White Terrorism and the AME Church Shooting in Charleston, SC

Some thoughts in reaction to the shooting on June 17, and the media reaction:

Distressingly, the gun violence doesn’t come as a surprise in America; neither does the racist media coverage of the attack.

Black victims of crime are often painted as “thugs” who invited violence upon themselves, while white perpetrators of crime are “lone gunmen”, isolated and absolving society at large for its racism which encourages white terrorism. Or, he’s labelled “mentally ill”.

Racism isn’t a mental illness; it’s learned violence. Using mental illness to excuse such violence only stigmatizes the mentally ill and further isolates the incident as individual rather than systemic.

This church, the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, has a long history of anti-slavery and anti-racism activism and ties to politicians and activists—one of the nine victims, Clementa Pickney, was a state senator and senior pastor at the church. It remains a pillar in the black community in Charleston, and was targeted with this in mind.

The shooter, who I will not dignify by naming, is a white man who entered the church during a bible study. In the South it is unusual for white people to enter black churches, and vice versa, but he was apparently welcomed into the space and sat quietly for one hour before shooting and killing nine people. This raises important questions about safe spaces: places of worship should be safe spaces, and if black people cannot hold a bible study without fear violence, that is terrorism. Black people—yes, like all people, but to claim “all lives matter” or the relevant equivalent is to erase the particular struggle of black people in America, not to mention it’s a pathetic attempt to center the attention back to you—deserve to have safe spaces, unburdened by fear of violence at the hands of oppressors. This means that black people are entitled to safe spaces which explicitly exclude white people. Until we, as a society, stop harming black bodies and start valuing black lives, black people don’t owe white people and non-black POC access to their safe spaces. Anyone who is more concerned with being excluded on the basis of their non-blackness than they are about anti-black violence and the need for black-only safe spaces is part of the problem.

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