The House Is Burning

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?

Yeah.  That.


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.




  1. I am not wise enough to know how to make the world safe for everyone. I do believe that God is everywhere. That the purpose of life is love. That love is infinite and hate is finite. I do know that I am on the side of life and love.

    I don’t watch TV or read very much on the Internet. I much prefer to interact with people when they are a tangible physical presence in front of me. I do think there are people who start arguments as a way of taking away the time and energy of others at the very least and hobbling their mind and life at the worst. I don’t pay attention to people who do this. It is one of the good things about getting older that I can spot them before giving away my time.

    I wish peace, safety, love, and comfort to you, your family, and all those you hold dear.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well said. I find the whole thing frustrating and dispiriting. Disspiriting because it seemed in the 70s as if real progress had been made and there was hope for a better future. But the last 40 years we as a nation have moved backwards and the forces of bigotry and stupidity have advanced even further than they were in my childhood. Frustrating because, as a white guy, I feel powerless to change the world I see. I work for politicians that say and do the right thing, my facebook page was lit up with hate when I posted stuff like yours (though not as articulate) about the anger in Ferguson and fires in Baltimore. I just don’t feel I have the power to change a single thing and too many whites are living in denial.

    I am not surprised at the flare ups of rage, I am amazed that there can be so few.


    1. Here is what you can do, if you have interest: clearly announce, publicly, that you believe there is a pattern of racism in America, and differential violence and unequal justice for black people, and that you will no longer be silent. That you wish to discuss how we move forward, but will NOT discuss it with those who do not believe there is such a pattern, or try to derail the conversation. Now…you will be attacked, but stand strong: you are fighting for your children’s future, and a better country for everyone. And remember that those attacks are actually defenses, people terrified that if the truth is admitted, black people will suddenly discover that there is racism, and begin to take revenge. Yeah, right. I talked aoub this on my radio show yesterday: The way out of this is to be an awake, adult human being, and come from love rather than fear.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Speaking as a Canadian, thank you for writing this. For what little it may be worth, there are a great many of us up here who are watching closely, and listening carefully. Please know you have been heard.


  3. SO good. So many quotable excerpts. Thank you.

    I understand why you are not going to discuss whether there is institutionalized racism in the US. I respect that. But *I’m* not going to stop discussing it. Some people will listen to me who won’t listen to you. I have to use who I am to discuss this with them. It’s part of my mission in life, anyway—explaining two groups of people to each other, explaining software to beginning users, explaining math to students, etc. God gave me who I am and what my mission is, and I will use what I am given.

    God bless you.


    1. Phantom–I won’t discuss it at the same time I’m discussing what to do. There are too many people who are asleep, deluded, or actively seeking to slow down change. I wish to embrace all,love all…but I’m taking crap from no one. Bless you!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. There IS a pattern of racism in America and I can not be silent about it! Thank you for this article, I now live full time in Mexico and the people here I connect with cannot fully understand racism in the states…’s really confusing to them. I am speaking up and encouraging others to do the same.


    1. Well, I ask them to make a clearer statement that they are prepared to actually defend. If they repeat that, I merely ask: “always?” Of course, it isn’t “always” about race. What they mean is: “why does it seem to me that it is always about race?” or “why do you, in my opinion, speak too often about race?” Then they are in the conversation–it is asking why BOTH people do what they do. And you can reasonably ask: “why does the discussion of race trouble you so deeply?” The answer, in advance, is fear. Fear of what? Death. Extinction. That the birds will come home to roost. And THAT conversation must be a loving one. That they can join the family for the simple cost of admitting there is a problem, and that they believe in human equality. That’s the family. And the family is growing every day. No one need be excluded, except for their own reasons and by their own actions.


  5. I have nothing to add to this, because you have echoed so many things that are in my heart and mind. Thank you for sharing, thank you for your words, and most of all, thank you for fighting still. We need words like this right now.


  6. The Charleston shooter does show a lot of the standard crazy mass-murderer personality, like Huberty or Whitman, including wanting it to end in suicide. However, that does not mean it wasn’t a hate crime! The fact that a crazy person picked racism as a motive shows how endemic racism is in our culture. I wish more people saw this, instead of thinking the shooter has to be a crazy mass murderer OR an offshoot of endemic racism.


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