The killing of nine churchgoers at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, this week cuts to the very core of our hopes for racial justice and a peaceful world. The American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization that works to address the root causes of violence and oppression in communities worldwide, joins with all who are grieving in the wake of this purposeful act of mass violence.
The weight of this most recent tragedy presses down on us all, particularly on communities of color, where physical safety is far from guaranteed, even in a house of worship. This horrific attack targeted parishioners at a church that has a long legacy in the struggle for African-American (Black) liberation and civil rights. Members of this church serve, as they have in the past, at the forefront of local and state politics and are strong advocates for racial justice. Mother Emanuel, as of this writing, seems to have been targeted as an attempt to terrorize people of color who participate in politics or advocate for rights and justice.
Arresting the perpetrator of this mass murder will arrest a person, but not the problem. We will make no progress as a society if we believe that justice is done simply by punishing one individual white supremacist. Racism is not just a historic problem or the work of a few individual “bad apples.” Racism - whether by direct intent or deeply entrenched structural factors - is a problem in all aspects of American life, including economics, housing, health care, criminal justice, policing, education, media coverage, among others.
We are living in a moment when many people in this country and abroad are seeing our nation’s addictions to racism and violence for what they are: social ills woven deeply into the tapestry of our society. This is a vital social challenge for all of us, and one that white people have particular responsibility to address. None of us will be truly secure until our systems are built to protect the wellbeing of all people.
In memory of the nine beautiful souls lost to the violence of a man propelled by racist philosophies and a culture of violence that our society as a whole is accountable for, each of us must recommit to ending these evils at their root. Acknowledging the effects of generations of racism and violence on our current condition is a first step. Taking concrete actions to transform our society, institutions, and relationships to end racism and violence is the next.
While the beloved community where all are treated justly feels far off today, we must press forward now more than ever toward that necessary goal.
We have found several good resources that address systemic racism and white supremacist culture that help shed new light on this moment of tragedy. Here are a few we recommend for individuals and other faith and social groups to explore:
- Take Down the Confederate Flag—Ta-Nehisi Coates on white supremacy culture and the Confederate flag (The Atlantic)
- Only white people can save themselves from racism and white supremacism, Baynard Woods (Washington Post op-ed)
- Call it terrorism in Charleston, Peter Bergen and David Sterman (CNN online)
- Schooled in disconnection: Waking up and struggling for social justice, Lucy Duncan (Acting In Faith)
- Attend the White Privilege Conference, April 14-17, 2016, Philadelphia, PA
If you have suggestions for other resources, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.