Charleston Three Months Later: Caught With Our Eyes Closed

Today, September 17, 2015 marks the three month anniversary of the Charleston Shooting. On June 17, Dylann Roof walked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and opened fire, killing 9 Black parishioners in the midst of bible study.

Roof stated that his murder of six Black women and three Black men was undertaken because, “You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country, and you have to go.” Neither Roof’s actions nor the twisted logic behind them were an anomaly. They fall within an ugly history of enacting violence against Black bodies in the course of policing the boundaries of race and maintaining white supremacy.

Yet in less than three months this disturbing event has basically disappeared from our public discourse. A narrative of forgiveness was put forward almost immediately after the shooting, with Charleston County Magistrate James Gosnell Jr. even asking for sympathy for Roof’s family.

We refuse to forget this massacre so quickly. Charleston represents not only the disgrace of racial terrorism in the United States, but also the broader failure of American society to confront the implications of this tragedy.

Felicia Sanders, one of three survivors of the shooting, said that Roof’s actions “caught us with our eyes closed.” When Roof opened fire, Sanders had just closed her eyes in prayer. Yet in many ways the nation continues to be caught with its eyes closed to the gravity of the Charleston massacre. We must open our eyes wide to the reality that racial terror is a daily threat to the lives of people of color living in our society.

Discourses of forgiveness and grace ought not foreclose the urgent need for the nation to grapple with what Charleston teaches us about the state of racial terror in the United States today. The ethos that gave rise to Roof’s manifesto -- the idea that some groups of people are pathogens within this society -- continues to inform public discourses about a number of issues, including gun control, state violence, immigration, welfare and education.  Thus, it is critical for us to situate Charleston within the larger history of racist patriarchy in America; and to continue our calls to link feminism and antiracism in our social justice advocacy.

Together, let's show that a critical mass of Americans are not ready to lay Charleston to rest.  We can no longer afford to ignore how racism and patriarchy are inextricably linked to both the disturbing patterns of racial bigotry that continue to confront communities of color, and the horrific unfolding of Roof’s white supremacist ideology. Indeed, the Charleston Imperative demands that our social justice movements respond to these twin threats. If you have not yet signed The Charleston Imperative: Why Feminism and Antiracism Must Be Linked, please do so now. If you have signed, please share the statement with your friends, loved ones and social networks.

Please also join us in sharing the Charleston graphic and the following Tweets throughout the day using the hashtag #CharlestonDisgrace:

Charleston "caught us with our eyes closed." We cannot be blind to the realities of racism & patriarchy. #CharlestonDisgrace

On the 3-month anniversary of #Charleston we must renew our commitment to fighting ALL forms of racism & patriarchy #CharlestonDisgrace

We refuse to forget how the lives of the #Charleston9 were stolen. We will remember the #CharlestonDisgrace.

3 months ago Dylann Roof took 9 innocent Black lives in an act of racial terrorism. Is forgiveness enough? #CharlestonDisgrace

3 months ago 6 women and 3 men lost their lives in the #CharlestonDisgrace. ALL Black lives are at risk of racial terrorism.

Grace, amazing though it is, should not spell the end of our responsibility to address the root of racist violence. We will neither forget nor forgive how the lives of Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Daniel Simmons Jr. and Myra Thompson were stolen from their families. We will keep our eyes wide open. We will remember Charleston.