Responding to the Tragedy in SC

Today when I checked the news, I was deeply saddened to hear of the tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina. If you are unaware of what happened, here is the gist: last night at 9:00PM, a 21-year-old white man walked into a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and opened fire. He killed nine people, spared two others and then fled. He has since been arrested.

The Charleston police spokesman Charles Francis claims, along with the leading investigators, that it was indeed a hate crime; the victims, he says, were killed “because they were black.” Photos on the shooter’s Facebook page also suggest that the act was rooted in hate.

Hate crimes take many forms. Some hate with words, some with silence. Some hate by taking, some by refusing to give. Some hate with non-lethal force, and some elevate themselves to the status of a god and judge their “enemies” by taking their lives.

People who hate often do so because they are afraid. Acts of hate such as this shooting are based on a refusal to entertain the idea that you could in fact share something with people who look different from you or belong to different group. They are closed-minded acts and, ultimately, acts of cowardice.

Although hate burns us, I do try to remember that a fire cannot burn if it has no fuel. What do I mean by this? Nothing can burn in an atmosphere of carbon dioxide; fire needs oxygen. In America, the fuel for the fire of hate crimes and racism is made up of many things: bigotry is one of them, but so is the existence of racist institutions. While we might not be able to remove bigotry completely from the human condition, we can change our cultural atmosphere to stifle the spark of bigotry before it grows into a full-fledged flame.

Much of my research has dealt with the ways in which black optimism in America (with regard to their socioeconomic prospects, etc.) is far greater than their actual attainment. This is partly due to the false belief that, in this country, race no longer matters. Incidents like this massacre in SC, however, remind us painfully that it does matter. It kills. Mother Emmanuel church was founded in 1816 by blacks seeking liberty. This shooting is an attack on black liberty.

Until everyone in this country—whatever the color of their skin—realizes how terrible the effects of race really are, racism and violent bigotry will continue to hold back our march to freedom.

In the meantime, let us join the nation in mourning this tragic loss of life. Mayor Joseph Riley of Charleston has created the Mother Emmanuel Hope Fund to support the grieving families. To donate, send a check to the following address:

Mother Emanuel Hope Fund
C/O City of Charleston
P.O. Box 304
Charleston, SC 29402

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