by Tony Jackson, Guest Blogger
As I watch the coverage on the most recent and horrendous act of murder inside one of the most venerable Christian churches in America, I can’t help but yearn to hear from those who remain “media mute;” the voices of youth in the community. Of course, the sentiments of the politicians and clergy typically brought in front of the cameras to urge peace, togetherness, and a focus on how the community moves forward are valid. However, the “how” is always and quite transparently in line with a focus on pre-empting retaliatory demonstrations from members of the Black community.
This focus appears to be to move away from a clear and honest discussion of racism and the polarization that exists from top to bottom within the South Carolina legislature and its representative communities. It is a focus that allows for presenting Dylann Roof as some sort of extremist rather than to view his terrorist actions on a continuum of racist, colonialist behavior inherent in Confederate ideology. Context, here, is key. In her opening monologue on June 19th, Rachel Maddow (MSNBC) offered an eloquent discussion of the importance of context; that context matters in terms of how we understand a horrific event such as this. I would agree and I would add, that along with context, the importance of WHO provides the narrative from which we understand and interpret such events is arguably just as important. It can be said that the narrative structures the context.
When “the WHO” includes Black youth we often find the narrative shifts, away from a more western narrative–the type of narrative that somehow ignores the confederate flag flying proudly over their capital–to a narrative that becomes a little too uncomfortable for major media (and perhaps for some clergy) to handle. When peace at all cost is preached to youth today, in the face of the brazen and racialized brutality they experience on a daily basis, the reality is that they are not remotely trying to hear it…especially when Black youth tend to pay the heaviest cost. It’s interesting that the mass shooters in American society tend to be overwhelmingly Caucasian and male whereas those who suffer the brunt of police attention and abuse and are viewed as criminals tend to be Black/African-descended.
I can imagine being a Black 16-year-old witnessing this tragic event and what my response might have been to those attempting to convince me to go to church. “Why should I”? “Should I bring a pistol just in case”? After this incident, it becomes a little difficult to argue the church as a place of refuge from the streets! But this narrative is one that respects Black survival in the context of white insanity*. Walter Scott was shot down like a hunted deer, by a white officer in South Carolina; a Black teenage girl is manhandled and abused by an on-duty white officer in Texas; Oscar Grant, Treyvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Jordan Davis the list goes on; and now this. Perhaps if we consider changing the frame we might begin to entertain a different set of questions.
Yes, Black communities need to heal. The Association of Black Psychologists and the Community Healing Network are doing a phenomenal job of operationalizing this much-needed healing through its emotional emancipation circles. The church also has its traditional role. However, to focus on healing in a vacuum does not constitute change; the kind of change in society that is meaningful and substantial. It is a no-brainier in the psychological and health communities that gun control is a necessity in this country. However, as difficult as this discussion is to have in America, even more difficult is the discussion that brings a fundamental understanding of racism, how it is interwoven into the fabric of American society and how it permeates every institution within American society. It’s a difficult discussion to have but without it, all the speeches, be they from the rostrum or pulpit will mean nothing.
Tony Jackson, Ph.D. is author of Black Male Violence in Perspective: Toward Afrocentric Intervention, Lexington Books, 2015.