I have nothing other than just sadness that once again we have to peer into the abyss of the depraved violence that we do to each other, and the nexus of a just gaping racial wound that will not heal but we pretend doesn’t exist.
— Jon Stewart
I am a coward.
I will admit it. The Dylann Roofs of the world have done their job well. The terrorist attacks have worked. It wouldn’t be quite accurate to say that I am terrorized but I would be lying if I refused to admit that I am afraid.
For the first time in my life. I grew up in inner-city Philadelphia in the 1960s. There were race riots that happened back then, but I didn’t know about them. There was police brutality back then, too, and open season on young black men. My family protected me from a lot of that but it was still there.
As somebody who has unhesitatingly spent a huge chunk of her life as the only black person around or one of a handful of blacks surrounded by a sea of whites, I have never felt this way before. But now, I will confess that I am afraid.
No, I’m not thinking that everybody around me has suddenly turned into a racist monster. But the fact is that I never know, when I walk out of my house, whether the next car that drives by will hold some bitter, angry white guy who feels like blowing my brains out. I never know, as I sit in my car in the grocery store parking lot about to start my car, whether the pickup that pulls into the parking space next to me holds a guy who made up his mind that he was “gonna go kill me some niggahs” and I happened to be the first one he saw.
Don’t get me wrong. Racism has always been there. It has always been a part of my life in the way that it will be if you are not white, and in the way that so many white people say they cannot see. I have never let it bother me particularly because it is not my problem to solve. I have never decided not to reach for a goal because of my race, because I was afraid that they wouldn’t let me. And I probably never will.
But I have also never been so concerned about my personal safety or that of my sons, and I have never before felt that I could so easily be a victim of random racial violence.
And what is particularly sad to me is that all this stuff seems to have gotten exponentially worse since Barak Obama was elected president of the United States.
Don’t get me wrong. In no way am I blaming President Obama for any of this. But it is interesting that no sooner did we elect our first black President than it seems like every racist loony came out of the woodworks to remind us that “post-racial” was a sentimental dream. The way our President has been treated ever since he arrived in office has been a national disgrace. If anybody had dared to treat that war criminal — I mean, former President George W. Bush — this way, the outcry from the current perpetrators of the massive disrespect would be screaming the loudest in protest.
His detractors have many coded ways of stating their message — his name, his middle name, the birther nonsense, the nonsensical idea that he is a Muslim (not that there should be anything wrong with that), the absurd theory that he is a Kenyan prince, the paranoid theory that he plans to somehow conquer the country whose citizens have twice elected him to be its ruler — it all comes down to the same thing: he is different. He’s not like us. He’s not one of us. He is not to be trusted.
The not-quite-silent message has gone out: now that the U.S. has elected a black president, we can’t let the rest of you (especially you black men) think now is the time for you to forget your place. And suddenly, in the wake of all this covert racism and disrespect for our nation’s leader, a relatively small but noisy minority of white Americans has decided that it’s fashionable to be racist again, and that lynching would be fun but why go to all that trouble? We can just shoot dem niggahs instead, right? Nobody will mind.
And nobody does mind. In fact, nobody even feels particularly badly about it because it is invariably our own fault when white people beat and shoot us.
Naturally, this is all in my mind, right? After all, the Washington Post reports that the incidence of hate crimes has been pretty stable over the last decade. Of course, that same article acknowledges that the counts are probably under-reported, so … yeah. That sure makes me feel better.
And I know a lot of that is unfair. In fact, plenty of people mind and not all of them are black. I appreciate that. It reminds me that the troublemakers really are a noisy minority. It doesn’t necessarily make me feel any safer but it does remind me that, as inclined as so many white people are to question the racial nature of the attack and/or to distance themselves from Mr. Roof — “He’s not one of us either! — they are not indifferent.
I am hurting tonight. I am crying tonight. I am wounded tonight. And I have no doubt that I do not sob alone. It has been an integral part of my personal worldview that I will not go where I am not welcome. In general, I do not violate that resolution. But when I do not feel welcome in the nation of my birth … well, where can I go? All I can do is behave myself, try not to cause any trouble, and hope nobody decides to shoot me.
Go ahead and call me paranoid. I’m sure, if Ty Saunders had expressed that sentiment to anyone last Tuesday, they might have felt justified in saying just that to him.
And yet, Ty Saunders is dead tonight.
So what does that say to me?