On Charleston

I’ve thought for years that things were better than they used to be. I thought that there had been real improvement in American life. We elected a black president. There are only three individuals honored with a federal holiday and one of them is black. There are respected leaders in business, academia, politics and the military who are black.

I was wrong.

The mass murder at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015 was no different from the mass murder at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963. The murders of Brandon McClelland in 2008, James Anderson in 2011, Alfred Wright in 2013, Lennon Lacy in 2014, and many others, are no different from the lynchings throughout the country throughout the 20th century. Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Amadou Diallo, Rodney King and many others all died in ways that black people in this country have been familiar with for scores of years.

I was wrong – it’s not better. If anything, it may be worse.

I’m not black and can’t really relate to the experience of black people, but I can can feel bad for people who live this way through no fault of their own and I can cry for people who live in fear because they happened to be born with dark skin. No one deserves to live in fear – especially in a modern “civilized” post industrial society. We should be beyond this, but somehow we are not.

I don’t have answers and I can’t fix it. I don’t even know how to talk to my black co-workers and friends about something like this. I see many of them put on a happy face and go about their business and their lives, but I know it has to hurt inside. There is no way I can initiate a conversation on something like this without sounding like a condescending white man or sounding like I want to be the great white savior of the black race.

So, to all of the black folks out there, I’ll say it here. I can’t relate to what you feel, but I feel for you. I can’t feel your pain, and I won’t insult you by saying I can. But I do feel something, and that something hurts and makes me angry. You do have white allies. I won’t presume to tell you what to think or how to feel, but I do support you and will stand up for you. I will cry for you and mourn with you.

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