a history that remains unresolved.
A few months ago while traveling to Selma, AL to participate in the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of “Bloody Sunday”, I stopped in Birmingham to tour few of the landmarks that lend their own significance to an extended movement to recognize and affirm black bodies in America as equals. One such landmark was the 16th Street Baptist Church where four little girls were killed and 22 were injured during an intentional bombing in 1963. While touring the church, I listened to conversations around me regarding the evil that would cause these individuals to target a place of worship due to their hatred for a race of people. The word that spoke loudly to me was FEAR. For the last few days, as I’ve sat in horror in front of the television and read the news about another terrorist attack on a place where people gather to study the scriptures and seek direction and healing from their Savior, I am again privy to the language of FEAR that continues to speak to me.
The word fear is defined as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.” As I sit with this definition, I am curious about the fear that continues to show itself in the form of police brutality, the growth of the prison system in America, and politicians continuously voting to pass oppressive laws. Therefore, I continue to ask about the root of this fear. What is it about Black America that causes such pain and threat to this country, this world that keeps us persecuted and suffering for being born in these beautiful complexions? If America is such a progressive place and so much has changed since the days of slavery, then can someone explain the fear that remains unspoken among us? It is the same fear that continues to keep people in the margins and without a voice. The same fear that leaves black men in fear of wearing hoodies after dark or slain on sidewalks. It is the same fear that causes white women to clutch their purses a little tighter while on an elevator with someone with darker skin pigment.
“I have to do it,” he reportedly said as he reloaded his gun five different times. “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country and you have to go.” These were the words of Dylann Storm Roof as he opened fired on those gathered for Bible Study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church this past Wednesday evening. Apparently, Dylann was under the impression that Black America was responsible for taking over “his” country and it was “his” responsibility to get rid of us. I wonder how many more Dylanns are out there thinking these same thoughts and plotting and planning to remove any threats (those who are different) by any means necessary? I guess we will never know until another horrific act like this one occurs, since all we do is talk about the issues but never take any direct actions. If we talk so much about it, when will we begin to have conversations about the fear that keeps us segregated and suspicious of each other? There’s no one who can convince me that Dylann or others like him were born with the belief that black people are a threat that should be removed. These thoughts were created and nurtured based on society’s narrative that continues to demonize members of the black community. Time and space limitations will not allow me to speak fully to the history of where this young man was born or to fact that there are too many in the same state who continue to fly the confederate flag, a flag that carries with it a divisive history and continues to separate those living there today.
Nonetheless, what would it look like for us to invite the language of fear into our conversations? How can we honor each other by speaking about our fears in our communities and our interactions? Let’s begin to create spaces to share our fear of differences, our fear of change, our fear of acceptance and our fear of seeing all people as equal. It is my responsibility as one who is a part of this beloved community to invite this kind of dialogue.
Recently, I had a conversation with a young man who was upset that his potential roommate is gay. He was not willing to share the same room with him based on his perception about this young man. After pushing past my annoyance and frustration with his ignorance, I chose instead to raise probing questions, curious to know the underlying message that he wanted me to hear. What had this young man been taught about gay people, that he would fear the idea of sharing a space with someone who was different than him? Just like this young man, so many of us fear what we do not take the time to understand and even more, so many of us fear speaking up when we hear other people spewing their ignorance.
I find it fascinating that Dylann’s friend is all over the media talking about knowing for months that he was planning some kind of race war because of his hatred for black people and yet, I wonder if this friend ever said anything to Dylann when he made such vile comments about others. One of my biggest personal vexations is to be present in a conversation where others are spewing forth ignorance and hatred, and because of fear, choosing to remain silent. That’s what makes me angry, because perhaps if we step outside our fear to challenge ignorance and invite open dialogue about these comments, then we would not continue to have people like Dylann Storm Roof feeling empowered to create and wreak such havoc on our society.
I leave you with these words by one of my favorite artists, Erykah Badu; perhaps she can make my last point clearer. “They play it safe…Are quick to assassinate what they do not understand. They move in packs ingesting more and more fear with every act of hate on one another. They feel most comfortable in groups, less guilt to swallow. They are US! This is what we have become, afraid to respect the individual. A single person within a circumstance can move one to change, to love our self, to EVOLVE.”
The Rev. Kadia Edwards currently lives in Nashville, TN where she is doing work around urban ministry with a particular interest around the cradle to prison pipeline system. She also serves as one of the young adult representatives on the BPFNA board.