Guys. On this Juneteenth, I’ve started and stopped and written and re-written and tweaked and edited and, I just can’t anymore.
I really don’t even know where to begin but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say how incredibly sad and heartbroken I am about the horrible, hate-filled, evil attack on the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
This one, like many other racially charged and motivated slayings, hurts me to my core. But I think what’s really stuck with me is just how close to home this one feels. Not only because an acquaintance of mine’s parents were at Emanuel African on Wednesday night and just happened to leave at 7:45p.m. not long before the killings, but also because I grew up attending a typical black Baptist church where I spent every Sunday for worship and every Wednesday for Bible Study. Lovely grandma-like women adorned with big fancy hats, choirs who’s melodies could induce chills and strong, powerful messages from a robe-wearing Pastor were par for the course. I grew up in the church. Additionally, I am a PK. My Dad is a Pastor at a church in New Jersey, also called Emmanuel where he and several others, as diligent servants of the Lord, were partaking in Wednesday night Bible Study. I just keep thinking, this could have been my Dad. Completely unassuming.
I’ve had so many different thoughts and emotions run through me since learning of this tragedy and since I don’t know how to channel these feelings, I thought I’d use The Path to help me. Excuse typos, grammar, run-on sentences and whatever else.
The first thing I thought after learning of this tragedy was: Is nothing sacred anymore? I recognize that I could walk out the door of my office and drop dead. At any given time, a person could face their last moment. But it is actually possible that you can cheat death by not attending church or any form of worship within a sacred place be it a Temple, Mosque, Synagogue? For many, a place of worship is a refuge to contemplate, reflect and come together against the evil and prejudices of everyday life. It’s a place of hope in a dark place. It’s a place of comfort, of peace, of welcoming.
The second thing I thought after learning of this tragedy was: Did someone really feel the need to do this solely based on the color of those parishioners skin? These people welcomed your soul into their church home, allowed you into their sacred place and you heinously murdered them solely because of the melanin in their skin. Something that for the record not one person in their life has ever asked for prior to birth and can not be changed despite attempts or how you identify. Cue Rachel Dolezal (or hell even Michael Jackson with his vitiligo) here.
The third thing I thought after learning of this tragedy was: I’m horrified, hurt and tired. Honestly, in the wake of all of the racially charged incidents in the last few years, I’m exhausted. It’s horrible to have to wake up every morning in fear of what the news will tell you about your people. Was an unarmed black man killed in the hands of the police because he was selling loose cigarettes? Or by a neighborhood watch vigilante because he was walking through his neighborhood in a hoodie looking “suspicious”? Did a young black teenage girl have a grown police officer sit on her with his knees in her back for mouthing off at a pool party? Did an 8 month pregnant black woman get forced to the ground belly first in the parking lot of her daughter’s school after a non-physical, verbal altercation with another Mom, because she didn’t provide her full name (something by CA law you are not required to do unless you are under arrest)?
Don’t mistake my anger. I don’t hate police nor do I think all black people are right or innocent. I am not making excuses for bad and or ignorant behavior either in police custody or just out in society. Should people listen to the police? Yes. Is rioting helpful? No. However, as a black woman living in the United States, I can understand where the “well, fuck it then” attitude stems from. I’m not saying that it’s right or wrong. I’m just stating that it exists. When you live your life in fear of being targeted for something because of what you look like, it affects you. It occurs to me that when people see me, they don’t know much about me. They don’t know my sexual orientation, the level of education I have, my pedigree, my financial status, my relationship status, etc. But what they do know about me, what they will notice and what I can’t hide is that I am black. While there are people in this world who are racially ambiguous, chances are if you’re black or have black skin you really can’t hide it. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. We as people shouldn’t, under any circumstance, have to hide who we are in any facet. But we also can’t kid ourselves: people notice. I even notice. While it doesn’t matter one way or another, I notice if I am the only black person in my group at work or the only black person who sits on my entire floor at my office, the only black person living in my apartment building or the only black person at a friend’s wedding.
Here’s the thing — I am fortunate. I grew up in a melting pot of different colors, cultures and ethnicities. I generally felt accepted as a young black kid growing up in Morris County, NJ and did not personally feel or experience any blatant, outright racism. As a result of that, I have tried to go off my personal experience and have been open minded to people, places and things that made me welcome.
Despite being black and people noticing that I am black, I have a lot of wonderful non-black people, some of whom are so close I consider them family, in my life that my being black means absolutely nothing to them. And not in a bad way … just meaning, they don’t treat me any differently because I’m black. I am a person to them. Not a person of color. And I love them for that. However, that said, I need for (even those) people, who know me and who love me as person, to understand and realize, not everyone is as open-minded, open-hearted and as accepting as you. Not everyone sees me as a person first, who happens to be black. They see me as a black person. And because of that, I am treated differently and thought of differently in their minds. And that discrimination, that judgment before knowing anything about me, hurts me to the very pit of my core. That regardless of my amazing upbringing, my education, my career, my open mind, my heart — I am not exempt.
I really don’t know what will drive or incite change in this country but those 9 people who died in that Charleston church were not exempt from the hate. While we have come a long way from 50 years ago, or the origination of Juneteenth, racism in this country is (still) alive and well. I don’t expect for people to jump on a political, racial or religious soap box but in my opinion, awareness and acknowledgement is the first step of change. This is a struggle and a fight for the non-exempt. Every single day.