In Response to the #CharlestonShooting

On June 17, 2015, the New York Times quote of the day outrageously suggested that Rachel Dolezal had found a way to “match the body with the soul.”

In reality, the souls of Black folk are in Black people, and it’s inside the body of the five-year-old African American girl that had to play dead in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church in Charleston, South Carolina yesterday, so that a White supremacist would not shoot her to death along with the other three Black men and six Black women he killed in that historic sanctuary.

That the girl had the presence of mind to play dead among the bodies of likely family and friends, perhaps more than anything else speaks to the perils of being Black in America and the violence that Black people, especially Black women and girls face daily.

The alleged shooter intimated that among other things, his anti-black violence was motivated by Blacks raping white women. The practice of concocting Black crime to justify White racist violence has a long, ugly history in this country; one that has permitted White men to rape and murder Black women and men with impunity practically since the first Africans reached these shores in 1619. It’s an old, deeply embedded tool of White supremacy that is as prevalent and pervasive today as it was in 1791, when a group of enslaved and free Blacks first founded Emanuel A.M.E.

The same, vile racial hatred that allowed Dylann Storm Roof to allegedly sit among the Rev. Clementa Pinckney and his parishioners for roughly an hour before cold-bloodedly and indiscriminately executing them, is the same animus that allows a White police officer in Fairfield, Ohio to fracture the jaw and ribs of a 12-year-old Black girl for allegedly being “verbally aggressive and belligerent” when asked to leave a pool area.

It’s the same hatred that allowed a White officer to fatally shoot Walter Scott, an unarmed Black man, in the back in North Charleston, South Carolina. It’s the same hatred that allows White police officers across the country to kill unarmed Black women, men, and children. And it’s the same sickening virulent racism that allows those White officers to go free rather standing trial.

It’s the double standard in justice and policing that allows violent White bikers who left several dead and over a dozen injured after they engaged in a shootout to sit calmly on the roadside awaiting arrest, while African Americans peacefully protesting are threatened with police assault rifles and MRAPS.

And it’s the racism of a mainstream media that uses national and international attention to excuse the fraud of a White woman masquerading as Black, while completely ignoring the May 21, 2015 #SayHerName National Day of Action, which raised awareness about the abuse of Black women in the U.S. criminal justice system.

That racism also underscores the current rationales for Roof’s alleged homicidal violence, namely that he is as either mentally disturbed or an extreme example of a White supremacist. Both notions are also a part of a pattern of structural racism that excuses White male violence at the same time that it helps to safe guard unequal, White male privilege. For example, as folks like Roof reportedly claim that Blacks are taking over the country and disenfranchising White men, in reality institutional disparities have Black women earning 64 cents on every dollar that a White man makes (White women only make 77 cents on that dollar, incidentally). It has Blacks vastly overrepresented in the criminal justice system when we are no more criminal than our White counterparts. It has Black people’s voting rights being eroded.

On the eve of the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth, the day commemorated for having the last enslaved Blacks freed in America, it’s time that we seriously address the vitriolic legacies of White supremacy. We need to dispel the notion of inherent Black criminality as well as the White supremacist notion that extralegal racist violence is an acceptable response. And America needs to stop pretending that the stars and bars flag that flies over the South Carolina statehouse represents anything other than racist terrorism.

Maybe then we can celebrate Black lives rather then lighting nine candles to pray for our martyred, sisters’ and brothers’ souls.


Kali Nicole Gross, Ph.D., a Public Voices fellow, is an associate professor and associate chairwoman of African and African Diaspora studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Follow her on Twitter.