The Charleston Nine

Reprinted with permission from Insight News

Even as the flowers fade, the hurt and pain of the atrocities that occurred here in Charleston, South Carolina on that bloody June Wednesday are very much alive. It is joined with the mixed emotions of those visiting the Mother Emanuel AME Church, which has now become a living monument and shrine of flowers, prayers, the American flag, poems, inspirational sayings, peace signs, signature boards, teddy bears and candles to name a few of the mementos left in front of this historic church. Historic because Mother Emanuel was once ordered burned to the ground by the City of Charleston that now sends out its men in blue to protect it. How ironic. What would Denmark Vesey say?

So much has been said about the outrageousness of the act of a single man to wreak so much pain and havoc in a blessed space. But Dylann Roof is symptomatic of a deeper illness that plagues our ailing country. And like any addictive patient, we are in the ultimate denial. And daily we are enabled by systems of racism that persist, unchecked police brutality, unequal schools—still, higher unemployment and underemployment for brown and black bodies. We may be diverse today as a nation, accustomed to sitting next to each other on the bus, working together as colleagues, even being neighbors, but we have not yet reached the heights of inclusiveness. Some Whites have not accepted the equality of Blacks and each small step of progress that we take is viewed as a racial affront to them, and a diminishing of their white privilege.

White privilege takes many forms—the horrific but also the ridiculous—of a white woman exercising her privilege to pass for Black, not in order to share our pain and suffering but to pimp Blackness and take advantage of the few privileges we have struggled to attain. That she had the arrogance to believe that not only was her racial passing OK but she is unapologetic, and in the true tradition of pimping has garnered fame, and possibly a movie, even as her deceit unravels. Such is the nature of power and privilege.

Mentioning these pop culture examples is not intended to trivialize the gravity of what occurred in Charleston. It is merely to point out the way in which white privilege operates. They are both dangerous, though without question, violence of the order that Dylann Roof committed is the most dangerous of all. Throughout American history, Blacks have been subjected to violence rooted in hatred and the belief of white supremacy.

Those who believe that we now live in a so-called “post-racial society” will have to think again. For those who want to advocate “colorblindness,” this is a deadly reminder that “color” and “race” and racism are alive and well in these un-United States of America. For those who believed that voting for a Black president would magically eradicate racism, look more closely at the ways in which Blacks remain politically, economically, socially and violently disenfranchised.

There have been many eloquent analysis of what happened on that deadly Wednesday, just three days before the arrival of historic Juneteenth (June 19th), intended to celebrate the end of slavery in Texas, mind you two years after the Emancipation Proclamation: “Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation—which had become official January 1, 1863.” Was it accidental that the terrorist racial atrocity happened before this symbolic date? We may never know.

What I do know is that sometimes pictures can say more than words. Pictured above is a pictorial requiem for the nine people who died in Charleston for no other reason than that they were Black. That their families have spoken of forgiveness and not revenge should be a lesson to us all. But this generosity of spirit also should be our call to action: reinstating the Civil Rights Act, ensuring that the histories we teach in schools beginning in pre-school are balanced and represent ALL Americans, respect by Congress and Senate for our sitting Black President, stronger gun control… and I could go on, but I think my point is clear. America is still a work in progress, and all of us are responsible for its development. In truth, as Malcolm X once reminded us, “If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem.” If this is truly our “…country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty,” then all of us have a responsibility to ensure that this beloved liberty is accessible to all of us. We are all citizens, all Americans, all part of the human family.



Irma McClaurin is an award-winning columnist, poet, activist, anthropologist and consultant. She served as editor of Transforming Anthropology for seven years and was tenured in anthropology at the University of Florida and the University of Minnesota. An academic entrepreneur, her leadership roles include the deputy provost at Fisk University (2002-2004); the first Mott distinguished chair of women's studies and founder of the Africana women’s studies program at Bennett College (2004); program officer at the Ford Foundation for Education and Scholarship (2005-2007); associate vice president and founding executive director of the University of Minnesota’s first Urban Research and Outreach Engagement Center (2007-2010); president of Shaw University from 2010-2011; senior faculty at the Federal Executive Institute (2013-2014); and chief diversity officer at Teach For America (2014-2016). Her book, JustSpeak: Reflections on Race, Culture and Politics in America, is forthcoming in 2022.