This has been a reflective week for those of the black collective–commemorating Father’s Day, The Anniversary of the Charleston 9, and Juneteenth. Many celebrated the western capitalistic Father’s Day on Sunday, collectively forgetting about the blood spilled on this day two years ago. Sunday marked the second anniversary of the Charleston bible study shooting that killed nine church goers. Despite the eerie connection to past acts of terror cast onto the black community like the 1963 church bombing, the media treated this attack on the black community as an isolated incident- a single act that if aligned with anything, corresponded with the school shootings that consume much of contemporary media and sympathy.
To most, Juneteenth is a holiday commemorating the freeing of slaves. However, history tells us that slavery ended two years prior, making Juneteenth a commemoration of the emancipation announcement, not the emancipation itself . When word traveled that the brutal institution of slavery had ended—I could imagine that the news was startling. However, upon “emancipation,” abducted Africans were offered no compensation nor did they have their native language, or names—their culture buried with ancestors abducted centuries ago. The bodies of blacks, who enriched so much of the western world, experienced a seemingly depleted value once “freed” from the bondage of slavery. Once those freedom bells rang, it implied that freedom was as simple or sudden as the gesture suggested. The once enslaved Africans in America would soon find their “freed” lives to be much like their enslavement. Furthermore, while this holiday illustrates how vital information travels glacially to black ears, more significantly, Juneteenth illustrates that slavery was never a bondage of the body but a bondage of the mind.
The Charleston 9 bear the mental bondage of religion, a state of captivity implemented during slavery and carried on as a remnant of volatile institution. The bible functions as a means to create a spirit that will accept enslavement and evil as an earthy state diffused in a devotion to Christ. It intertwines celebration, sacrifice, and commitment, commonly concluding with a prayer in which the oppressed close their eyes. It is this gesture of closing one’s eyes to pray that mirrors the essence of religion-blindness. These statements function in no way to blame the Charleston 9 for their murders at the hands of a white coward. They are brothers and sisters of the black collective, and we remain sore from the wounds of their loss. These statements do function to say that systemically, the western world enables people like the Charleston attacker to kill blacks in the manner that he did. In teaching blacks to fiercely abide by the teachings of God, the western world nurtures the black Christian to place love and faith everywhere but themselves, and to turn a blind eye to the cruelty that awaits them every time they wake up in the morning. White Christians would have never welcomed a black guest without suspicion, but the poison of Christianity prompts followers to be at peace when believed to be in the house of the lord.
Both incidents bear a special connection to the black community. Juneteenth symbolizes the announcement that slavery had ended and the Charleston 9 seemingly portrays justice as served to members of the black collective. Conversely, both incidents steal the spotlight from blackness and focus instead on a white male figure- both of whom I have purposely omitted from this post. Discussions of the Charleston shooting always revert to the young white male, not of the murdered church goers. Similarly, discussions of Juneteenth always deflects to a particular President, glorifying a racist megalomaniac for implementing an act that aided his initiatives and happened to free the slaves in the process.
This similarity is anything but a coincidence. Rather, both Juneteenth and the Charleston 9 betray white supremacist ambitions to avert the gaze away from black bodies that are not caricatured in evil, physical ugliness, or moral inferiority. Instead Juneteenth distorts history in an antiracist attempt that induces collective amnesia. The Charleston 9 illustrates the severity of white evil, but the white media uses its verdict to suggest “retribution,”although this case functions to:
- Encourage black christianity. Namely, to suggest that it is the black Christian, not the “thugs,” or “hyper sexualized beasts” that deserve protection under western law.
- Portray white evil as a cultural anomaly that is a threat to everyone, not just the black community.
Yet many intertwine each case as a cause for celebration. These instances however illustrate how reluctant we as a collective should be to celebrate, as it is this celebration that requires our closed eyes and lowered guard, subsequently inducing the essential disposition for our oppressors to assume central placement in our stories. This way, eventually when the world discusses the Charleston 9 and Juneteenth, they can do so without referencing blacks at all. This process of “whitening” is the same pernicious dynamic that will in time make Dr. King a white man who chose to love in a hateful world, and Harriet Tubman a white slave holder’s wife that stealthily led her husband’s slaves to freedom. This bleaching of black heroes, black tragedy, and black triumph, is not a question of “if” but of “When.” This process, seemingly happens overnight, but in actuality starts with a misdirected gaze that erases the true subject in the oppressed’s desire to celebrate.