Nine people are dead. How does one respond? For me, the first act is to give space for grief. Lives have been taken, families torn apart, a community terrorized. Those facts easily get lost to analysis and spin. I cannot imagine the pain, loss, disbelief, fear, anger, confusion, sadness, or outrage that this single event has laid at the feet of so many. My heart hurts for those lives stolen and those who now find a piece (and peace) missing in their lives. Those in the midst of this storm must be tended to and cared for.
The next part is to understand. I am not original in identifying this massacre as the culmination of what white supremacy offers. The Charleston killings are only the latest manifestation of a politics and belief structure embedded in the fabric of the United States. One that traces its legacy from the genocide of the indigenous populations to slavery to Jim Crow to the prison industrial complex to Ferguson and countless indignities and atrocities committed along the way. This was not an aberration or a bad apple, it is part – granted, an extreme part – of how the institution of white supremacy unfolds in the United States.
Grieving the murders and identifying the context leads me to locate myself in all this. If I don’t want something like this to happen again, I need to work against the cause of it, which is white supremacy. As a white person, I also need to acknowledge that I am a beneficiary of white supremacy and that being raised in this country means I’ve absorbed some of it into me as well, as much as I may not have wanted to. That doesn’t makes me a bad person, it is merely an acknowledgment of the facts. We are all impacted by the society we grow up in. What determines one’s character is how one responds to this awareness.
For my part, I choose to act. With the responsibility and intention that my action be guided by knowledge of my positionality as a recipient and embodier of privilege. Meaning I act first by trying to educate myself, emphasizing humility and listening. I look to those who are most impacted by this system and those who have been doing this work for some time. We live in a moment where active mobilizing against white supremacy has been on the rise. There are resources available. It starts at the individual level, but must develop into collective action. I think of organizations and groups such as Catalyst Project, The BlackOut Collective, Showing Up for Racial Justice, Color of Change, Dream Defenders, and Training for Change, to name just a few.
What has been built up for more than 500 years will not be undone overnight. Unfortunately, there will be more horrific acts before this system is through. That is not an excuse nor a promotion of acquiescence. There is much work to be done. But as we are that which comprise society, it is up us to change it. Especially those of us who benefit from the status quo. I mourn those lost in Charleston and offer my condolences to their loved ones and their communities. I rededicate myself to the struggle against white supremacy and for our collective liberation.