The Massacre at Emanuel AME Church and Our “White Problem”

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Emanuel AME Church/Google

Last night around 8pm, a twenty-something year-old White male walked into the historic Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina. He came there with a loaded gun and at least five rounds of ammunition. As the twelve Black men, women, and children who were present in that church prayed and invited this man into their Bible study session for the evening, he contemplated their deaths. He thought about what he would say as he killed them. He figured out who he would let survive to tell the story. Then, about an hour later, after spending time with his victims, he shot and killed eight congregants. A ninth person died at the hospital. The murderer allowed a grandmother and her grandchild to live to tell the story. This ensured that he would be established in a long line of White Supremacists who came before him.

According to reports, the final words he settled on were, “You rape our women and are taking over our country – and you have to go.” While mainstream news outlets tussle over the term “hate crime” rather than calling it the literal result of racism, hatred, and White Supremacist thinking in the United States, Black citizens are reminded that when this murderer said “our women” and “our country” his words were rooted in a long tradition of exclusion for Blacks in this country. While many will focus on this singular event like it is an aberration or an anomaly, I argue that this is yet another incidence steeped in the structural dismissing of White Supremacy, the efforts to perpetually pacify Black Americans, and the commitment to de-humanizing Black people in any public or private space.

Just this week, a 12-year-old girl was slammed against a police car while visiting a community pool in Fairfield, Ohio. Her family members were all handcuffed and pepper-sprayed during this altercation with at least a half dozen police officers. Their offense was “swimming while Black.” We saw a similar incident at a swimming pool in McKinney, Texas just a few weeks ago. What we don’t see, however, is any  sense of responsibility for the brutality against Black people from Whites.

What we never see is a collective shaming or guilt from those who have the privilege to exist in public as they wish. These very same people whose sons and daughters riot at their college campuses or mow women and children down in their drunken stupors see Black Americans who are swimming, walking, praying, standing, or just existing as a threat to “their country” and “their women.” They see us as vermin which “needs to go.”

The reason why these news outlets don’t and won’t call events like the Charleston AME Church Massacre a hate crime is because many White people can’t seem to understand how they can possibly be guilty of hating something that they don’t see any worth in. Many Whites don’t see Black Americans as equal citizens. They don’t classify Blacks as being rightful members of “their society.” It isn’t about hate or crime for them. How could they commit a crime against individuals they mentally place lower than their pets?

The three-fifths clause was added to the US Constitution in 1787. While slaves could not vote and would not be granted freedom for another 100 years or so, the law meant that non-voting slaves still counted as “three-fifths of a human being” so that southern slavers and plantations owners could have hefty sway over the proceedings of the US government. The law remained unchallenged until 1865 when it was nullified as a result of the Civil War and the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. But does that mean that, in the eyes of White Southerners, Black Americans just magically became whole people? Like, instantaneously?

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Daisy Bates/Tumblr

What always strikes me about thinking through the codifying nature of slave and lynch law is how many White Americans see the abolishment of these written rules as the physical end of the sentiments which perpetuated them. Somehow, many White people believe, once schools were integrated and legal segregation ended with the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, everyone just started to like the idea of not being racist. But we have seen the images of a little Black girl walking into a schoolhouse amongst angry, cursing White men and women enough times to know what really happened. We’ve seen how Whites followed and intimidated the Little Rock Nine. We have seen images of the four little girls who were murdered in the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in Alabama in 1963. This happened almost a decade after the Brown  decision. We know what really happens when White people are denied the full exercise of their racism.

Rather than calming relations between racist Whites in the south and terrorized Blacks trying to survive, forward progress toward equality as always resulted in further violence against Black Americans. There are so many examples of this in history that it’s confounding as to why many Whites continue to treat incidents like Charleston like they’re new. They simply aren’t.

The four girls killed in the bombing (Clockwise from top left, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair) Source: Wikipedia

The four girls killed in the bombing (Clockwise from top left, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair) Source: Wikipedia

To further complicate the obfuscation of the terrorizing of Black Americans, especially in the South, the Confederate flag is still hanging in South Carolina at this very moment. They had the nerve to lower it to half mast in honor of those who were killed at Emanuel AME Church. Those victims, six women and three men, included the church pastor and South Carolina state senator, Rev. Clementa Pinckney. This issue is the epitome of racial hatred. The powers in South Carolina only reinforce anti-Black sentiment by using the Confederate flag as a “symbol of pride.”

When this White male murderer, a far more commonplace member of this society than many Whites would like to admit, entered this church, spouted his hatred in the name of “their country,” and killed Black men and women, he wasn’t acting out of random animus. This wasn’t the manifestation of mental illness. It was the very historical, completely normal behavior from racist White Americans who still see Blacks as an encroaching population. These are the Whites who see Blacks as “three-fifths human.” These are the Whites who don blackface and demand entry into safe spaces for Black women. These are the Whites who would stand outside of a school to curse a little Black girl carrying a book bag. These are the Whites who want Black kids to stay out of the community pool. These are the Whites drunk on White Privilege and enamored with the dominion it grants them. This is “their country.” “Our” doesn’t include us for them.

This is what terror in the United States looks like. As many people wrestle with ideas like “reverse racism” or question why many Black Americans recoil at the idea of accepting Whites into their social circles, events like these (and many, many others) remind us of an era long gone chronologically but very present substantively.

When are we going to start addressing the very real “White Problem” here in the United States? Isn’t the time right now?

 

This article was originally written for Water Cooler Convos.

 

Jenn M. Jackson is the Editorial Assistant for The Black Youth Project. She is also the Editor-in-Chief and co-founder of Water Cooler Convos, a politics, news, and culture webmag for bourgie Black nerds. For more about her, tweet her at @JennMJack or visit her website at jennmjackson.com.

There Wasn’t a Shooting in Charleston

By Arielle Newton

There was a shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal. There was a shooting, a massacre, and a tragedy at AME.

Calling it anything else — especially a #CharlestonShooting is a function of white supremacy. The erasure, the inability or unwillingness to name how a white twenty-something shooter specifically targeted this central and iconic locale is violent.

At around 9pm, a white shooter unleashed racist hell on the Emanuel AME during a bible study. At least 9 people were assassinated, including State Senator Clementa Pinckney who served as the church’s pastor. Although little is known at the moment, I strongly doubt this racist anti-Black act of violence was random or spontaneous. The Emanuel AME, preciously nicknamed “Mother AME,” was established and unofficially organized in 1787. By 1822, one founder, Denmark Vesey — a former slave from the Virgin Islands — planned a slave revolt from this specific location. The revolt failed because George Wilson enslaved physically, economically, socially, and mentally, tipped off his white master. The aftermath was devastatingly structural; the white power structure soon implemented stricter laws, codes, and racist socio-cultural principles to prevent future revolt. Mother AME was burned down. Vesey and 36 others were hanged. The righteous coup was planned for July. And that’s why this deranged racist shooter targeted this location. That’s why before his deadly racist rampage, he staked out AME’s members and developed a rapport them. “Allegedly.”

 

So no. This isn’t just a #CharlestonShooting. This was a strategic racist attack festered, smeared, and drenched in anti-Blackness. Dominant media narratives will suggest otherwise. Don’t let them. Name this massacre appropriately.

 

#AMEShooting #AMETerrorism #AMEMassacre. So much more than a Charleston shooting.

Arielle Newton is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Black Millennials

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Why I Really Want to Stop Talking About Rachel Dolezal

 

This post was originally titled “Rachel Dolezal and the Audacity of Whiteness.” I was completely prepared to rage against the machine and rehash what everyone else has said about this ordeal. But, then, I realized that I am tired of Rachel Dolezal, whiteness, and all the intersections thereof.

When it came time to write that essay, I simply couldn’t bring myself to pen yet another piece decrying White Supremacy and its boundless nature. I couldn’t spend one more moment explaining why Dolezal’s  claims that she is a Black person are the epitome of her privilege as a White American. I couldn’t waste 750 words shouting into the ether that Dolezal is a conglomeration of one liners from Black movies, quotes from Black authors, and Indian Remy Yaki-ness.  So, I’m not going to do that. I’d rather talk about what Dolezal has done, the issues her farce has raised about blackness, and what it means for real Black people going forward.

From the moment this story hit the mainstream, folks have been writing in response. Some have taken issue with the conflations Dolezal’s acolytes  have made of race and gender. Others have been awestruck at the inconsistent and problematic presentations Dolezal sets forth in her differing interviews. Others still have been concerned with how Dolezal’s masquerade is harmful to actual Black Americans. There are so many think pieces about Dolezal on the internet. So much air time and web space has been dedicated to this White woman, posing as a Black woman, in the past few weeks. But why though?

As far as the media goes, White people really like to discuss themselves. I’ve said it before but, White folks seem to feel most at ease when they can simply be White amongst other White people enjoying whiteness. Therefore, I’m not really surprised Dolezal is the juiciest story these (predominantly) White news outlets have right now.

As for Black news outlets, I know that some media groups just have to cover this stuff. Unlike the personal blogs (like this one), they have no choice but to attempt to get “the latest scoop.” I respect that. I don’t like it. But I respect it.

However, it has been more perplexing to see the staggering numbers of Black people caping (definition: the act of putting on a cape to save this heifer like Clark Kent did for Lois Lane) for Rachel Dolezal. Rather than talking about her character, pretending to be a licensed pathologist, or pontificating about her intentions, I’d rather explain why our infatuation and, in some cases, defense of Dolezal is indicative of a deeper problem we (Black people) have with respectability, White Saviors, and the exploitation of Black women’s bodies.

Case and point: This White woman posing as a Black woman has been lauded by many in the Black community for “doing something for us.” In essence, she behaved like a respectable Black person should (even though she’s White) by leading and working with the NAACP. Their need to praise Dolezal’s White Savior Complex ignores the fact that while “doing something for us,” Dolezal also reinforced the very violent, very exclusionary act of silencing and erasing Black women’s experiences in the United States.

Her efforts to literally place her feet in Black women’s shoes meant that there were some Black women who went barefoot. She took up space in academia and in a prominent social organization when a Black woman – perhaps one who has identified that way since before 2002 – could have had access to those opportunities. Why should we continue rewarding this deceit with coverage and other accolades?

Even worse, some Black men have indicated that Dolezal’s caricature of Black women’s skin and hair is akin to the fashion and hair choices celebrity Black women make. Meme after meme has indicted Black women like Beyoncé, Ciara, and Mary J Blige for straightening their tresses or donning blonde extensions. Why? These men argue that these fashion choices are no different from what Dolezal has done to darken her skin and make her hair kinkier.

The problem with this line of reasoning should be obvious. There are two main issues with this claim. First, Black women’s choices in hair or makeup doesn’t make them assimilable into whiteness. The one-drop rule in this country has always set a baseline that any African-descendant lineage makes an individual Black. Second, and more importantly, Black women who do pass for White do so for survival purposes. Historically, “looking White” could mean greater access to employment opportunities, less risk of harm in public spaces, and opportunity to marry outside of one’s race without persecution from the law. Any argument which ignores these very real facts is just as ficticious as Rachel Dolezal’s identity.

Similarly, Dolezal’s embodiment of blackness strikes much the same low, underdeveloped notes as we have seen by the likes of Miley CyrusKaty Perry, and Taylor Swift. These disembodied, exaggerated mockeries of “The Black Experience” (as if there is only one) prove that Dolezal isn’t actually Black. Instead, she seems taken with the fetishized caricatures of Black womanhood. Her rise to fame seems oddly meta in that way. Frankly, every time Rachel does an interview, an angel loses its wings. And, sadly, the more hype we give her story, the more likely she is to get a book deal, reality television show, or other reward for her audacious whiteness at the expense of Black people.

Honestly, I feel like Dolezal’s actions have shone a light on many of the issues we face in Black social movements and existence. We can’t quite decide if there are boundaries to blackness or, if there are, who gets to set them. Her elaborate Catfishing experiment makes it clear that blackness can and will continue to be infiltrated. This is not something that can be avoided. But, rather than offer more lip service, arguing against those who would like to give Dolezal credit which she did not earn, I’d rather start to work through the very important secondary effects her clandestine affair has had on what it means to be Black in the United States.

Suffice it to say, I won’t be writing about her in this space ever again. This was my first and last time. What I will say though is her antics raise important questions about who we are and who we choose to be. So, let’s stop talking about her and spend more time talking to one another about us.

This post was originally written for Water Cooler Convos.

Photo credit: Rachel Dolezal/Facebook

 

Jenn M. Jackson is the Editorial Assistant for The Black Youth Project. She is also the Editor-in-Chief and co-founder of Water Cooler Convos, a politics, news, and culture webmag for bourgie Black nerds. For more about her, tweet her at @JennMJack or visit her website at jennmjackson.com.

A Call to Talk About Things That Actually Matter To Black Folks

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By Victoria Massie

I’m trying to do a better job of not writing when I’m heated. Much of this rooted in a deep sense of self-care. For this reason I ask that people redirect their energies toward something more productive. Rachel Dolezal is not novel. Every aspect of how she hit the stage, of how we know her name is based on the culmination of all the many ways white supremacy operates and has sustained itself since this country’s inception.

We have even found ourselves festering on each other’s flesh, conflating gender with racial identity, two modes of inscribing power inequalities into our everyday lives, but quite distinctly. While both are socially constructed, they are done so quite differently. You do not inherit a gender from your parents, or else you would only need one, and we would have very little reason to do the serious work of policing our presentation through our style and actions that gender inequalities requires. Not to mention all of the ways that race often erases the cis-gendered hierarchy. How often are black women and girls treated like men, not as equally women and girls as their white counterparts? This would a classic moments for scholars to revisit Hortense Spillers’ “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book.”

Race doesn’t work like that. While there is no biological basis, biology has served as material manipulated to give salience to phenotype and consequently substantiate the modes of violence done in its name, and ensure them as inheritable. Rachel is not passing; she is embodying blackface, a living case of plagiarism, because passing has NEVER been fluid; it has never been a move from one end to another without cutting off some part of yourself for your “benefit.” That choice has never been as boundless for actually black people as it presents itself for this white woman. But beyond this, this conflation of gender and race, employs erasure by further erasing people who are already living in a very vulnerable state of erasability: our black trans siblings. We are sitting here debating ourselves for her, all the while draining ourselves, eating each other alive on the way.

My hope is that for self-care, put your energies toward talking about things that actually matter to black people: anything from McKinney; to Arnesha Bowers; to the 12 year old girl in Cincinnati who just had her neck broken by a cop while playing at a pool; talk about our Haitian siblings who have become stateless; to the young black girl who just earned over $3 million in scholarships.

For all the people who are actually black, we know that our lives are not debatable. That’s the core value of #BlackLivesMatter, or to #SayHerName. We need each other, and every second we continue to waste on her makes it all the more difficult for us to do the work to ensure our liberation, something most certainly will not come from white people who do not respect boundaries, who cross them to be us (shout out to Audre Lorde’s essay “Learning from the 60s”).

For all the black women and black girls out there, maybe the point today for #WCW is to love on yourself.

Photo: Generic/gtpete63

 Victoria Massie is an anthropologist and writer. For information, you can find her on victoriammassie.com.

New Series Shows the Beauty of Black Queer and Transgender Love

Black queer and trans* folks are often excluded from mainstream ideals about love and romance. Their deviation from the White heteropatriarchal “norm” means that many folks in these communities rarely see images of themselves reflcted back on the silver screen, in TV series’, or in other media in popular culture. That’s why NBC’s new series “Living Color: Love is Revolutionary When You’re Black & Transgender,” a first entry in the “NBCBLK “Love is Revolutionary” series is so timely and necessary.

In a world where trans folks are still murdered for merely existing, this series dares to spotlight the beauty in these loving relationships. While this will not cure all the issues many folks in the United States have had historically, and still have presently, with queer and trans* love, it is definitely a beautiful expression of visibility for individuals who are left out of the notion of love altogether.

Photo Credit: YouTube/NBCNews/Still

 

Jenn M. Jackson is the Editorial Assistant for The Black Youth Project. She is also the Editor-in-Chief and co-founder of Water Cooler Convos, a politics, news, and culture webmag for bourgie Black nerds. For more about her, tweet her at @JennMJack or visit her website at jennmjackson.com.

Poet’s Explanation of “Black Privilege” Gives an Emotional Account of Black Life

A powerful poem by Crystal Valentine, student at NYU and activist, has been captivating watchers since it was posted on YouTube last week. Valentine performed the poem at the 2015 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational where her team won the competition.

In the poem, she gives a very raw and emotional account of Black life in America today noting how young, unarmed men like Trayvon Martin navigate  a world where they are always expected to conform to anti-Blackness. Similarly, she notes that young Black girls  face  a similar fate even though many people fail to admit it.

She says, “Black Privilege is always having to be the strong one, is having a crowbar for a spine…Black Privilege is being so unique that not even God will look like you.”

Valentine’s account is not only meaningful, it accurately depicts the conflicted nature of Black citizenship in America in the 21st  century.

Jenn M. Jackson is the Editorial Assistant for The Black Youth Project. She is also the Editor-in-Chief and co-founder of Water Cooler Convos, a politics, news, and culture webmag for bourgie Black nerds. For more about her, tweet her at @JennMJack or visit her website at jennmjackson.com.