Bear Witness

Today my heart is (still) broken for the Charleston community, and for our greater national community. My heart is broken that so many of our American people are still marginalized and oppressed, even after all the work we’ve done. I’m devastated that this happened, and even more devastated that it just keeps happening. I don’t want to feel like this.

I don’t want to see the picture of that young man whose path took him to the doors of that church. I don’t want to read his terrible manifesto. I don’t want to imagine how this man sat with those good people for a full hour before he killed them. I don’t want to know he even exists.

I don’t want to see the posts and comments from people I know who are minimizing or ignoring the role that racism plays in this incident, and in so many other similar incidents. I don’t want to witness more of this willful ignorance about racism and violence in America. I don’t want to hear about how he’s a “lone wolf;” how he is one bad apple in a sea of yummy ones (he isn’t).

I don’t want to read this article in which Felicia Sanders, who lost three family members in the shooting, describes her dead son as a hero. I don’t want to read the names of the people who died; I don’t want to know about who they were. I want them to be alive and well and to be comfortable knowing our paths might never cross. I don’t want to imagine the ripples of their loss, the sheer number of people suffering because of this.

I don’t want to read about the stupid confederate flag. I don’t want to read about how big businesses are having to use their influence to bring attention to the indefensible problems with government agencies displaying the flag. I don’t want to know that so many people are willing to look the other way, that there is still a vocal minority of conservatives that maintain power over this issue. I don’t want to feel this rage at the sudden media attention on this problem, after generations of activists have fought and died begging for someone in power to pay attention.

And let’s be real. I don’t have to. I could take those posts out of my feed. I could pretend it didn’t happen. I could scroll past, I could delete, I could skim and move on to the newest kitten gifs. There are so many people who can’t turn it off, who can’t escape the brutal daily reality of racism in America, and the fact that I can is a disgusting example of my own privilege as a white person. And that makes me sick too.

So what do I do with this?

I choose to bear witness.

To witness is passive. To bear witness is active. I walk toward my own discomfort and pain because I know it is nothing compared to others’. I willingly keep my eyes and ears open, even though I hate it, because these injustices deserve and demand to be witnessed – especially by white people. It is our moral obligation to witness and respond to this.

So I will bear witness. I will read the articles. I will look at the pictures. I will be sad every day. I will talk about it. I will write about it. I will listen. I will do my best to help others bear witness too. I will work to amplify the voices that are so often silenced.

The hashtag #saytheirnames has brought me to tears today, multiple times. So I cried. And said their names, out loud. Will you say them with me? It’s okay if you cry too.

Cynthia Hurd, 54

Susie Jackson, 87

Ethel Lance, 70

Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49

Hon. Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41

Tywanza Sanders, 26

Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74

Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 45

Myra Thompson, 59

Bear witness, and share what you witness.