Where I Stand, as I Speak Their Names

I grieve with and for the people of Charleston this week.

I grieve with and for the members of “Mother Emanuel,” the oldest AME church in the South. With and for the families and friends of the nine people shot and killed there this week by a white supremacist in an act of domestic terrorism.

Before I speak for myself on this incident — which I do because (in the words of Jamilah Lemieux) to choose silence, as a white person, is to choose the side of consent, complicity, and violence — I want to honor the names, the faces, and the stories of those nine women and men, who are no longer able to lift their own voices in love or anger or strength or sorrow or peace or frustration or song or prayer.

We must now raise our voices for them.

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Top left: Ethel Lance, 70, a sexton at the church who worked as a custodian at the Charleston’s Gaillard Municipal Auditorium for more than 30 years before retiring in 2002. Top center: Tywanza Sanders, 26, a graduate of Allen University who earned a degree in business administration last year. Top right:Cynthia Hurd, 54, manager of the St. Andrews Regional Library who had worked for the Charleston County Public Library for 31 years. Middle left: Rev. Depayne Middleton Doctor, 49, a church singer and former Charleston County community development block grant employee who retired in 2005. Middle center: Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41, a pastor at Emanuel AME and South Carolina State Senator. Middle right: Susie Jackson, 87, a longtime church member who was a member of the choir and served on the usher board. Bottom left: Myra Thompson, 59, an active member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority who was married to the Rev. Anthony Thompson, a vicar at Holy Trinity REC in Charleston. Bottom center: Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74, a member of the church’s ministerial staff. Bottom right: Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, a speech therapist and girls’ track and field coach at Goose Creek High School in suburban Charleston. [via Shakesville, “His Motive Is Known“]

In the midst of his shooting spree, the killer was quite specific about his racist motives — and about wanting those motives to be known. According to a survivor, he told the group, “You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” 

The lynching-logic of “black men threaten white women” has a foul, persistent history. It is equally repugnant (if not equally deadly) as a pronouncement from a rabid man with a gun or an implication in the mouth of a poet with an audience. And while logical inconsistency is hardly the greatest human failure Dylann Roof has committed in his 21 short years, his act of claiming “you rape our women” as cause and then killing twice as many women as men does warrant attention. 

Over on Facebook, LaKeyma Pennyamon penned a challenge to white feminists to call out the racialized misogyny embodied in this language:

He said, “You rape our women” and this would be a great opportunity for the supposed “intersectional” white feminists to proclaim “Not In Our Names” and begin a conversation about how white womanhood and purity is frequently mobilized to justify violence against Black people. [h/t Anne Thériault]

When I first read Roof’s words, I myself wanted to shout the words of Melissa McEwan from every rooftop: “I am a white woman and a survivor of rape, and I am angry in ways I cannot even begin to articulate that my identity and my lived experience is being invoked in defense of eliminationist violence against black women and men” [emphasis added].

White supremacy cohabitates quite comfortably with sexism, in both misogynist and benevolent [to white women] forms. The most virulent misogyny of the white supremacist is misogynoir. Killing Black women in the name of protecting “womanhood” ceases to be illogical if one denies that Black women even are women. As Rebecca Carol writes, this denial has long caused Black women very real (in this case, deadly) consequences:

The idea that white women’s bodies represent that which is inviolable while black women’s are disposable hasn’t changed enough since it was first articulated by white men; but again, aimed at black men on Wednesday night, it was predominately black women who suffered by their invocation.

I write today to say #NotInMyName.

I write to say again #BlackLivesMatter.

I write to reject silence — to acknowledge that I benefit from this nation’s systemic dehumanizing of certain people, in certain bodies — and to articulate my allegiances, on this day and every day:

* * *

I stand on the side of the vulnerable, the children, the mentally ill, the hungry, the poor.

* * *

I stand in solidarity with the stateless, whether fleeing in desperation or driven out after their own government disowns them.

I stand with those for whom lack of a paper means ripping their hearts in two across a line that is both imaginary and all too real

* * *

I stand with the criminalized and the caged. I stand with those my government tortures in solitary confinement. I stand with those my government would kill

I stand with those white America terrorizes, whether at home or abroad.

* * *

I stand with all those designated as ‘fair targets’ by this country’s systems and power structures. (Sometimes quite literally.)

With those whose very lives are deemed pathology.

With those who are called ‘voiceless’ when in truth their voices are stolen, talked over, drowned out, or simply ignored.

I stand, with Tamura Lomax, in solidarity with the Black living as well as the dead

* * *

None of the categories I name exists separate from the others. They overlap; they intersect; they reinforce. 

I stand with all those whose lives matter — and yet whose mattering must still fight to achieve recognition, let alone the protection they need.

Let alone the safety and space we all deserve.

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Rest in power, gentle souls taken too soon and with such brutality.

4 thoughts on “Where I Stand, as I Speak Their Names

  1. Thanks for naming the victims. and for this quote : “I am a white woman and a survivor of rape, and I am angry in ways I cannot even begin to articulate that my identity and my lived experience is being invoked in defense of eliminationist violence against black women and men.” It’s amazing the insidious acts that continue to blame and use survivors of violence while removing responsibility from where it truly belongs.

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  2. I agree with the concept you shared by Rebecca Carol on the disposable black female as identified by white men. One only has to briefly look at the history of slavery to grasp even the smallest portion of this concept. I did have to wonder though, because you note the obvious, that more women were murdered here than men, if part of that disposable commodity of ‘black female’ comes from the conviction that it is the black female who bears and births the black male, thus another justification for supremacists to label black women as easily inconsequential, as nothing more than breeding stock and thus just as easily put down as their offspring…

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    1. I don’t doubt that brutality against women sometimes occurs as a means of destroying their children (certainly this happens in civil wars/genocides) and, even more often, as a tool for hurting men through hurting “their” women. In this mass killing, though, I haven’t seen any evidence pointing to that as a thought-out motive on the shooter’s part — and, bluntly, I haven’t seen much evidence that Roof is enough of a thinker to have worked that out.

      The only person he seems to have specifically targeted was the Rev. Pinckney, who he made a point of sitting next to, during the hour that he sat in the worship group with them. I suspect the higher proportion of women may have just resulted from having more women than men in attendance that night? (Though that’s speculation.)

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