I was on the way to Charleston on Friday, June 26, 2015, as President Obama gave the eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine African-American members of the AME Emanuel Church who were gunned down by a white 21-one-year-old who had been indoctrinated by a white supremacist organization. I was on the way to a city that embodies in so many ways the contradictions, struggles, pain that 150 years – no, 300 years – have not erased from this country. The bloody war, known in the North as the Civil War, in some parts of the South still called the War Between the States, or less benignly, the War of Northern Aggression, still incites pain. Black or white, Northern or Southern, the history of war, occupation, slavery, Jim Crow, voter suppression is unfortunately alive today.
President Obama said,
For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate flag stirred in too many of our citizens. It’s true, a flag did not cause these murders. But as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats, now acknowledge — including Governor Haley, whose recent eloquence on the subject is worthy of praise — as we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride. For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now.
Removing the flag from this state’s capitol would not be an act of political correctness; it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought — the cause of slavery — was wrong — the imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong. It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history; a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds. It would be an expression of the amazing changes that have transformed this state and this country for the better, because of the work of so many people of goodwill, people of all races striving to form a more perfect union. By taking down that flag, we express God’s grace.
But I don’t think God wants us to stop there. For too long, we’ve been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present. Perhaps we see that now. Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty, or attend dilapidated schools, or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career.
Perhaps it causes us to examine what we’re doing to cause some of our children to hate. Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal justice system — and leads us to make sure that that system is not infected with bias; that we embrace changes in how we train and equip our police so that the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve make us all safer and more secure.
Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it, so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs, but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal. So that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote. By recognizing our common humanity by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin or the station into which they were born, and to do what’s necessary to make opportunity real for every American — by doing that, we express God’s grace.
I am moved by this eloquent response to unspeakable tragedy. I am moved by the families of those massacred, who offered forgiveness to the murderer. I am moved by the people of Charleston, who, rather than withdrawing into factions and anger, came together with tears in the face of this tragedy. I hope that political divisions can be put aside as we come together to work for a better tomorrow.
It’s not about the Confederate Flag. It’s about us. All of us. May we all be Charleston, and create a better future for our country, united.
About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:
Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.” Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com
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