It is no exaggeration to say that Black and African descended bodies in the diaspora are under attack. It is also not an exaggeration to say that this is nothing new.
For bodies in what is now known as the United States, Black bodies and Black life have been marginalised since the first Black bodies arrived with the English in the early 1600s. Similarly, Black sacred spaces and rituals, foundational to Black life, have been assaulted, demonised, and marginalised.
The African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church exists because white ushers needed to make space at the altar for white worshippers. So, when news began to emerge late Wednesday evening that a white body had entered a Black space, sat calmly in fellowship, and then rose up violently against Black lives, I was saddened, but not surprised. Unfortunately, all I could do was whisper a lament, “How long O Lord!”
No, I am not exaggerating. Today, anti-racism activist Tim Wise posted on these words on his Facebook page, “How is it hard to understand? The racism, the white supremacy, the sense of white entitlement manifested by this young man (as evidenced by his claim that black folks were taking over “our” white country) is woven into the very DNA of this nation.
It was there in the very amniotic sac that birthed America. …There hasn’t been one day that this country didn’t operate under the implicit if not explicit assumption that it was for white people, and whatever folks of color we allowed to exist among us. ”
As a child, growing up in southern Louisiana, in the United States South, I remember that even in the midst of Klan threats and Klan activity, our Black Pentecostal worship spaces extended hospitality to white worshippers and white preachers.
While I’m sure there were cautious adults, all I can remember was that we accepted all who came to worship without question. It was, and is, understood as the way of Jesus. Yet, O Lord, nine are dead in South Carolina.
It will take time to make sense of these things. I lie. It will take an eternity to make sense of these things. In fact, African descended people never will make sense of these things.
Black folk in the United States have learned to just keep living and thriving, but it is a mistake to believe that Black folk have made sense of the reality in which they exist whether on the continent of Africa or in the diaspora. Of course, the colonial mind (a.k.a., the dominant cultural paradigm) will declare shortly that some sense has been made.
The situation will be absorbed by or silenced by the coping mechanisms of the dominant cultural narrative. The behaviour of the young white man who did the shooting will be explained in ways and language quite different from the language used to speak about Black bodies. It will be psychological language, but not criminal.
He will be troubled, but no thug. Already there is resistance to terms such as “hate crime” or “terrorism.” Since this was a church shooting, the Black victims may escape being cast as the ones who set their own deaths in motion by their questionable pasts.
How long O Lord! I went to bed troubled and woke troubled. James Baldwin was correct when he said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” I hear the news and sigh.
Though it’s a new eruption of a sickness, it’s just old news. In general, Black folk aren’t surprised. I say that in a qualified way knowing that when I teach my African American literature classes, there are those who are surprised because they have been well-socialized by and have bought into the dominant cultural narrative.
Once I lay out the history in a non-linear way, in a holistic African way, most begin to see. So, we go on because it’s how we in the United States and in many other places in the diaspora have coped for 400 years .
The Black body has been under assault, has been illegal or heavily marginalised by law and custom since before there was a country. Token changes in law only changed surface realities and actually made the task of dealing with the real issues more difficult.
So, we Black folk in diaspora go on not only because we must, but because going on and surviving and thriving are acts of resistance and rebellion. It has been a tough two years. But, we keep pressing forward even while we keep fighting the devil at our back. God knows we get tired.
The United States (and much of the so-called developed world) is in such deep spiritual and psychic distress. Identity is rooted in skewed notions of power requiring outsiders who are perpetually oppressed. Thus, the United States also continues in deep denial about its race history and its racial present. This church shooting is just the latest symptom of that distress and denial. How long O Lord?
The dominant cultural paradigm will only change when disrupted from within. Black folk are not insiders and so their cries and complaints exist outside of the narrative and are met with oil to quiet the squeaky wheel. There are no easy answers and the walls of denial are a difficult barrier to break through.
The country (and the world, especially the West) continues to think in linear ways, uni-dimensional ways giving rise to the myth that we’ve dealt with that and resolved that and that folks need to get over that and why do they keep bringing that up.
But, those reactions are rooted in denial and the desire to cope through denial. Thus, a sanitised, skewed narrative persists and is sustained and the problem persists as a festering wound heavily bandaged or otherwise scabbed over.
It is the kind of blasphemy that undermines healing and wholeness and results in a terminal and un unforgivable state of sin. Lord, in your mercy, hear our cry!