Three on Race and Charleston

Three great pieces of analysis on Charleston and race, incidentally all by women *fist bump* What unites them all, for me, is the blunt honesty therein. And how each of them speak to this situation but also wider, into the present, the past and the everyday.

ONE The Cost of White Comfort by Chenjerai Kumanyika . A very honest reflection from Chenjerai on how the work of healing post-Charleston is more vexed than it might first appear. I feel that she also speaks to a wider, universal truth about Black minority survival – something that’s articulated in lesser degrees in smaller, more mundane interactions – and one that’s as applicable to the UK as the US.

“Survival for black folk during slavery, Jim Crow and well beyond necessitated thousands of small demonstrations of pleasant compliance toward white people. This didn’t just mean crossing the street when a white person approached; it meant keeping your eyes down while you did it. It didn’t just mean stepping off the curb for a white person; it meant smiling as you did it.

Today, it means that when I discuss these shootings with my white students and my heart is bursting at the seams with outrage and grief, I must keep my voice and gestures gentle and calm and validate my students’ most hurtful comments so they don’t feel personally indicted.

And it means not just acquiescing to unwarranted police interrogation and arrest. It means being friendly, even gracious, throughout the ordeal. Black survival has so often depended on white comfort.”

TWO I Don’t Want to Be an Excuse for Racist Violence Anymore by Chloe Angyal. A hardhitting analysis of how the concept of White women’s purity is often marshalled as an excuse for racist violence to be perpetrated on Black men and women. And a good reminder that Black women are so often the bottom of the proverbial pile when conceptualising womanhood in this way. This has been said time and again by Black feminists, and this timely intervention by an ally is welcome.

“[the attack at Emanuel AME] was also the latest in an unbearably long line of lethality meted out in the name of white womanhood—in my name, and maybe in yours. In the name of my purity and virtue and perfect femininity. We must not ignore the role of white womanhood in this act of white supremacist violence, or in any other. We must not find a way, yet again, of avoiding talking about whiteness. And until white women decide that we will no longer be used as an excuse for violence, until we decide that we will no longer tacitly condone and benefit from the violence, we will continue to have blood on our pale, “perfect” hands.”

THREE Why I Can’t Forgive Dylann Roof by Roxane Gay. I love Roxane Gay long time. Her book, Bad Feminist is up there as one of my favourite feminist reads. This article, with excerpts from a longer interview, is thought provoking. While not detracting from the right of the families and church community in Charleston to offer forigiveness, she explains why she can’t. I admire the families for their grace, and I can only hope and pray that I would have the courage to do the same in their position. So, in that sense, I disagree with Gay, however, what she speaks to is a more political forgiveness, or how Black people’s forgiveness is used to move the conversation along and forego any deeper analysis of events like this. On that I absolutely agree with her. Forgiveness must not excuse us from the hard work of excavating this attack and the White supremacist system feeding it – it’s beyond just one man. Furthermore, the onus is not on the minority to make the majority feel comfortable (it ties back quite neatly to Chenjerai’s piece in this regard).

“In the bail bond hearing, the judge was talking about how there are two sets of victims: the families of the nine slain and then Dylan Roof’s family. And I was stunned because he spent more time talking about Roof’s family and what they must be going through. And that really, for me, exemplified the power of whiteness. And we’ve also seen a lot of this expectation that as black people, ‘OK, we forgive this so that we can move on, so that we can heal.’ But I don’t think that it’s our job to forgive anymore. I think that it’s time for reconciliation on the part of people who enable this kind of racism.”

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