A Lamentation to Shatter Appalling Silence: #CharlestonShooting

This is the strange and discomfiting mix of these few hours before I find sleep. There is the everyday sensibility – I still had to floss my teeth – and the incomprehensible element keeping me awake – some white man sat as the guest of something like a dozen Black people in their holy house of worship, then shot and killed most of them.

My heart laments as I call their names:

Rev. Clementa Pinckney

Cynthia Hurd

Tywanza Sanders

Rev. Sharonda Singleton

Myra Thompson

Ethel Lance

Susie Jackson

Rev. Daniel Simmons

DePayne Middleton-Doctor

Much of my Twitterfeed is set to follow the Black Twitterverse. I would miss so much going on in our nation if it was not. Last night, when news of the massacre broke, I was already asleep, but the Twitterverse exploded — the remnants still live this morning.

As it has far too often these past months, this past year, these past years. Hell, ever since it became clear that Twitter spoke a truth the mainstream media was unwilling to disclose.

It did not take long for folks to rightly forecast that this shooter would be placed by mainstream media among the ranks of the mentally ill, rather than be labeled “thug” or “terrorist.” I have been meditating on this all day: diagnosable mental illness or not, these extreme violent behaviors of so many people are less a diagnosis of an individual and much more a symptom of our collective selves. Much more a sure sign of our shared sickness, our common disease.

It is far too convenient for white people to crowd around the “lone wolf” narrative. In a Facebook post, Unitarian Universalist Religious Educator (and amazingly awesome consultant/trainer) Cindy Beal said it so well:

Let’s be clear about how this works, this white supremacy that will act as if a white guy who enters a black church with historic liberationist public stances is somehow alone.

They will say he’s crazy.

And he might be. And while that is not an excuse for him, for everyone has a story and we are all in ways broken, focusing on that gives white supremacy, and us, a pass. Which means we will be able to go about business as usual and call this aberrant rather than the continued low hanging fruit of a system of white supremacy in this country that has always, always used the threat of sudden individual murderous violence to enforce itself.

It did not take long for folks in Twitterland to notice, just like when there was the big fatal white biker gang shootout in Texas, that violent gun-toting white men are treated less lethally than unarmed Black men selling cigarettes or running from police officers with their backs to them.


still from the movie
still from the movie

Survivors of the massacre relate how the shooter said, “You rape our women.” This is such a long-standing trope that may have made up the bedtime stories of this young man when he was a little boy, but it is also a story our society tells itself and has for a very long time. Emmet Till is the most well known of martyrs for this nasty myth of the African American male preying on white women.

This is not individual disease. This is systemic racism.

At the memorial service today, Congressman James Clyburne spoke and invoked this quote from Dr. King.

martin-luther-king-jr-leader-history-will-have-to-record-that-theWe may want this to be only Dylann Roof’s story, but it is not. This story is ours now. What are we going to do with it? Once the lamentations have quieted (but the grief still very much present) and the news-cycle has moved onto the next tragedy, what are we going to do with it?

How will we shatter that appalling silence?

One thought on “A Lamentation to Shatter Appalling Silence: #CharlestonShooting

  1. Amen, Karen. This medicalization of the basic ignorance and “education” that goes into intense racial hatred is another way of keeping it at bay and pretending it doesn’t really exist anymore—except in those whom we deem to be “insane.” Like most everything else, mental illness is on a spectrum, and to the degree that we are all, in our various neuroses, to some degree or other “mentally ill,” then we should at least acknowledge that the illness of racism is alive and not-all-that well inside us and our culture. Thanks for an affecting post on a tragedy that is almost beyond words, but that requires words if we are to begin digging out from under it.

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