Connecting the Dots

It has been three days since the massacre of nine people at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and collectively we continue to mourn. If there is a God, and if s/he has a mother, then I say, Mother of God, we have exceeded what is acceptable in the human experiment! We have lost our way and are in dangerous territory. There are those among us whose moral compass is completely off kilter and it guides them to a place that is so heinous that it is unrecognizable to the average person. And yet it is average people who must deal with and react to the nightmare. Hate-filled unthinkable acts of racial violence are executed in mere moments, but the pain and suffering carries on for a lifetime and beyond.

It makes me wonder about the rhetoric that exists in these communities where perpetrators of these crimes are raised and educated. James Craig Anderson was savagely beaten and murdered by ten young adults in Rankin County, Mississippi in 2011. They committed a vicious crime and are now being held responsible as adults, but it wasn’t very long ago that they were children. Not that this negates their responsibility, but it begs the question about how they were socialized. If, as a society, we are going to break the cycle of racism and violence, we must follow it to its tap root. We must be specific about what the hate-filled teachings are and bring them out into the open. It is only when that which has become so second nature is named that people can begin to make change happen.

As young children, what did James Anderson’s attackers hear from the adults around them on a daily basis? What did they see in their communities? What about the people and communities who raised and educated the murderers of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis and others? What about the nuanced personal and collective narratives of hate and other-ing and difference and superiority that were spoken over their cribs and car seats, during meals, on the local TV stations, in the gas stations and supermarkets? What about the incidental learning that took place in every venue from the school pumpkin festival to the Friday night football game? Who holds those people responsible for creating the environment of hate that led to these young people embracing such a perspective and then taking it to the next level? Perhaps those around them have separated themselves from these situations by saying that they would never behave in such a manner. Perhaps they believe that those who have committed these crimes have broken the code by stepping from the realm of covert racism — handling things in private conversations and difficult-to-name structural practices that can’t be detected so easily (“Oh for the good old days when this country was safe and everybody knew his place.”) — and moved to the overt display of racism. How many of those same people gasped at the horror of what these young people did to Mr. Anderson? How many of them said that what the murderer did in Charleston at the Emmanuel AME Church went too far? How many of them are willing to connect the dots between what these children learned, directly and indirectly, and the horrible acts they have committed as adults?

How will it end? As a start, we need champions from within the white communities to begin the conversations that will move us all toward change. We need people to be willing to do the hard work and talk about the subtle and not so subtle ways that racism has defined us as a society. People have to be stirred in a way that compels them to accept that their view of the world is broken. People need a new ideology.