After listening to multiple responses from candidates for president and television commentators to the shooting that occurred at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, it seems like most of them have an aversion to calling the shooting solely a racist incident. Instead, they initially referred to it as an attack on the church or simply as the act of a mentally deranged person who lived his life on the fringes of society.
Let’s be clear — the shooting at Emanuel AME Church was not an attack on the church. It was an attack on African Americans that occurred in a church. It was the shooter’s intent to begin a race war that would rival some of the worst experiences in our nation’s history.
Why was there apprehension from so many people to call this what it was? It was a racist act. It was an act that was perpetrated by a person that hated a group of people simply because of the color of their skin and heritage.
Unfortunately, there are those in our society who hold to a continual denial that racism is one of the main impediments to the livelihood of our nation. And if those people do acknowledge racism’s affects, it’s to imply that those who have been adversely affected by it should get up, dust themselves off and stop complaining about what happened in the past.
We have to collectively acknowledge that the system through which our nation operates is built upon practices which bestow greater value upon people of certain colors and classes.
Making this acknowledgement is not for the sake of having a collective “Kumbaya” moment. It’s so that we begin to work to change these things. African-American writer James Baldwin once wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
Through the senseless acts that occur, like the shooting at the Emanuel AME Church, we are once again being forced to face the truth about the divisions that still exist within our nation.
We can’t hide from the fact that many of our legal structures foster racist and classist practices, whether it’s exhibited through law enforcement that disproportionately targets and arrests minorities, or the historic disparities in how minorities are sentenced for a crime versus how whites are sentenced.
Our economic structures continue to foster racism and classism, whether it is through the lending practices of banks where the poor and minorities are still charged higher interest rates on loans because of the neighborhoods that they live in, or the predatory nature of payday loan enterprises, or disinvestment in urban communities.
We are still faced with the social structures that celebrate when black children are treated as “other” because they tried to swim in a pool within a predominantly white community.
What can we do to help counteract this downward trajectory that our nation continues to be headed in, especially as it relates to race and community?
The church must do more than just speak out against racism and classism. We must change the way we feel about them ourselves, first. Please allow me to clarify.
Our good deeds don’t fool God. God is not pleased when we do something for someone with the hopes of building credit with God. For example, God is not impressed when we open our doors to feed people through a food pantry on Saturday, but then cringe when those same people attempt to enter our doors any other day of the week in order to begin a relationship with us.
When we harbor feelings of distrust, disgust or disdain for those that don’t look like us or don’t have similar life experiences to us, our actions towards them are not coming from a place of love but a place of discrimination. This is displeasing to our Creator.
The status of our hearts provides the foundation for our actions. Based on the words and actions that we convey, it is clear that our foundation may be set upon sinking sand.