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Six Months After Emanuel Massacre Love And Unity Is A Misperception
12/22/2015 1:23:17 PM

Community leaders in a spirited prayer circle during the early morning hours after the June 17 Charleston Massacre. Photo by Joel Woodhall
By Barney Blakeney

December 17 marked six months since nine Black victims were massacred by a white supremacist at Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston. The horror of the mass murders was magnified by the fact that the gunman espoused his racist hatred after sitting with the church members an hour during a weekly Bible study class before shooting the victims.

In the aftermath of the bloodshed, a community and nation stunned by the dastardly act made an outpouring of compassion demonstrated by donations of millions of dollars to those most affected by the crime and proclamations of a desire to atone for past injustices.

But as the six month anniversary of the massacre approached social media postings uncovered cadets at The Citadel engaging in a Christmas party where they dressed in costumes similar to those of the Ku Klux Klan. The revelation causes some to ask if the perception of Charleston’s love and unity is surface lip service masking subterranean racism. Charleston NAACP President Dot Scott and the College of Charleston’s History and African American Studies professors Bernard Powers and Anthony Greene, respectively, were asked to respond to that question.

Optimistically, Scott said its too soon to tell if the community’s verbal commitments to love and unity are genuine. Beyond the state legislature’s immediate response removing the Confederate Flag from the grounds at the S.C. Statehouse, there has been no legislation to eliminate disparities that exist among Blacks and whites, she said.

“It’s hard to say if the massive change that needs to happen can happen. And certainly that would be hard to see in six months,” Scott said.

Powers and Greene had more definite responses. While the admonitions of love and unity espoused after the Emanuel murders may be genuine, the reality of fulfillment is a different story, Powers said. Honest discussion of our racist past is an uncomfortable conversation that’s most often avoided. And while compassion for the nine murdered victims at Emanuel may be genuine, too many others still are trying to cover up the details that rationalize the present, he said.

Powers said the love and unity many feel were born in response to media reports about the forgiveness espoused by survivors of those massacred and the lack of a violent reaction to the murders from the Black community offers a false perception of the reality.

The reality is that the murders didn’t occur in a community where violent responses were likely.

Blacks in the Charleston community experience many of the same racial disparities and frustration that fueled riots in other cities, Powers said, but the history of race relations in Charleston create a different set of circumstances. First, the murders were not committed in the Black community where residents would react immediately. And, as with other racially inflammatory incidents of the past, authorities moved quickly to deter potential violence.

Greene said the perception of a forgiving Black constituency and a coinciding mainstream community of whites willing to atone for the atrocities perpetrated against them almost is laughable. The projection of post-Emanuel massacre Charleston is not the reality, he said.

Even the perception of the survivors’ forgiveness is not realistic, he said. “The media stuck cameras in those peoples’ faces and asked them if they were willing to forgive Dylan Roof. What did they expect them to say? People coming together hugging and praying was a beautiful scene, but that’s not the norm.”

Although the state legislature removed the Confederate Flag from the State Capitol grounds, the legislature’s refusal to expand Medicare or improve schools in the state’s ‘corridor of shame’ are better examples of the norm, Powers said.

Greene said though the outpouring of compassion may be more symbolic than substantive, it does offer an opportunity for unfiltered conversations about race.

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