“That’s enough news for one day,” my mother said as she switched the channel from ABC Nightly News to a syndicated rerun of Modern Family. My dad had already returned to playing a game on his iPad.
It is easier to stick your head in the sand than it is to unpack the complexity of a so-called post-racial America.
Instead of having a discussion or grieving together as a family for the loss of nine brothers and sisters (and fellow Christians to my parents), they narcotized the racially-charged shooting of the South Carolina bible study group with Claire Dunphy’s shrill, whiny voice while their black daughter slinked away to another room to quietly grieve and attempt to process the latest in a long string of atrocities against blacks in America.
This desire to move on to their normal routine as quickly as possible was not a shock. All my life I’ve grown up in a household where troubling topics have remained off-limits while other more trivial conversations have flourished. Growing up, we weren’t allowed to use the word “black” as a means to define or talk about people of color. As a biracial woman (equal parts black and white) raised by two white parents it all but made the topic of my racial identity off-limits, furthering my identity as an “other.”
To not talk about something doesn’t make it go away. Just because you choose not to talk about something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
My dad, a former paramedic and military veteran, has all but lost his ability to discuss death with any sort of empathy or sensitivity. I’ve frequently left the room as he retold stories of the ER, using the deceased as fodder for heroic tales. I’ll never forget the image of a young man who took his own life with a bullet to his head that my dad showed to me and my adolescent brother, commenting on the splatters of blood and brain matter left on the wall like they were special effects in the movies (my dad later apologized for this, noting that he understood how wrong his actions were).
So it comes as little shock that my dad expressed no real outward emotion regarding the deaths of Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Daniel L. Simmons, Reverend Depayne Middleton-Doctor, and Susie Jackson.
As we had dinner together as a family in front of the television, my dad managed to muster that Dylann Roof was messed up, that he was sick in his head. I offered a rebuttal, suggesting that to claim that Roof must be crazy, or have some kind of psychological issue is a cop-out. I explained that there are many, many people in this country and in the world who are full of hate and wish harm on others who are different from them.
Sometimes this looks like hate speech directed at young black girls. Sometimes that hate manifests as overt aggression toward young black teens. Sometimes hate looks like the omission of our tragedies from the national spotlight, in favor of the identity-crisis of a privileged white woman because surely black lives, especially the lives of black women, don’t really matter. And sometimes that hatred looks like Dylann Roof.
This doesn’t mean that these people have a mental illness, moreover, suggesting such trivializes those of us who do suffer from real mental illness and must live with stigmas that are all too quickly associated with white, hateful, mass-murderers. To jump to conclusions, and make statements suggesting Roof is mentally ill provides an easy defense for someone who was in fact a calculated killer.
Mental illness is something that runs in my family, yet somehow, none of us has taken the life of another human being. Our depressions, bipolar disorders, anxieties, and addictions haven’t manifested as hatred toward a group of people who are different from us.
And still, mental illness is used as a catch-all to excuse the depraved behavior of a racist, bigoted, high-school dropout who sat for more than an hour among his would-be victims before opening up in a fiery, bullet-fueled rage.
My mother is on the opposite spectrum of my dad — extremely sensitive and empathetic. However, she is prone to disassociate from difficult topics. I get it. It sucks to have a nice day — one of few nice days that are bestowed upon someone with bipolar disorder, ruined by the harsh reality of the world we live in. I get it, I suffer from generalized anxiety and clinical depression and live for the good days.
But shame on you. Shame on all of you who decide it’s not your problem. Shame on all of you who choose to overlook these difficult situations by deciding that your current mood or evening plans mean more than trying to heal. Do you think that I want to talk about this?
Believe me, I want nothing more than to never have to talk about these kinds of events ever again. But as long as they continue to happen, we must talk about them. We must learn from them. We must come together and try to heal.
Where are all of you so-called patriots when a group of fellow Americans are slaughtered in a place of worship? Where are the gun owners who tout their constitutional right to “defend themselves against enemies foreign and domestic” when those domestic enemies are people who look like them? Your silence is tacit agreement.
The irony of all of this is that while on the outside, we look like our very own modern family — all neurotic and multiethnic, but we live in a time that seems the opposite of modern. Antiquated, in some sort of purgatory, fighting the same battles of previous generations. But maybe, just maybe we can pull ourselves up from this. Maybe I won’t need a reason to re-work this piece and republish in a month when the next racially charged event takes place.
Maybe we can finally learn something, that we can come together and try to move forward. That we can have a civilized conversation about race in America. That we can have a civilized conversation about gun control in America. That in 2016, after our new president is elected, we can forget about who won or lost, put aside our bullshit, and work together to make this country better. That we won’t spend the next four to eight years angry that a black man is in office and instead of working to do right by constituents, dedicate ourselves to that man’s demise.
Or maybe, Claire Dunphy was right when she said: “Oh, honey. Don’t take this the wrong way… but I have almost no faith in you.”