“A safe fairyland is untrue to all worlds.”
When I posted that on Facebook yesterday, I didn’t know that it would be my last post before a church massacre less than six hours from my home in Charlotte, North Carolina.
True, a safe fairyland is untrue to all worlds, and always will be.
But an unsafe hell based on ethnic identity is not true to all worlds, either, and never should be.
In addressing the tragedy, Obama said that “this type of mass violence doesn’t happen in other advanced countries.” Barring a few exceptions (of which we are one), he is right.
I am currently studying conflict resolution and peace studies in a country that, 20 years ago this summer, experienced an unthinkably violent war based on ethnic and religious (here, the two have become synonymous) divides. In this situation, the USA bent over backward to end the conflict and to establish a secure and stable country. 20 years later, the USA is still maintaining a large presence (the locals call the US Embassy here “The Fortress”) and bending over backward to ensure and maintain stability and progress, despite setbacks like extreme political gridlock, poor economy, and remaining ethnic tensions.
The US insists that progress can and will be made, if for no other reason than US security is at stake if not- and from talking to people here, I genuinely believe that they are here for more reasons than just security, at least individually.
So if the USA can dedicate so much- time, resources, money, and hope- to ethnically-divided and broken Bosnia two decades after war, why can they not address a similar situation at home, more than two centuries after the Emancipation?
We have seen the history of our country, constructed from the lives of those we enslaved; we have seen their emancipation physically, but have yet to see it socially; we have seen a long and arduous fight for true freedom, despite a systematic structuralization of racism that cripples the backs of the people who descended from those upon whose backs our great country, and our privilege, was built.
Martin Luther King Jr. said that the arc of the moral universe is long but bends ever toward justice. Gandhi taught love and not hate, and Frederick Douglass, Charlotte L. Forten, and Booker T. Washington all knew that if education was attained, a place among equals might be had. They taught their people to fight and to hope and to always love, so that one day they might find the pot of freedom at the end of their Moral Universe Rainbow.
But how many Trayvon Martins, Michael Browns, Donte Hamiltons, Eric Garners, John Crawfords, Dante Parkers, Tamir Rices, Tony Robinsons, Walter Scotts, and Freddie Greys will it take to teach a marginalized group that the pot of freedom at the end of the moral universe is a farce?
How many more years will it take before I look at a wall with all of their names on it in silent remembrance, showing how grotesque humanity once was?
How many nooses tied on University campuses?
How many people praying in churches?
If cases must be made (and they inevitably will be made), they will say that the evidence for Michael Brown was inconclusive; that the evidence for Trayvon Martin didn’t prove guilt (though it did not prove innocence, either); that officers felt threatened; that Baltimore’s reaction only proved the fear that justified the acts; that the student didn’t know the cultural significance of the nooses in the South.
But no case may be made against the deliberate massacre of nine men and women praying in a church.
A church is a sanctuary. For the oppressed, a church historically represents the only sanctuary (for sidewalks certainly no longer offer sanctuary for Black America), they had.
Sanctuaries are safe places where one can finally breathe without fear.
Churches and prayer are both places of sanctuary, never intended as spaces of massacre.
And that alone makes this worse than the others, eliminates any case to the defense of the murderer (if we must triage hate crimes at all).
It is useless to wish back the dead, but it is not useless to use this moment as a catalyst for progress (though we said that about the others, too, and the only progress we’ve seen is the grass growing on the graves).
We must reform gun laws. Congress has failed at this task, local and State governments have failed at this task, but it must be addressed. Why encourage disarmament and nonproliferation abroad while encouraging armament here? How difficult is it to recognize historical relativism and the reality that we no longer live in a militia-muster world? The Constitution is meant to evolve, and the Second Amendment must experience evolution.
We must recognize the reality of structuralized, institutionalized, and everyday racism. We must include it in curriculum nationwide, because it plays and has played a definitive role in our country’s historical narrative. In Bosnia, one of the largest obstacles to progress is that half of the people involved in the conflict deny its most basic (and horrific) realities.
We cannot allow ourselves to do the same.
Thirdly, we must improve mental health care in the States. This is not to defend the murderer, or to condone any actions, or to place a “white mentally disturbed” label on this “lone gunman”. But a place must be created for those who are not stable or who are a threat to society (and racists are clearly a threat to society), and it must not be the asylums of Dorothea Dix’s generation, or the shock-treatments of Sylvia Plath’s nightmares, or the basements of their parents’ homes.
Lastly, we must love, and we must transcend. Mandela and Gandhi and King and so many others taught us this most basic fact. No Arc of the Moral Universe will bend toward justice unless love and reconciliation are an instrument used to do so.
Mandela once said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Gandhi said that, “love is the strongest force the world possesses and yet is the humblest imaginable.”
Douglass said, “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”
In fact, a lot of people have said a lot of things.
1. We must love.
2. We must educate.
3. We must fight (peacefully).
4. We must respect.
5. We must always act in solidarity.
6. We must not despair.
Most importantly, however, we must make an effort to understand and to know that there isn’t and never will be a common narrative.
In the face of that recognition it is our duty and obligation to witness- through art, through reading, through listening- as many narratives as possible, in a concerted effort in understanding, so that the pot of freedom at the end of the moral universe does indeed manifest itself, and so that no more praying lives will be taken.
Then we must act on it. If nine people had been killed at an embassy abroad (how many lost their lives in Benghazi, which we’ve heard about for two years?) , the reaction would be much different, and there would be uproar from the very people who are remaining silent.
We are Man Kind.
We should no longer act as if we are Man Unkind.
BOOKS AND ARTICLES FOR READING:
1. The Making of Ferguson (available online here)
2. Assigning Value to Difference, Albert Memmi
3. Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin
4. Push, Sapphire
5. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
6. The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
7. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., Martin Luther King, Jr.
8. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X as told by Alex Haley
9. Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela
10. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass
11. Up From Slavery, Booker T. Washington
12. The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, Sojourner Truth
13. The Journal of Charlotte L. Forten, Charlotte L. Forten
14. Reminiscences of My Life in Camp, Susie King Taylor
15. The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B.DuBois
16. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire
17. Dreams of My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritence, Barack Obama
18. Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison
19. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
20. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
21. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
22. The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, James McBride
23. The Land, Mildred D. Taylor
24. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
25. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred D. Taylor
26. Let The Circle Be Unbroken, Mildred D. Taylor
27. The Road to Memphis, Mildred D. Taylor
28. A Lesson Before Dying, Ernest J. Gaines
29. Life Ain’t Been No Crystal Stair, Langston Hughes