I've sat down to write out thoughts a few times over the last few days...to somehow rationalize and something so irrational, so horrific. And yet the words have escaped my lips, turning into tears from my eyes.
Yesterday, I sat in the middle pew of our church - a church that was supported by the generosity and grace of an AME church down the road. I wondered, what room do I have to speak in the midst of such tragedy? Can I truly empathize with my brothers and sisters directly affected by this unthinkable act? Can I really understand what it's like to experience persecution and hatred, simply based on differences? What do I say as I walk through the streets of downtown Charleston? When I meet a face on a street corner whose skin isn't the same as mine, do I apologize for decades of discord that still haven't ended? Do I shoulder the responsibility of hate crimes? How can I stand for unity when the world continues to point out differences among us? Just a few of the hundreds of questions swirling since Wednesday...
When I stood in the middle of this Holy City on Thursday, I felt a heaviness and shame for what evil permeated the place we call home. I somehow felt responsible. I still do. I grew up 10 miles from one of the last remaining gathering places for the Ku Klux Klan. Yes, the group we associate with historic b-roll on the news and movies highlighting the challenges of desegregation still continues its mission today. (So to every media outlet questioning the continued existence of racism - if Wednesday's events were not enough to confirm suspicions, take a drive to central North Carolina [or any one of these states]. Racism still exists. 150 years after the abolishment of slavery, it still exists). Despite proximity to that place, I consider my life sheltered from the reality of racism. I spent many Sundays in a local African American church with people who were family to me...individuals who are still my family. Friday night football games included members of our entire community, sitting together, cheering together...winning and losing together. My grandfather was raised in an orphanage that housed children of every race and religion. My parents brought us up to respect all individuals as human beings, made equal and with purpose by our Creator. Racism was never an issue, then or now...or so I thought.
When I take time to replay conversations of my past, I recall moments in a restaurant with the mutterings of ignorance behind me, strange looks from others as an interracial family walked uptown, and memories of friends unable to go to some places outside of our hometown for fear of violence. I said nothing. I did nothing. It wasn't really an issue, right? Desegregation took place in my parents' youth. Those troubles were long past. So of course, my inaction was justified. It wasn't me saying racial remarks. It wasn't me staring with question and judgement. It wasn't me committing acts of hate.
And yet when I pulled into downtown Charleston on Thursday, I felt the summation of years of inaction. I saw the brokenness that comes from sitting quietly instead of standing boldly. That one comment a neighbor makes...the one car in the parking lot with a seemingly harmless bumper sticker...the one photo of a child holding a burning American flag. For so long, I've stood in ignorance, allowing my small actions to make up for all the times I shrugged off "that one time." Well, no more. Because this alone I know: ignorance is not bliss.
Ignorance fosters indifference. It breeds silence in the face of moments that should beckon noise. It justifies hate and affirms disunity. It allows us to live in the dark, devoid of refining light and true, unadulterated joy. Ultimately, ignorance creates apathy...and in apathy, no true change will come.
A dear friend recently told me that all of our "differences" will remain differences until we no longer have to document gender, race, and religion. And she's right. Until we stop defining elements of our being as "differences," division will remain. My hope is that all of our commonalities will fuel the healing and change to come. With the same hearts to feel, the voices to share, and the hands to hold together in unity, may the reality of freedom come. May the power of forgiveness heal. May the darkness give way to Light. May the peace of our Creator - who made us human - rain down.
And may the world know that while hate let out a battle cry, love has won the war.
"Sins that go against our skin become blessings."
- "Glory," from the movie Selma