People of faith who want to move beyond the horror and outrage caused by the June 17 slaying of nine people in the basement of the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., must learn two hard lessons.
To dismiss this tragedy as a solo event, without context and the work of a “nutcase,” feeds into a lie that perpetuates the racism that is engrained in American culture. The Wall Street Journal tried to make this claim in an editorial the day after the shooting, taking President Barack Obama to task for drawing parallels between Emmanuel today and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963, as “a dark part of our history.” The Journal said, “Today the system and philosophy of institutionalized racism identified by Dr. [Martin Luther] King [in 1963] no longer exists.” And that’s the lie we tell ourselves: that in the United States, race doesn’t matter.
On anniversaries this year marking great events like the march on Selma or the passage of the Voting Rights Act, it is easy to congratulate ourselves for the progress we’ve made and shut our eyes to the facts about promises broken and dreams deferred. We lie to ourselves when we refuse to act on dismal education rates for minority students, on the hyperincarceration of black men, and on the barriers to adequate housing that minorities still face.
TV commentator Jon Stewart spoke eloquently of this June 19, saying our country has “a gaping racial wound that will not heal, yet we pretend doesn’t exist.”
Removing Confederate flags from state properties and license plates is one symbolic way of beginning to correct the lie we tell ourselves, but we also need bold public policy initiatives to continue the march toward equality that was at its zenith in the civil rights era but has stalled…