"The girls handled the conversations better than I would have hoped. As we talked about 9 black brothers and sisters in Christ being killed in a historic church, they took it well," I told Lee as I put on my blush Sunday morning.
My makeup brush dropped to the counter with his reply: "How sad."
He continued, "At 8, our girls are no longer surprised by hate, racism, and violence. They shouldn't handle it well. None of us should."
No, we shouldn't. But for my friends in the black community and allies like me who have been listening and learning, we grieved last week but we weren't shocked. While so many white friends see this as an isolated event, we see a pattern.
We hear Trayvon called a man whose hoodie made him worthy of death while the man who killed him is considered justified, even as his story since then has shown a pattern of hotheaded violence. We hear Mike Brown called a man and a thug and a menace and even a demon and Ferguson not race-motivated, even as we hear data that speaks differently. We hear Dajerria called a woman at 14, and we hear people continuing to defend the officer's actions even after he apologized and admitted he had overreacted. We hear about John Crawford being killed in a WalMart for holding a toy gun after a white couple made a 911 call in which they lied about what was happening to make him sound threatening. We hear Eric Garner blamed for the police brutality that led to his death because he resisted arrest and was selling loose cigarettes, nevermind that neither are capital crimes. We hear Tamir Rice called "a young man" by the police chief even though he was only 12 when officers shot and killed him for carrying a toy gun in the park. We hear white friends express that it's easier for them to believe that Freddie Gray severed his own spine than it is to believe that officers acted dishonorably. We hear them say "who?" when we talk about Aiyana, the seven-year-old girl who died when an officer discharged his weapon into a wall as she slept on the other side. We hear silence when Kalief committed suicide as if three years at Rikers without trial and with abuse didn't likely contribute to his mental state. We hear ourselves ask how differently the story would have played out if no one recorded the shooting of Walter Scott, and we pretend we don't know the answer.
And then we hear people ask again and again and again and again and again and again if maybe the murderous act of terrorism in Charleston was an assault on religion rather than race, even when the news was already reporting that the shooter said he wanted "to kill black people."
And then we hear Dylann Roof described as a young man with a blunt sugar-bowl haircut - even though he's older than Trayvon was and Mike Brown was and Tamir Rice was and Dajerria is, and they were all described as adults - and a loner and quiet and a misguided youth and a sweet kid and someone who probably has mental health issues, and we're not surprised. This is the usual minimizing narrative when the criminal is a white male, who might be described as smart or soft-hearted as we point fingers at bullying and failed mental health supports and childhood mistreatment and mental illness whereas we tend to point fingers at the criminal rightly and even the victim wrongly when he or she happens to be black.
And then we hear the judge handling Roof's first court date calling the shooter's family "victims" in this situation, which didn't sit well by itself but became even more concerning when paired with this judge's having been reprimanded in 2003 for using the n word from the bench. (For good reason, the judge has been removed from the case now, and we were a little surprised and thankful upon hearing that news.)
And then we hear Roof's name and see his face again and again, while the faces and names of Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Depayne Middleton Doctor, Daniel Simmons, and Myra Thompson aren't known as well by most of us.
We feel like we're listening on a loop while no one else notices that our ears are bleeding.
Rather than denying the patterns and preparing rebuttals, would you be willing to listen to us? To sit with our words before you respond? To consider how the lived experiences of others might differ from your own? To question why you're willing to listen more to me as a white woman than to people of color saying the same things? To celebrate the testimonies of forgiveness, yes, but also to continue to recognize the tensions of racist patterns that require such mercy to be extended again and again by our black brothers and sisters? To decry vandalism and violence in riots, yes, but also to try to understand the resigned anger behind the actions, the feeling that drastic acts are necessary to get white attention?
Would you consider learning those names I listed above like we have?
Then the next time this sort of things happens - and I sadly expect that there will be a next time, just like my daughters do - maybe you'll see the pattern too. Maybe you'll join us in being sad but not surprised.
And maybe you'll begin asking with us, "What can we do to change this?"
(I'm not going to answer that question here. No, this isn't a cop out as much as it's a cop out to expect every blogger to tell you what you should do in response. Simply put, I think the answer will be different for each of us. But doing nothing and saying nothing isn't going to bring about change, so DO SOMETHING and SAY SOMETHING. Please.)