‘We Have to Do Better’: A Reading List on the Charleston Church Massacre

Yesterday, Marc Lamont Hill tweeted, “I’m going to need all White people to denounce this ugly act of racist domestic terrorism.” This reading list is me denouncing the actions of a white supremacist terrorist, who visited a Wednesday night Bible study at one of the most important, sacred sites of Black religious and political freedom with the exclusive intention of killing attendees in cold blood. White people: we have to do better. We can’t deflect responsibility for this tragedy; we can’t blame this on mental illness (many of my friends and I deal with mental illness every day; none of us have murdered anyone). We have to demand accountability from one another and stand up for people of color—in the streets, in our Facebook feeds, in our offices and homes.

1. “Charleston Church Massacre: The Violence White America Must Answer For.” (Chauncey Devega, Salon, June 2015)

White Americans will not have to look in the mirror and ask, “what does it feel like to be a problem.” In the aftermath of recurring mass shooting events, and right-wing domestic terrorism, it is essential that they start to practice such acts of introspection in the interest of the Common Good.

2. “Shooters of Color are Called ‘Terrorists’ and ‘Thugs.’ Why are White Shooters Called ‘Mentally Ill’?” (Anthea Butler, Washington Post, June 2015)

I hope the media coverage won’t fall back on the typical narrative ascribed to white male shooters: a lone, disturbed or mentally ill young man failed by society. This is not an act of just “one hateful person.” It is a manifestation of the racial hatred and white supremacy that continues to pervade our society … It should be covered as such. And now that authorities have found their suspect, we should be calling him what he is: a terrorist.

3. “Racism is Not a Mental Illness.” (Julia Craven, Huffington Post, June 2015)

Racism is not a mental illness. Unlike actual mental illnesses, it is taught and instilled. Mental illness was not the state policy of South Carolina, or any state for that matter, for hundreds of years — racism was. Assuming actions grounded in racial biases are irrational not only neutralizes their impact, it also paints the perpetrator as a victim. Black people, on the other hand, do suffer actual mental health issues due to racism.

4. “Take Down the Confederate Flag–Now.” (Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic, June 2015)

The idea that the Civil War was about anything other than slavery is a lie. South Carolina shouldn’t fly the Confederate colors:

Put it in a museum. Inscribe beneath it the years 1861-2015. Move forward. Abandon this charlatanism. Drive out this cult of death and chains. Save your lovely souls. Move forward. Do it now.

5. “How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America: A Remembrance.” (Kiese Laymon, Gawker, July 2012)

This isn’t an essay or simply a woe-is-we narrative about how hard it is to be a black boy in America. This is a lame attempt at remembering the contours of slow death and life in America for one black American teenager under Central Mississippi skies. I wish I could get my Yoda on right now and surmise all this shit into a clean sociopolitical pull-quote that shows supreme knowledge and absolute emotional transformation, but I don’t want to lie.

I want to say and mean that remembering starts not with predictable punditry, or bullshit blogs, or slick art that really ask nothing of us; I want to say that it starts with all of us willing ourselves to remember, tell and accept those complicated, muffled truths of our lives and deaths and the lives and deaths of folks all around us over and over again.