I’m sure none of you are strangers to the news of what happened last week in Charleston, SC.
The New Yorker’s memorial cover art. (New Yorker)
What you may not know, I’m honestly not sure if I’ve mentioned this on my blog before, is that I’m from South Carolina. I’m not from Charleston, but it’s a city that is near and dear to my heart, a city that I know quite well. I love it. I love its streets that flood in the rain, its markets that bustle with artisans and locals and tourists alike. I love its people. I love the way the trees hang over the roads and I love the sound of horses pulling carriages through the city. It is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. It is the only place I would pack up and move to with no hesitation whatsoever.
Last week’s act of terrorism — because we need to be honest with ourselves, that’s what this was — devastated our state. And to be honest, I’m still not quite sure how to even articulate my emotions. I’ve erased and rewritten these paragraphs several times already, even thought about not posting at all. Because what words do I have that haven’t been made empty from the repeating?
A man holds a sweetgrass rose. Woven sweetgrass is one of the oldest African arts in the country, and many in Charleston and the Lowcountry still practice it. (Dan Xeller)
But that, I have decided, is not the point.
The point is that as a white person, as a white feminist, I cannot sit idly by and allow moments like these to pass unaddressed, unresolved, into the pages of our history books. Yesterday I finally found the words for a Facebook post that was probably a bit too long for the medium, but I think it fits well here:
I’ve got a few more things to say about the Charleston shooting, things that I think, as a feminist, and specifically a white feminist, I really need to say.
First of all, the Confederate flag needs to go. I am not going to argue this point or attempt to justify my reasoning because, quite truthfully, I feel if this needs to be explained to you, you are part of the problem. I do not think my opinion on this has more weight because I am white than it would if I were not; I do think that as a white person, my silence on this matter would be tantamount to acceptance, and I refuse to allow people to think I condone or promote the things this flag represents. If you would like to argue this point, here are my real feelings: The battle flag that we and other states fly, that hang from trucks and are printed on shirts, is no different to me than the Nazi swastika, which was a symbol of good fortune that was taken and perverted into something disgusting and evil, a symbol of hatred and violence. I’m sure there are people alive with ancestors who were Nazi soldiers, just like I’m sure you maybe have ancestors who fought for the Confederacy. But I will assume what type of person you are when you fly that, just like I will judge the hell out of a man wearing jack boots.
Second, it has been reported that Roof told his victims he “had to do this, because you rape our women” and assorted other ridiculous assertions. Let me make this clear:
We are not YOUR women. We are not HIS women. We are our own women, and we will speak for ourselves.
And finally, this was not about religion. Stop undermining the real issue here by insinuating that’s what this was about. This was about the culmination of years of hatred and poison poured into a man’s head by people who told him he was owed something, who told him he deserved sex and success and whatever else simply because he had white skin and male genitals, who told him that those things were being taken from him by people who were not as wonderful as he is. This was about racism, hatred, entitlement, and white privilege. And until we as white people recognize that privilege and start teaching ourselves and our children better, as Dr Seuss says, unless someone like me cares a whole awful lot, it’s not going to get better. It’s not.
I’m not doing this to argue. I’m doing this because I cannot stay silent about these issues and expect them to simply go away.
Protesters in Columbia, SC call for the removal of the Confederate flag. (Mladen Antonov, AFP/Getty Images)
This week has been hard. But hopefully we open our eyes and move forward together into a future with real freedom, real equality, and real hope. I think we’re all ready for that.
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