- Nurturing a Relationship with Racism:An Essay Written in Reaction to the Tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina
On June 17, 2015, nine people were shot and killed at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC. This raw tragedy, motivated by racism and hatred, occurred in the midst of several police killings of unarmed Black men. These tragedies sparked nationwide and international discourse on racism and discrimination in the United States. From news articles to social media commentary, there is one universal take away: America is not a post-racial society and there is a long road towards reaching a civilization where racism is not a stimulus for murder or injustice. In the meantime, perhaps like many others, I am struggling to find a place for racism in my life.
Over the years, I have begun to feel as if I have to grab racism and situate it in a place where the mere thought of its existence does not dictate the decisions I make or how I communicate with others. I have been unsuccessful in my attempts. What I have learned about racism from conversations with family and friends, posts on social networks, and encountering racism face to face, is that each individual has their own relationship with racism. My unending objective is to nurture this relationship with racism so that it moves from being a burden I attempt to ignore to an aspect of my life that I have more control over. By nurture, I mean develop an understanding of how racism affects me, in addition to observing how that understanding dictates my thoughts and behaviors. Nurturing my relationship with racism has become a bustle that has both positive and negative effects on my life and experiences.
Negatively, nurturing my relationship with racism fortifies the general grief I feel realizing that this relationship is not one I choose to be in, but one I must. I am touched by every racial injustice, as if the victim were a member of my own family. I cannot break up with racism. We cannot divorce. This relationship calls for my unwavering awareness and responsiveness. Positively, nurturing my relationship with racism has enriched my relationships with others. It is critical for me to consider the relationship others have with racism to create an understanding that fosters healthy conversations about racism and its outcomes. This means adjusting the ways I communicate by choosing my language thoughtfully, affording others the right to disagree with my opinions [End Page x] about race and discrimination, and purposefully choosing to keep a loving heart when the atmosphere is filled with hatred.
Like the availability of health care for the poor and underserved or the unemployment rate in the United States, racism is not something we can ignore. Before we can collectively work to reduce injustice on the basis of race, we must discover the role racism plays in our individual lives. From there, we can uncover how our relationship with racism orders how we communicate and behave, and then utilize this new understanding as a tool to become more conscious of who we are and what we stand for. Taking note of what we do is the most effective way to identify what we truly believe. When the pastor and members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church opened the doors to a stranger who would open fire an hour later, they believed they should love their neighbor as themselves. In this case, that profound conviction meant they paid the ultimate cost. [End Page xi]
MS. THOMAS is a Sr. Editorial Assistant at the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved. Her graduate studies in communication focus on discourse within and across racial and ethnic groups in the United States. She also works in the area of gender studies. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.