My heart and soul are reeling from yet another tragedy of violence in America – this time with the horrific and painful shootings at the AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine Bible-studying, God-fearing, community-serving African-Americans at the hands of a deranged white male shooter.
I am somewhat comforted by the supportive response of America – all of America, so it seems – placing the AME Church and the community of Charleston in a warm and loving embrace. Black and white, conservative and progressive, republicans and democrats. It appears that America elevates the matters of compassion, acceptance, tolerance, justice, and unity in the immediate aftermath of such tragedies.
But, it appears that once the cameras pack up, and the talking heads have newer topics to cover in the news, America reverts back to its baseline.
Yes, it will be of some limited, justice-oriented comfort that the shooter’s actions will be prosecuted as a hate crime. But the role of racism will be shrugged off and dismissed by many as the act of a deranged, mentally ill, psychotic actor. Which may very well be true.
There is one statement, allegedly made by the shooter just before the killings, that does and will continue to haunt: his comments that African-Americans were “raping our women” and “taking over the country.”
Let us stipulate, for the moment, that Mr. Roof, the alleged shooter, was utterly and hopelessly mentally ill and deranged. The problem is that his use of that language represents the most anxiety-provoking, fearmongering, racist narrative about black people in America generally, and black men in particular. Mr. Roof may have heard strange voices in his head, but he has also undoubtedly heard the language of that narrative many times previously. Perhaps with friends, or colleagues, or confidants, or in the world of racist and invective-filled social media.
Which, oddly enough, brings me to the importance of the upcoming Father’s Day, and especially as an African-American father.
In the garden-variety version of Father’s Day, we celebrate and honor the ability of a father to be a caring, nurturing, supporting, loving parent.
As an African-American father, there is an additional requirement for us as black males, one that goes above and beyond the comforting bromides found in Father’s Day Hallmark cards: to defy the stereotyped, bigoted, negative, narrative portrayal of the black male in America. And to accomplish this in the eyes of our sons, and daughters, and family, and community.
This narrative is dangerous, pervasive, unhealthy. It leads to an insidious and often blatant form of stigmatization that accounts for young men and women of color being suspended and expelled from schools, stopped and frisked by police in neighborhoods, sent to juvenile halls, and incarcerated at rates all substantially higher than their white counterparts.
In the event that Mr. Roof is prosecuted, tried, convicted and sentenced, I will feel incomplete about any sense that true justice has been served. While his act of shooting innocents will be placed on trial, the racist narrative that his words represent – the language of racism in America — will go scot-free.
In the painful aftermath of Charleston, South Carolina, I wish all of America’s fathers, of any race, a pleasant and joyful Sunday with their families. But I will also remember that for African-Americans fathers – at least until true justice and equality are served across our nation – the bar is more than a little bit higher.
Prayers, thoughts, and reflection in support of the community of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.