You ever wonder what the point of our existence is if the whole world hates us because of the color of our skin?
This text came across my iPhone screen Thursday and wrapped itself around my heart, choking me with pain and rage. Tears welled in my eyes because just 11 weeks after Walter Scott was shot in the back by a white officer, a massacre occurred a few miles away at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. Nine people lost their lives Wednesday night when they were killed during a Bible study. The suspected shooter, Dylann Roof, a white 21-year-old, is in custody.
My tears fall for Dajerria Becton, a 15-year-old black girl slammed to the ground in her bikini at a pool party in McKinney, Texas, earlier this month by an officer who dug his knee into her back as she screamed for her mama. And Tamir Rice, Kalief Browder, Freddie Gray and what feels like an always growing list of black people being brutalized in this country.
On days like this, it’s hard to feel a sense of belonging in America. But I fight these heavy feelings with reminders that there is more good than evil in the world. I put on my headphones and blast Kendrick Lamar’s “i,” singing:
I love myself. The world is a ghetto with big guns and picket signs. I love myself. But it can do what it want whenever it want, I don’t mind. He said I gotta get up, life is more than suicide. I love myself. One day at a time, sun gone shine.
But as a big sister, an auntie, a friend and a mentor to kids — sometimes it’s hard to lean on faith and find the right words when I’m asked why we’re hated so deeply that a man could sit through an hour of prayer and still decide to slaughter people in what should be the safest of places: church.
Or why people won’t readily call this shooting what it is: an act of domestic terrorism. It’s more than a hate crime. The shooter is a terrorist to me.
Domestic terrorism, as defined by the FBI, falls within these characteristics:
▪ Involves acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law. (Yep, he broke the law.)
▪ Appears intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping. (A mass killing based on skin color seems like an intimidation of a civilian population.)
▪ Occurs primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S. (Uh, South Carolina.)
I guess people shy away from calling acts like this terrorism because that would mean white supremacy in itself is a terrorist act. And we live in a country that operates on systemic racism.
On Friday, we celebrate Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. It’s been 150 years. Despite the Emancipation Proclamation being issued Jan. 1, 1863, it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that Texas slaves, the last slaves in America, learned of their freedom.
We’ve come far and I’m happy to honor Juneteenth, but the fight is not over.
We are still fighting for our freedom, for economic equality, for justice, for the ability to not fear for your life because you wore a hoodie, went to a pool party or joined a Bible study group. We were fighting for this freedom in the 1800s, we were fighting for it 50 years ago when four little girls were killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., and we are fighting for it right now.
When I responded to the text, I told the 18-year-old I call my little sister that even when it seems like the world hates her, I love her. And that even on days like this, when it seems humanity is hidden in a pot of fairy tales at the end of a postracial rainbow, that hope is real. People aren’t all bad.
The Emanuel AME Church was founded by African-Americans escaping racism 200 years ago. In 1822, after an alleged plan of a slave revolt, it was burned to the ground. In 1886, an earthquake shook and shattered the structure, but not the people. They rebuilt and rose above each and every time. Today it seats 2,500 and is a historic landmark.
We are the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. When people come together, we are the phoenix. And no matter how much hate exists, aiming to set us on fire, we must keep on rising.
Say their names
The nine people killed at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church:
Clementa Pinckney, 41; Cynthia Hurd, 54; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; Sharonda Singleton, 45; Myra Thompson, 59