They were our best, the pride of our country. The Charleston Nine.
They were college graduates, members of fraternities and sororities, a state senator, a librarian, ministers, all deeply committed to their church, faith, city, state and nation. In them a community found hope and dedicated service. A hate filled white supremacist stilled their mighty hearts with shots that tore through their flesh and into the souls of a shocked, barely comprehending nation.
More than a week after this tragic massacre a thick fog of sadness still pervades. Black America is stunned, mournful, many crying out to our God to give us strength to rise again. We hear the mockery in the assassin’s action, “Now, where is your God.” Whites and people of all races are horrified at the evil ideology of white supremacy which propelled the actions of Dylann Roof.
We, the living, are called in this moment to not let the deaths of the Charleston Nine be in vain. Our nation must embrace the challenge of this moment and take concrete actions seeking to address our racial realities to prevent another racially motivated massacre.
First, we must recognize that leadership demands truth. Racial healing is impossible without truth and reconciliation. President Obama in response to this national tragedy initially called for gun control which evoked the reaction that is clearly needed but not enough! Many wanted to hear a denunciation by him of the racial hate behind this heinous act. Not acknowledging the role of racism here is a fundamental error no matter the inevitable criticism from those who will resort to denial and complain about race baiting.
On Friday, June 26th, he delivered the nationally televised eulogy for State Senator Clementa Pinckney. Although deeply moving and steeped in emotion and faith and directed to individuals, the President’s speech did not propose a comprehensive and collective framework of action for addressing the issue of racism moving forward.
Similarly, initially, Nikki Haley wrongfully called for the imposition of the death penalty ignoring complicity of the symbol of racial hate flying at her state capitol. Again, national and local protest forced her to call for the removal of the confederate flag from the capitol grounds.
And the Governor of the State of Alabama has ordered the removal of the confederate flag from the capitol grounds calling it “the right thing to do.” Still these steps are not enough.
No amount of deflection or denial can avoid the obvious. White Supremacy and Structural Racism are the culprits here. Hate, denigrating stereotypes, fear, violence, terrorism and slaughter are the handmaidens of white supremacy. And the confederate flag is the rallying symbol of white supremacists, nurturing notions of loss, resentment, revenge, and the hope that one day the south will rise again. President Obama has stated that the flag didn’t cause the murders of the Charleston 9 but is instead a representation of systemic racial subjugation.
When Roof spoke of black men raping white women, as he pulled the trigger of his gun, he also pulled from the racist motif of the confederacy and post-Reconstruction era. And that he killed six Black women bespoke of his true genocidal purpose. When he spoke of taking back our country, he was echoing the rebel yell with flag in hand to re subjugate Blacks or worst.
Again, many in the media are missing the clues. We must stop using the language of loner, sick, mentally disabled and accept the fact that Dylann Roof is just the latest actor in a string of ugly slayings and attempted killings by white supremacist domestic terrorists of Blacks, Jews, Latinos, Muslims and Asians, seeking to spark their much desired Race War. And let’s be clear, the language of Race War or new Civil War that Roof and others proclaim is designed to produce one horrific result: Black extermination, Black annihilation, or Black removal from the U.S. with the same fate for all others in their crosshairs of racial hate. This genocidal vision should and must be renounced by all Americans.
Furthermore, it is imperative that we eliminate or lessen any possible recurrence by taking strong action as follows:
1. Remove the confederate flag throughout the nation from all governmental and corporate sponsorship. Colleges, universities, schools and sport teams all have to eliminate the presence of this symbol of hate.
2. Brand the flag as a hate symbol. We have to understand that the primary purpose of the flag is a symbol of racial hatred and division. The South Carolina flag was absent from the capitol until the 1960’s when it was hoisted as a symbol of resistance to the civil rights movement.
3. Insist that entertainment and media stop the negative portrayals of Blacks, especially the disproportionate images of Blacks as criminals. It is easy to hate and dehumanize that which you fear.
4. Teach in every school, church and available forum about the evil of racism and implicit bias. It is telling that Dylann Roof is only 21 years of age. The mythology that the young will automatically with the passage of time become better on race has been disproven time and time again this year as young whites have been featured nationally for various hate crimes or racist expressions. One thing is clear, in the absence of affirmative teaching about race, Whites will learn from their popular culture and the gratuitous racism which pervades that culture.
5. Center equality for women of color in all of our discussions about gender equality and racial justice. Six Black women are dead as the killer professed a desire to protect white womanhood. As the narrative of the endangered Black male has dominated the national conversation, the plight of our African American women and girls have been ignored at our peril. We must Say Their Names.
6. Seminal of all needed actions is the imperative to build a nationwide truth and reconciliation process which would hold hearings and programs in every state of this nation to facilitate racial healing. Racial healing cannot occur without a national truth and reconciliation process which engages all races in an honest national dialogue about the history of racial oppression in their states and communities and the continuing impacts and presence of these scars on modern society. Mr. President, we must as a nation talk about the impact of race in our society and take action to dismantle its adverse consequences.
7. Build a real White movement for racial justice to fight for inclusion, equality and opportunity for all Americans. Only a truly multi-raical coalition can win the struggle to advance racial justice in our society and Whites need to be more proactive and engaged in advocating for concrete new laws and policies that will combat racial injustice. The battle for a new Voting Rights Act needs to be a priority for all Americans not just African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian Americans who have relied upon this act for protection from racially discriminatory practices and procedures. Similarly, we all must seek to enact policies and legislation that will reverse the impacts of the unjust criminal justice system, racially motivated policing and violence, segregated housing, unequal education, employment discrimination, intersectionality of race and gender, and environmental injustice. These inequalities fuel the racial divisions that allow haters to breed.
It is heartening to see people of all races banding together in unity to renounce the most recent progeny of the white supremacist creed even as others continue to trade their wares of denial and inaction. And we must compel our multiracial nation forward beyond this tragedy by taking concrete action to actualize racial harmony and racial justice.
All of these things and more must be done not just to help people of color but to save the soul of our nation.
Barbara Arnwine is founder and president of the Transformative Justice Coalition (TJC). Ms. Arnwine launched “Igniting Change with Barbara Arnwine” in March 2015 on Radio One’s WOL 1450 AM. The hour-long show, which airs on Tuesdays from 12-1 p.m. EST, provides provocative and empowering information and discussion designed to ignite change and inspire action in achieving racial justice, social justice and equality.
Contact Barbara Arnwine at: [email protected]