On the murders in Charleston

Painting for Mother Emmanuel by Ty Poe

Painting for Mother Emmanuel by Ty Poe

Ever since Wednesday night I’ve been reading post after post by black women and men sharing about what Charleston means to them, and the deep pain and injustice that is still inflicted, every day, on people of color in this country. One theme that has been emerging is the request for white people to do something — to first say they’re sorry for what has happened and listen to the pain and the stories of black men and women, and to then find ways to work to combat the systemic racism in America. Some writers offered suggestions. But many emphasized that it is up to white people to find ways to do it. As Karen Walrund wrote:

“Finally, remember that while racism is an issue that black and brown people have to deal with, it is not our issue to fix. Racism is a systemic problem created by those in power — white power — and therefore it is an issue that only those in power can fix. So please keep this in mind before asking any of your black friends or acquaintances what it is you can do to fight racism: while the question comes from an instinct that is certainly understandable, as an ally, what we really need is for you to be creative and come up with ways that you can put an end to racism yourself. To be even more blunt: being creative for you is not our job.”

I don’t have many ideas yet. But I’m still listening, and I’m trying to be creative. I definitely appreciate that Karen’s call is to be creative, rather than to be organized or to be efficient — creative is more up my alley.

I did have two ideas, neither of which made a lot of sense, but which I did anyway. One was to write a poem, which I’ll share in a minute. And the other was to go to church. If you know me or have been following this blog for a while, you know that it has been a while, and that I’ve had a long and complicated relationship with Christian community. It was just two weeks ago that I wrote about a nightmare I had about going to a church service.

But I just kept thinking about those nine people, faithfully showing up for a Wednesday night prayer meeting, and I knew I had to be brave and go, to honor them. It was a good Sunday to be there, for other reasons that I’ll probably write about soon. It wasn’t particularly profound in terms of the reason I’d come, to bear witness to the men and women killed in Charleston, grieve with the body of Christ, and vow to work towards racial justice in this country.  The pastor spoke briefly about Charleston and said a prayer, naming all nine of the people murdered. The rest of the service was dedicated to something big happening at that specific church which needed to be discussed, and that was fine. But I felt whatever purpose I’d had in going had been fulfilled. We prayed, we bore witness. And the things the church is working through will help it to continue to work for justice and reconciliation.

But there is more to be done. It’s a busy week, so I don’t have time to write much more. But I’ll share my poem. It was inspired by Yolanda Pierce, Osheta Moore, Karen Walrund, Deidre Riggs, Austin Channing Brown, and many others. It was inspired by black women, but it was written to white people, and to myself in particular. What will our response to Charleston be? What work are we being called to do?

On the murders in Charleston

If you only have something nice to say,
Be quiet.

Now is not the time for niceties,
For crying, “Peace, peace”
When there is no peace.

If you have a voice

If you have a soul

If you have a prayer, fine.
Say it softly to yourself.

But if you want God to hear you

If you want to pray for peace

Rend your garments
Fall to the ground

And stay there until God answers you.
And then get up and do the work.


5 comments on “On the murders in Charleston

  1. Yes, and maybe “the work” is found in Micah 6:8? He has shown you, O man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. candiedlilac says:

    Hm, this is the first time I’ve been confronted with the idea that I can do anything. I guess I haven’t realized I have any power (still not entirely sure I believe that I do). I suppose the task I see in front of me is long term. My son will grow up to be a white man. I hope to raise him to be aware, an advocate, and not another victim to the brainwash that says to turn a blind eye, “every man for himself”. Dylann was once a 5 week old infant, too. It’s scary what can happen. Maybe I have a much more important job than I think.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. suzysims1980 says:

    Don’t automatically assume that because I am white I am prejudiced. I have often encountered far more prejudice against my hair color (red head) than I have ever had against anyone else. What happened was a tragedy and a travesty. Blaming ALL white people is not ok. Dragging up what happened over 100 years ago, and expecting each new generation to be held responsible is just not a healthy mentality for anyone. Hold the people who are doing the crimes responsible. The marches I saw photos of had people of ALL colors out there. They weren’t just Black or White. Racism is not the sole province of any race. The woman who thinks all whites have something to apologize for is doing everyone an injustice by promoting division and yes, her own prejudice.


    • Hi Suzy, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I have really appreciated your presence and your comments on so many of my posts. You have shared some of your story here and I want you to know that I have read all your comments and value you, your story, and your perspective so much. What you wrote about your family and about your experiences with church and with God really touched me.

      Re: this post, I think racism is a really difficult issue to understand, and that is why I have been doing as much listening and reading as I can. One thing that I have begun to understand that is that white people and people of color understand racism very differently. White people tend to see it as our individual attitudes, words, and actions. We think as long as we have good feelings towards all races and treat them all equally we are not racist. Whereas to black people and other people of color, racism is something built into the system in America, and something they experience every day in ways both subtle and overt. We as white people have the luxury of seeing things like the murders in Charleston as isolated crimes, but for black people they are just one example of their daily experience. We can go back to our regular lives, but they have to continue to live in pain and fear. And so I think that for me as a white person, just being good and loving towards people of all races is not enough. I have a responsibility to look beyond my own heart and actions to the systems that I live in in America, to see the ways I didn’t even realize I was benefiting from them, and the ways that they are hurting my fellow human beings, and to take action to right these wrongs. Austin Channing Brown wrote eloquently about this in her blog post last week:

      Last night when I went to bed, I just knew by the time I woke up we would know who the shooter was and that he would be apprehended. I couldn’t believe it when I discovered the shooter was still at large. However, within just a few minutes new reports started pouring in that the suspected shooter had been captured. As various officials were interviewed there was a resounding theme. “Safety has been restored.”

      “Our community can now come together.”

      “Now the healing process can begin.”

      “The threat is now over.”

      Though I understand what these officials meant. I want to say that safety has not been restored. I am glad the suspect is in custody. I really am. I am glad for the country, but I am mostly glad for the community of Charleston and anyone that was afraid their home, church, community center or neighborhood might be another target. But my gratefulness does not extend far enough to create any sense of safety. For the next few weeks, maybe even months, black churchgoers will not feel safe because we know the threat is not over.

      There have been far too many mass shootings in America. I still remember watching columbine and Virginia tech unfold on the news screen. More recently I remember crying over Sandyhook, shock over the movie theater shooting, scared that my own mentor could have been a victim of the shooting at Seattle Pacific University. Those were frightening, awful, gut wrenching moments, in their own right. They and many more ripped our hearts out, created trauma for so many families. But this is different.

      Though the weapon is the same, gun violence, this is different because the driving force was white supremacy, this act the epitome of racism, the goal to kill black people. The level of terror that black people feel in America at this moment cannot be underestimated. Because when the driving force of such a massacre is the very thing imbedded in the roots of America, thriving on the branches of generation after generation, sitting in the pews unchallenged every Sunday morning in white churches- there is no reason why black Americans should feel safe.

      The sin of white supremacy is thriving in this country because white Christians refuse to name it and uproot it, refuse to confess it and dismantle it, refuse to acknowledge it and repent of it, refuse to say the words

      “Its in my family”

      “Its in my church”

      “Its in my soul.”

      Every time I write about race, someone white says “just know it isn’t all of us,” believing this will bring me comfort. It is offered as balm, but fails miserably. I would much rather people say, “I see this sin in my own heart, my own life, my own church and I am working to uproot it. I don’t want to be this way, and I will do the work to submit this ugliness before Christ.” That’s what I want to hear. Creating distance from it doesn’t serve me, doesn’t bring me comfort. Because it is in all of us. White supremacy has infected all of us who know America. If I have to deal with the white supremacist notions within myself, than I don’t want to hear about how “its not all of us”. It is. It is all of us who must learn to love blackness as an equal and authentic image of God.

      Some of us are doing that work. Naming that work. Wrestling through that work.

      And others are content to let it grow. And I need you to know those are the only two choices. There is no such thing as neutrality. You are either nurturing love or hate. There is no middle ground, no third way, no alternative.

      There is this pervasive belief that Christians can simply choose to be tolerant, or polite, or even kind. There is this sense that as long as certain lines aren’t crossed, that you’re okay. As long as you don’t tell the racist joke, as long as you had a really good reason for moving into an all white community, as long as you never say nigger, as long as you do charity work, as long as you go on the mission trip, as long as you never do anything mean- then you’re alright. Not so.

      You can read the rest of Austin’s post here.

      My friend Jaime also wrote something that has helped me to understand:

      Nemo Was a White Kid in the ‘Burbs
      A lot of us are very well-meaning white people but our relationship to racism is like a clownfish to an anemone. Anemones are really toxic and dangerous for anyone who isn’t a clownfish but they’re perfectly lovely for clownfish. Clownfish that grow up in anemones and don’t interact with other types of fish have NO idea that what surrounds them could hurt others. Just like clownfish, you and I have such a symbiotic relationship with our environment that we often can’t see /feel/hear the thousands of tiny little toxic barbs embedded in our society that hurt and kill people of color.

      Other fish can’t come into the anemone but we can bring our resources out into open water. We may face a little more danger or have to give up a few perks, but if the other fish come into our anemone they will CERTAINLY get hurt. The ecosystem can’t survive with only clownfish and anemones, so telling the other fish to suck it up and keep trying to make it in a deathtrap doesn’t make a lot of sense for any of us.

      You can read the rest of Jaime’s post here.

      I hope that helps you to understand a little bit more where I am coming from.



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