I appreciate the Christian ethos of forgiveness. But …


I appreciate the Christian ethos of forgiveness. But in the most generally used and accepted meaning of the practice, the protocol of forgiveness requires that one come humbly, make confession of one’s sins, and ASK for forgiveness; and once asked for and penance received and acted upon, forgiveness is granted by God. So as appreciative as I am of this protocol, I am equally troubled by what appears to be our training to almost knee-jerk hand out forgiveness. This is something I worry that works against us, for it seems to demand we forgive but without our right to wholly engage our pain, our need to heal, our right to be restored–and then the time to actually do these things. One cannot dictate another’s healing or grieving process or timeline, and that’s not my attempt here. But I worry that if past is prologue, the way we’ve been trained to say ‘I forgive,’ absent, it appears, critical unpacking, moves the dialogue too fast and us into a supplicating position where we “forgive the sinner, hate the sin,” and then are forced to move forward without the rightful space to restore those who directly experienced this massacre–as well as the impact upon we who were a witness and now, now we all must live with yet another level of terror in our blood–which impacts our health, physical, spiritual, emotional. Forgiveness, I am saying, in this nation, lands too often as a tool of white supremacy.

I am writing this to say I need time to heal. I am writing this to say that if I do, I can’t imagine what those who were in the church that night, or their family and friends and fellow congregants need. This above all, is what sits in my heart this Saturday Mourning.



(Photo Credit: Getty Images / Win McNamee)

White fear of Black success

White people kill Black people because they’re doing things right, not despite that.  That’s the problem, you see.  We can’t have that.

Black people who start hot meal programs for the people in their communities – we can’t have that.  Black people who attend church every week – we can’t have that.  Black people so carefree they spend time together at the pool – nope, that’s not gonna work.

When you have to be afraid to simply be in the world—to be with your friends, to buy candy, to look at toys, to worship, to walk—you’re living in terror.  People who stare that terror in the face and live anyway, and thrive anyway, and help anyway, those are the people whites fear the most.

The terrorist massacre in Charleston occurred about 100 miles away from an area in South Carolina where, in 1862, Union Army General Ormsby Mitchel ordered that a town for freed Blacks be created.  The town, which came to be called Mitchelville, was designed as an experiment to demonstrate to white people whether African Americans were capable of organizing and governing themselves after emancipation.

This was all explained to my family and me by a Gullah man named Emory Campbell when we visited the area three years ago.  It will not surprise you to learn that the town thrived.  The “experiment” worked, and the 1500 African Americans who lived there succeeded in establishing farming collectives, stores, a government, a school (along with laws about compulsory education), and a church.

And that was the problem.  According to Campbell, the town was set on fire – not unlike other Southern towns along the coast, from Charleston to Florida, that had been ordered by Union Army General William Sherman to be settled by freed Blacks for farming.  Mr. Campbell showed us the only material remains of Mitchelville, South Carolina:  some bricks from the church the community built.

Success is a damnable thing for Blacks.  Some forms of social organization (such as mass incarceration and residential segregation) are meant to stifle such success.  But when people achieve success anyway, well, we’ve got to put a stop to that, don’t we?


(Photo Credit: WoodandPartners.com)

I wonder if white men in Charleston

“Mother Emanuel” African Methodist Episcopal Church

I wonder if white men in Charleston (or even within 5000 miles of it), between the ages of 10 and 90, between 3’5″ and 7′, white men wearing suits and ties or white men wearing bathing suits or white men wearing jeans and tshirts or white men wearing khakis and polo shirts, white men who are sleeping, white men who are walking, white men who are running, white men who are in the midst of asthma attacks, white men who are doctors, white men who are washing their cars, white men who are teachers, white men who are eating with their families, white men who are playing golf, white men who are eating sandwiches in a park, white men who are driving, or/and white men who are breathing will be unceremoniously harassed by the police?

Will be by beaten down like an animal by the police?

Will be arrested, will be shot, will be killed by the police under the pretext of ‘looking like’ the suspect (or without any pretext at all)?

Will receive hostile stares from fellow citizens and neighbors?

Will be judged and juried by millions before they wake in the morning?

Will be destroyed by hate—all at once, or little by little?

(Photo Credit: CNN)

Who haunts May 25, 2009?

This April 1865 photo shows the graves of Union soldiers who died at the Race Course prison camp in Charleston, which would later become Hampton Park. On May 1, 1865, former slaves gave the fallen a daylong funeral

Today is May 25, 2009. In the United States, it’s Memorial Day, the last Monday of May, a day meant to honor those U.S. women and men who died in military service. Not all deaths are equal, and not all are equal in death.

Mary Clare Lindberg’s son, Benjamin Jon Miller, killed himself, as have many U.S. soldiers who have fought in Afghanistan and/or Iraq. Benjamin Jon Miller’s name is not on his unit’s Memorial Wall: “In March, Lindberg made a pilgrimage to Fort Campbell, Ky., to visit the post where her son served with the 101st Airborne Division. While it was comforting to meet with the soldiers with whom her son had served, Lindberg was upset when she saw the unit memorial. The names of two soldiers from her son’s brigade who were killed in combat were on the memorial, but Ben Miller’s name was not.”

Kyle Harper was engaged to Michael Hullender. Michael Hullender was killed in Iraq. Kyle receives no recognition, she finds “herself floating in legal limbo, with no rights to his effects or his name. Even in a bureaucracy as large as the Army, there is no form you can fill out to verify love, to explain the messy details of life; only the marriage certificate counts. As a result, the military had to treat Kyle the way it does all fiancees — as though she had no relationship with Michael. All the Army could offer were condolences. There would be no grief counseling, no casualty pay, no say in his burial….The military does not keep statistics on engaged soldiers or their partners.”

Walls without names, documents unsigned. Memorial Day.

Some say Memorial Day was begun by former slaves, 144 years ago, in Charleston, South Carolina: “Charleston was in ruins. The peninsula was nearly deserted, the fine houses empty, the streets littered with the debris of fighting and the ash of fires that had burned out weeks before. The Southern gentility was long gone, their cause lost. In the weeks after the Civil War ended, it was, some said, “a city of the dead.” On a Monday morning that spring, nearly 10,000 former slaves marched onto the grounds of the old Washington Race Course, where wealthy Charleston planters and socialites had gathered in old times. During the final year of the war, the track had been turned into a prison camp. Hundreds of Union soldiers died there. For two weeks in April, former slaves had worked to bury the soldiers. Now they would give them a proper funeral.”

Former slaves, Black women, men, children, descendants of Africans, marched and dug for the White prisoners who had died in the struggle to end slavery. Memorial Day was born out of the carnage of civil war, out of the labor and solidarity of emancipated slaves, out of the devastation of prison.  Memorial Day begins just past the crossroads of empire, slavery, capitalism, racism, civil war, nationalism, patriarchy, violence, sexism. That’s one hell of an intersection, but if Memorial Day started with African-derived formers slaves gathering, marching, and taking of care of business, it should be located at the intersection of truth and reconciliation. It should be. The slaves’ names will not appear on any wall, they will not be legitimated by any document. Today, May 25, 2009, is African Liberation Day. What would those former slaves, Black daughters and sons of Africa, say, and what would those White prisoners say in response?

(Photo Credit: Library of Congress / PostandCourier.com)