Where Can We Be Black?: Reflections on the Emanuel AME Massacre

by Carmen Jones Last night, around 11:30 PM, I had finally decided to get into bed. I made the co...


by Carmen Jones


Last night, around 11:30 PM, I had finally decided to get into bed. I made the conscious decision to turn my phone off, as well as the television. It was time to “power down.” I’d had my hand glued to my phone, and I was actually quite ashamed. I had become engrossed in the Rachel Dolezal scandal. But tonight, I had decided that I wouldn’t give her story anymore attention. I wanted to free myself from her. She’d taken up too much of my time, and was beginning to steal my peace. Just as I scrolled through my Twitter feed for the last time, I came across a heart wrenching story. “9 Fatalities at African American Church in Charleston,” the headline read.


I scrambled for details. I wanted to know more. I turned on the television. No one was covering it. The only “breaking news” CNN had been reporting was on Rachel Dolezal, and the prison break we’d been hearing about for a week. Nothing on the Black lives that had just been lost. Taken.

Then I found a link. Shortly after 9 PM last night, a 21-year old white man opened fire on a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Six women and three men were among the dead. A five year old girl survived after hiding and playing dead. My heart dropped.

“We believe this is a hate crime; that is how we are investigating it,” Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said at a dawn news conference.


9 Dead in ‘Hate Crime’ Shooting. The words echoed in my head. I wondered who else’s heart, soul, and mind was empty.

Drained.

What can you even say to someone at a time like this? How can you comfort someone who’s lost their grandmother, their mother, their friend? How do we make sense of something so senseless?

I cried.

A long, painful, deep cry. I’d been holding back the tears for some time now. The last time I had really cried like this was when Tamir Rice died. Shot down by police for playing with a toy gun…while Black. His mother had to bury him. He was 12. I guess that wasn’t too long ago…

Emanuel AME is a staple in the Black community. There is a rich history.

Built in 1891, the church is listed on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places. Affectionately called “Mother Emanuel” by local residents, it’s easy to understand the connection people had with the church. Perhaps what stands out most about this church’s history is one of the founders, Denmark Vesey.



Vesey was responsible for organizing a slave revolt back in the 1820’s, and lost his life, along with 34 others because of it. They were killed by police. The church was burned to the ground.

Even as this community was forced to sift through the ashes of their own church, forced to remember the racism, the venom, the horror, it didn’t stop them from gathering. After the mass hysteria that occurred when Denmark and other leaders of the movement were arrested, members held underground worship services from 1834 through 1865. During this time, African-American churches had been outlawed.

Black people could not pray to their own God without fear of being harassed, arrested, and—without a doubt—ultimately killed. White folk didn’t want Black people conspiring to be free. As I write these words, it pains to me to know that we still can’t worship in peace to this day, and most importantly, we still aren’t “free.” History repeats itself.

So I thought, “Where can we be Black, and where is God now?”

As these people mourn, I wrestle with these concepts. My mind shifts to the Four Little Girls in Birmingham, Alabama. I think about my parents. My grandparents. My aunts and uncles. It could have been them. It could have been any of us. Five decades later, our experiences run parallel.

No, I am not being made to sit in the back of buses, I am not being attacked by dogs, or sprayed with hoses. But the trauma, the Black experience, the disregard for Black life is still present. It still makes the air thick, and it still presses on our lungs, and we still… can’t… breathe.

Sometimes I wonder what it must be like to be white in America. I close my eyes and imagine all the things I wouldn’t have to worry about. I imagine being able to play outside with a toy gun, I imagine being able to walk down the street (and take up most of the sidewalk), I imagine being able to wear a hoodie. I imagine being able to use slang and not have people think I’m uneducated, being able to wear my hair how I choose. Being able to yell. Being able to drive at night. Being able to walk into fitting rooms without the store employee counting your items three times, “just to be sure.” I imagine the freedom of being able to express myself without being the “Angry Black woman,” the convenience of not being the only Black person at work, the privilege of getting the benefit of the doubt. Among the most basic things, the freedom to PRAY.

Where can we be Black?

“You’re taking over our country!” the shooter screamed, before he killed nine people in cold blood. The shooter was 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof.


This isn’t a new rant. Bigots all across the nation have been telling Black people to “Go back to Africa!” since we got here. (Well, not exactly since we got here. They wanted us here earlier on to pick cotton, build this country, and breast feed their babies… but you know, after that, some of them got tired of us.)




Dylann Storm Roof is one of those people. He’s tired of Black people “taking over” his country, and raping his women. He’s tired of all of our lowsy contributions to these united states, like the the light bulb, traffic lights, the gas mask, 3D graphics, blood banks and open heart surgery. I’m sure we could all do without air conditioning units, cell phones, doorknobs, hair brushes and stoves!

Dylann, let me be quite frank with you. If Black people went “back to Africa” and took with them what they brought, you’d be left with nothing. And I won’t even address the rape allegations, because… slavery.

Where can we be Black?

Now people are asking that the people of Charleston remain nonviolent. I have a problem with that. Not that I have a problem with people being nonviolent. I have a problem with people asking BLACK people to be nonviolent, when acts of violence are perpetrated against us every day at the hands of the state, and racist terrorists with an agenda. At what point is enough, enough? How much more of our blood has to be shed before we realize that nonviolence is great in theory, but hasn’t really helped us much? I don’t know the answer. But I DO know that I don’t like the idea of Black people having to play docile while being attacked nonstop without consequence. I say, "No."

Continue reading at Karmen Jones Knowz.

This post originally appeared on the author's website under a different title. An excerpt has been published here with the author's permission.

Photo: AP / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Carmen Jones is the writer and founder of KarmenJonesKnowz,  a witty, funny, controversial, and sometimes uncomfy blog site. Karma believes in asking the hard questions, and she demands answers.

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