When tragedy strikes, lamentation is called for. The community of faith at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church is the epicenter of lamentation and the waves of grief reverberate throughout the city, the state and the region. It is a time to wail and cry, even to yell and scream: to release the deep, deep grief and pain, to bring it into the open.
Lamentation is a faithful response for surely it is only possible to rail at God and the world when we know, somewhere deep inside, that we are also held in the broad embrace of God’s care and wisdom. Trouble is, it is difficult for many of us to allow lamentation to occur. It scares us when people grieve openly, especially when it is as raw as lamentation can be.
This is also a season of listening. It takes courage to listen. This violent event in a church is clearly a crime of hate that originates in racism. The gunman said out loud he was there to kill black people. Those of us who are not Black must listen to the lamentations of our brothers and sisters who are.
I write as a white woman. I also lament, but mine is different. I cannot know what it is to walk through the world as a person of color. I cannot fully imagine how this violence impacts my friends who are Black; I can sympathize, but I cannot empathize. I must listen even if it scares me, even if I want to say, “not all White people are…” I must simply listen.
We inhabit a society that helps give rise to prejudice and hate. There are still communities and even churches that espouse “racial purity” and racial hate. It is the task of White people of good conscience and character to name racism whenever and wherever we see it and hear it.
Yes, the gunman may be a sociopath, but the racism in our society is in the air we all breathe and further warps an already damaged mind. Can those of us who are Caucasian have the courage to listen deeply without making any excuses or trying to fix someone else’s grief?
I borrow words from Rev. Eric Atcheson because he also asks what we can do, those of us who have privilege because our skin is white. You can read his entire article here:
For a hate crime that took place in a state whose flag still contains the Confederate battle flag, can we do more than simply mourn and lament? Can we say, “We don’t just want you to be safe in the sanctuary of church, we need you to be safe, because if you’re not safe, we’re not safe?”
Can we say, “We aren’t going to tell you to bring open-carry guns into a church built on the existence of a Messiah who told His disciples to put away their swords?”
Can we say, “We are so sorry for continuing to foster an environment that puts you and your children and families in a disproportionate amount of harm and prejudice because of the color of your skin?”
Can we say, “We don’t just acknowledge your pain, we we acknowledge our part in it, and we want to do something about it?”
Because make no mistake, dear readers, we *have* a part in this pain and in this environment of danger and racism. If Dylann Roof were black, I am certain there would already be white talking heads on Fox News lecturing about the evils of black-on-black crime. If Dylann Roof were Latino, I am certain CNN would already be assembling panels of stuffed shirts to talk about immigration. But Dylann Roof is white, and we as white Christians do not put on ourselves the same burden of soul-searching and reflection that we demand of our racial minority neighbors.