My wife Tananarive told me something deeply disturbing this morning: black social media chatter, a strong indication of the national mood, non-hierarchical and spontaneous, suggests that black people are afraid to go to church, because of the South Carolina massacre.
And if you don’t understand what a massive problem that indicates, then you are totally ignorant of our history. Church is where we put our fear, and hope, and above all, homicidal rage at what was and has been done to us for centuries. When we stop being able to cleanse the poison from our systems in such a way…well, you do the math. Or better: put the bullshit aside and ask, what would you do?
I think I hit a threshold. That was atop someone yesterday saying that the massacre was an attack on religious freedom, despite specific racial comments made by the killer. And someone else said it was merely an individual crazy person. As if they cannot step back and see a pattern. Yeah, he had impulse control problems–but that begs the question: what is the impulse that certain people are struggling to control?
Or that black people riot for obscure, political or non-existent reasons rather than for motivations shared by all human beings…like mortal terror. Or mentioned all the black-on-black crime as a reason not to consider the racial violence a genuine threat. Gee, if after 9/11 a Canadian had said: “why are you Americans so concerned about terrorists killing 3000 people? You Americans kill that many other Americans almost every month in traffic accidents. Where is your outrage?” You would have known that that person was an ignorant, mean-spirited, bigoted and unempathetic at the very least. And absolutely not an ally, friend, or member of the family. I began to ask myself: how many such incidents would it take before certain people admitted that something horrific, evil, deadly and centuries-old was still active and alive? Would it have to happen every day for a month? A year?
And realized that I think that, for any reasonable person who believes black people are fully human, there is already enough evidence. No more is needed.
That so far as I am concerned, the only reason to deny it is happening is to prevent anyone from taking action about it. Which means that, consciously or unconsciously, they feel they stand to lose something if it changes, or if they admit there is even a problem.
You can’t wake up someone pretending to be asleep.
I have seen enough people of all races and political orientations who have been able to see the same tragedy I see, without closing their eyes and without making excuses, to believe it is not some kind of impossibly complex mental puzzle. No. To those who see, it is plain, and direct, and horrific, and helps to explain the entire history of race in America. To those who believe that the “playing field is level” and that there is no pattern of violence, differential law enforcement and so forth, this reaction makes no sense.
I’m sure you are good and decent people. That you love your families and our country. But black people are afraid to go to church this weekend. Afraid to ask God to calm their hearts. And still, there are arguments about whether anything is happening at all.
You might well be able to put out a fire, but first you have to agree that the house is burning. I am no longer willing to debate whether the house is on fire. People are dying. And it is going to get worse, because of the centuries-long denial that there is any fire at all, violence stemming from people who are either benefitted by the flames and abetted by people so terrified by fire that they cannot face the truth.
So I’m going to say something I’ve never said before: I will no longer debate “if” it is happening. “If” there is a pattern of differential law enforcement, and racial violence. I welcome anyone, white or black, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, who can admit that it is happening. There may be disagreements about what to do, how to approach a solution. That is a legitimate conversation.
But so far as I am concerned, no one who attributes equal humanity to black people can deny it is happening. I am sorry that your hearts are so wounded, so filled with fear, that you have no overflow of love to offer us. I truly am.
But people are dying. People related to me by descent from the same group of slaves dragged here centuries ago. And that places my family at risk. My son. My daughter. My wife. My sister. My nieces and nephews. I don’t care about my own life terribly much.
But when you threaten my family, that is very very different. That awakens an entirely different part of my personality, one you only want to meet if you are a friend.
So…if you do not see my house burning, at the very least, stop asking why I don’t care about the crab-grass, or a burning house in the next town, or the fact that my kids don’t buckle their seat belts. You don’t have to grab a bucket and hose and help, but don’t make snide comments about how we’re dressed in our pajamas or saying “ain’t” as we struggle to put out the fire.
And above all…don’t say the house isn’t burning. Because while you might be a good person, if you can’t smell the smoke, see the fire, and feel the heat…you are not my friend. You are certainly not family to me. I wouldn’t even want you as a neighbor.
I wish you well, but if you want me to waste a single moment of my time convincing you that the house is burning, you are either a pyromaniac, or a pyrophobic. And neither can help me save my family from the flame.
You can stand back and watch. Or you can grab a bucket and help. But if you feel you have to argue about whether the systemic pattern of racial violence and discrimination exists, kindly do us both a favor and unfriend yourself. Because I’ve said everything I’m going to say about the universality of humanity, and who can be convinced already has been.
Some of the rest of you are merely asleep. Go home and take a nap, and come back when you are awake.
But some of you are wolves disguised as sheep, roasting marshmallows over the flame as you deny vigorously that anything is burning.
And I am not interested in entertaining you any longer. All my time, energy, and emphasis is, from this moment on, given to those who wholeheartedly believe in the universality of human beings, and committed to, at the very least, not interfering with those trying to put out the flames.
The rest of you…I wish you a good sleep, and happy dreams, while the adults get to work.