Six black women were shot to death during a community prayer service by a young white man who allegedly declared: “You rape our women.”
These women and men welcomed a white man into their close-knit church, and likely encouraged others in their community to join and listen and pray and let God into their hearts.
I read somewhere else yesterday that during the hour discussion that preceded the terrorist attack, while the terrorist sat at the back of the church, people at the front several times urged him to join them. That fact breaks my heart.
And think of it. He sat there for an hour, staring ahead at a group of kind, warm people who tried to welcome him…and then he went ahead and took out his gun and shot them.
There is something inconsistent with the Charleston shooter’s alleged evocation of the historical myth of black man as beast and rapist of white women, and the fact that he killed mostly black women. Did he only shoot black women because there were no more black men to kill? Because black women birth, care for and love black men? Or because he didn’t see black women as women at all, and, as something less than women (and certainly lesser than white women), felt us undeserving of the same valiance he conjured on behalf of the women he claim to be protecting?
I can’t even begin to imagine why he did that. Why, or how; I can’t imagine how he did it, after that hour.
In the opening scene from Ava DuVerney’s film Selma, she captured the innocence of four black girls detonated in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. Four black girls were just walking down the wooden steps to the basement for prayer meeting; DuVerney showed the light trickling through the stained glass window, let us listen to them talk about their hair and how they do it and how they like it, showed us their Sunday clothes pressed and colorful. And then, in the movie as in our history, they were just dead.
The girls killed in Birmingham in 1963 are the child forebearers of the grown women killed in Charleston in 2015, in a country where our ancestors keep getting younger and younger because violence too often prevents us from getting older, from growing fully into our lives. Somehow, protecting the world from black men has, far too often, meant killing, beating and raping black women and girls. So we have prayed in solidarity and what we have looked upon as safety. On Wednesday, a white man took that from us, too. What remains to be seen is whether the law and this country will recognize that there is now nothing left to take from us.
Nowhere is safe.