By now,most of us are processing the events in Charleston, S.C., in various ways. Some of us are grieving, others are angry. I am sure many people are confused as to how something this premeditated could go unnoticed and continuously unchecked by the shooter’s friends and family. As you know, I am consistently trying to find the positive angle on so many of these stories of racism, hate and attacks on Black bodies. I am struggling this week, but I am going to try to make sense of this tragedy as the weeks and months move on.
As I was driving yesterday, I thought of the nine victims at Mother Emmanuel AME Church and tears began to roll down my cheeks. I was glad for that. I usually cry about twice a year. I don’t know why I am not a crier. I never have been and I have not gotten more emotional in my older age. I think crying is a healthy bodily function. I wish I could do it more often.
The tears began when I thought of the nine Black worshippers in the house of the Lord welcoming in a stranger to their sacred community. I thought about all of the families and friends and community members left behind. I thought of all of the people across the country who would find going to church a more stressful activity. The church for many, not all, Black people has been a place of refuge, a place where they can be free, a place where they can find fellowship and dignity. Historically, so many Black men and women who were butlers, domestics or individuals in occupations where they garnered little to no respect from their employers found spiritual sustenance and pride in going to their place of worship. These people were pastors, deacons, ushers, board members, teachers and leaders once they walked through the doors of their church.
I thought about what the church means to so many Blacks in this country as a place to pray for their sons and daughters who take a risk with their lives just walking down the street, or in a subdivision, or at a pool, or on a bike. Church for so many people is a place to pray for their sons and daughters who are in the prison-industrial complex or waiting to hear if they received admission to a better school than the one in their neighborhood.
This sense of security and community has been rattled by the disgusting acts of one individual who I will not even exert my energy to bother naming. However, just as the church has done in the past and just as Black people in this country have done for four centuries, we will build and rebuild our lives. As has been proved on countless occasions, there is almost nothing that can break the will and the spirit of Blacks in America. I feel as if my spirit is weak, and it is these times that I must remember the community, legacy and history of Black Americans. I have always been told to never underestimate someone who comes from a household that had a praying Black grandmother. I definitely did, but I think it may be time to pray (or whatever your spiritual inclination may be) for our grandmothers now. To lift them up. They are seeing history repeat itself in some of its ugliest forms. I know the South will not rise again, but Mother Bethel surely will.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at Fordham University and the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream.”