This will probably be the one and only "opinion piece" that you get from me in response to the latest terrible thing that has fueled a mob of angry status updates and article repostings. I'm not trying to belittle the Charleston tragedy, but while social media can be a great platform to push for social change, it is more often used as a mask that people use to bait arguments and distance themselves from the consequences of saying hurtful or disrespectful things to others because of anger and other improperly channeled emotions. This is an important conversation and one that I believe needs to be had, but the social media network has become more of a place to yell for the sake of hearing one's own voice than a place to have open-minded discussion. This is one of the reasons I don't normally use my personal social media accounts to weigh in on political or social issues. I don't believe that putting my opinions into words on a digital page amount to as much as my daily actions do, but this time I feel the need to respond, even if only for myself.
I use Facebook as an outlet to the rest of the world and because it's the easiest way to keep up with my friends here and abroad. This week, though, I saw many hateful and ignorant posts from my own friends on both sides of this issue. One of these was a Washington Post article by a journalist who hails from South Carolina, but is apparently carrying around some very large White guilt baggage. While the article isn't completely off point, the author misplaces blame for upholding racism in America on the Southeastern U.S. and all of the White people living there. In his opinion, we as White people should feel responsible for the Charleston shooting and other acts of racism that occur in our society.
Well, I'd be kidding myself if I tried to say that racism doesn't exist in the South. It does, and it is a deeply rooted psycho-social epidemic that springs more from the subconscious than from active hate. The South has always been a society based on class and family ties, and discrimination is still easy to come by not only for Blacks, but for Hispanics, the lower class, blue collar workers, and even the "new money" rich. While I agree that this is a despicable part of our society, I cannot align myself with the author and claim to hate the South. I love the South. I love it because despite our great faults and tumultuous history, we're still a community. When the going gets rough your neighbor will not leave you out in the cold, regardless of race, nationality, income level, or if your moms belong to different sewing circles. We come together rather than turn away from each other in the face of tragedy, when the time comes to show our true colors. This is evident now by the rallies held in support for the shooting victims in Charleston this week. There were no violent riots, hateful picket signs or division of races, but rather a diverse multitude of South Carolina citizens gathering in support of one another and to pray for the souls of the lost. It is also evident of the responses of the victims' families to the shooter himself. These people suffered unspeakable losses, and while the mass media and internet communities yell at one another, they humbly bring their confessions of forgiveness to the young man who wronged them in a way most of us cannot even imagine. While the politicians, fueled by their own incentives, diverted attention to issues like the state flag and gun control, these people embodied Christ and His teachings perfectly as they swallowed the selfish desire for vengeance and begged God for mercy on the very soul that gave them none. But forgiving doesn't mean forgetting. They will never forget what happened to them that day, nor should we. They didn't do it to move on, but to move forward. Forgiveness is probably the most misconstrued, misunderstood, and most difficult of God's commandments, but there is no forward motion or growth without it. By this action it is apparent that these people are truly good people. These are the Southerners I know.
I feel no connection to those who started the White supremacy ideals in America or who uphold them today. They are not my family and they are not my kin. I feel no responsibility for their actions just as I would feel no responsibility for the Holocaust if I were to trace my German roots back to members of the Nazi Party. Shared genetics do not make brothers and sisters. People that perpetuate hate for others are not my people. I feel no connections or loyalties towards them, not only because they are wrong, but because they are so far outside of my sphere of beliefs on morality that shape who I am. How can I feel that these people belong to the same group as me solely because we share a similar shade of skin? In fact, my actual "legal" family is made up of multiple races, nationalities and bloodlines. The people who I consider to be my extended family are even more diverse. I don't divide my family along racial or geographical lines, but instead define them as the people that share with me a love and compassion for others. That's what draws us together in companionship.
I feel no guilt for what has happened in Charleston. I feel disgust, sadness, and disappointment, but not guilt. If I were to feel guilt for the sake of being White, guilty about the privilege that entails, what good would that do? The reason I won't feel guilty about racism in the South, or in America as a whole, is because guilt only results in patronizing and obligatory action. If you truly are going to take responsibility for racism existing in America, it must come from a sense of awareness, from mutual respect, and from a genuine desire to see all people as equals. If there are still division and hate in a society, and if souls are still considered unequal there, then responsibility has yet to be taken. There may be plenty of guilt and even apologetic actions taken, but the lack of responsibility remains.
I can't speak to the struggles of the Black American because I am not one. I have enjoyed and taken for granted the privileges that come from being both White and American for a significant part of my life. I have experienced prejudice and discrimination, though. Most of us probably have in some way or another. It is not a strange concept that any one person is incapable of understanding. I have been singled out and made to feel inferior or unworthy because of my religion and social status. I have been disrespected and held to a double standard because of my gender. I have been targeted and harassed by the police because of my race. I have seen girls sold as child brides and be denied education, opportunity and autonomy. And I know that everywhere in the world right now, people are oppressing and enslaving each other based on race, gender, nationality, tribe, clan, class, sect, political aligning, sexual orientation, age, and religion. This is not something we invented, and it's probably not something we will ever see the end of. But what a chance we have to try, and what strides we have made already. This is a problem that we can address, and it comes from people learning the value of life and the implications of hatred.