“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
It has been two days since the massacre in Charleston. I agree with Son of Baldwin that is what we need to call it. Not a shooting, a word that is way too neutral, but a massacre. It was a bloody, cruel mass murder executed without an ounce of remorse. In those two days I have read few, if any words, from my fellow white people. I have had many like my Facebook posts, and seen white people comment support on black folks posts. By and large, though, I hear only crickets chirping in the silent night of our conscience.
There has, of course, been the inevitable hand wringing and shoulder shrugging. There are those that will deny this monstrosity had anything to do with racism. Politicians, eager to stoke their bigoted base, have tried to make this a hate crime against Christians, as though the history of the location, the monsters words, or his past can somehow be ignored. He (I will not expand his fame, he is not important, the systems he is the result of are) was proud of his bigotry and was happy to murder black people. He said as much as he did so. Still, White America has to try to put our collective head in the sand.
Then there are those, some well intended, many significantly less so, that want us to just all get along. They make it about some nameless, blameless state of being, wherein we are all to blame because no one shows anyone respect. Some of these are people I love, and I hate having to write this almost as much as I hate reading it, because no, this is not the result of people not loving or praying enough, this has a distinct, provable cause, one that has, yes to vastly varying to degrees, benefited all white people.
Since the beginning of the civil rights movement every two and half decades or so Black America gets up and says “enough already” and White America acts surprised, all of White America. White northerners acted shocked and appalled at the “news” of lynchings as if violence against blacks was a strictly southern phenomena. White America acted surprised that Black America was sick of being told they were not good enough to sit at a lunch counter with whites. White America acted surprised when Black America said they wanted truly equal rights. We acted surprised when it was demanded that concentrated poverty that far disproportionately affects black lives be dealt with.
The history of race relations in this country can be compared to a long distance event in track and field. Black America had to watch, told they were in the race, but not allowed to run as White America finished two laps. Then, once they were allowed to run, they had to do so with the shackles still tied to their ankles. Then, once we were “kind” enough to remove the chains (but not those cutting braces, no, those had to stay on a little longer) we patted ourselves on the back as we made it around the fifth time as they finally finished a lap. Now most of the legal chains are off and White America, much of which is on its final lap looks back at Black America and so many of us have the temerity to say “why are you complaining, we let you run too.”
Every step of the way we have fought any progress. We have fought it openly and we have fought in our cowardly silence in the face of oppression. Every inch taken toward equality has been treated like some sort of threat to White America and then as a sign of our inherent benevolence once it was gained. All the while too many whites still kick and scream and act as if something is being stolen from them whenever the playing field is leveled at all. Of course they are right, in a way, the advantages of being the default will be taken away, but we never should have had them to begin with. It is like a thief complaining about having to give back his haul.
It is in that light that this act of terrorism was committed. The immediate perpetrator (White Supremacy is the perpetrator at large) saw his ill gotten gains being taken from him and like any other marauder responded with violence. He is, White America is, a viking landing on strange shores, taking what he can, from who he can, because he can and “defending” it with every ounce of rage and hate he can muster because he “earned” it. This massacre occurred not due to a dearth of prayer (though by all means, pray away if you must, if you will) but because White America, conservative and liberal alike, have invested in a system that needs to hold Black America down. Challenging White Supremacy means acknowledging we have an unearned advantage, and that is something too many of us, including many who talk the talk of equality, are afraid to face. Our fear murdered those nine people, as surely as the finger on the trigger of the weak product of White Supremacy who sat in that church and waited for his moment of infamy. He was not alone as he sat there for an hour, we were with him, every second of it, and we hate to admit it to ourselves.