I wrote this piece in 2015 after the attack on the Charleston 9. With the recent events of Charlottesville and other events around the country, I decided to revisit some of those feelings and reflect on them again.
June 17, 2015 nine shots rang out and hit nine black bodies. Not on a street corner, or on a basketball court, or outside of a club; No, these bodies were attacked in a sanctuary by a racially motivated terrorist. Ironically the word sanctuary means a place of refuge, an oasis, so when these nine members of Mother Emmanuel A.M.E went to bible study just like any other week they thought they were safe. Safe to be their black selves and worship among others that may or may not look like them.
21-year-old Dylan Roof enters the church, accepted into the group openly, most likely greeted with smiles and amens. Nine-people had no idea the malicious intent this man possessed. An hour they studied and fellowshipped together before Dylan stood up, wielded his weapon, and stated that killing these nine people was his duty. He said that we, as in blacks, were raping white women and taking over the country then started shooting. What was so sadistic about this shooting was, the killer was very meticulous and knew what church to target. The African Methodist Episcopal Church has been around for exactly 199 years, its first one being founded right here in Philadelphia. It is the oldest independent denomination founded by black people in the entire world, so it being attacked was no coincidence. This terrorist went after a distinct piece of black history. Thinking about this I attended the memorial service that was held at Bethel A.M.E while sitting in the congregation an uncomfortable question sparked in my soul: When and Where Can We Be Black? I mean the spaces seem to be disappearing as quickly as they pop up. Churches were one of the few places we had left but apparently, even sanctuaries aren’t even safe. Since the Charleston shooting, a growing number of primarily Black churches have been attacked mostly by arson but what is next? What do we need to do in order to feel safe as Black folk in America?
As the question wracked my brain, I decided to reach out and ask my peers two questions:
When and Where do you feel safe enough to be black?
Do you think there’s anything we can do to keep these spaces safe? What do you think can be done.
Here were some of their responses;
“Everywhere for me, I never feel I don’t need to be black. I think others want/don’t feel safe in/ or around white settings like work especially corporate America.”
“Safe for us? accept us, gain knowledge for us. When we become safe in who we are we will be safe around each other. We have to truly love us to be safe around us.
“ Honestly, Odunde and Breedlove Tuesday”
“ Shoot police on site….. lol. Seriously though they need to know there are consequences to their actions. When I say “they” I mean all whose minds are blinded by hate and insecurity.”
“Feeling safe is relative and objective. I am always me I don’t know how to be anything else anymore. I feel most comfortable in creative spaces where art is appreciated. Where intellects dwell and have real conversations with real solutions and real actions.
We have to continue to support one another spread the message of unity and love . Continue to be a resilient people and always be prepared to rebuild. They are undoubtedly afraid of us and will continue to try and burn us down.”
“ I always feel safe enough to be Black because it is the only way I can be. I can’t be anything else. And though I have access to upward mobility, there are many who look like me who will never be close to affluence so it’s my responsibility to remain recognizably black. For myself, for our ancestors, and for our future. I think real education and financial freedom will increase our ability to protect ourselves and our space.”
“What does safety mean? And to what extent? I know some people resort to this notion that with the current state of race and civil unrest in the United States, Africa would be the safest space for black Americans. But we have to shed this romanticized ideology in viewing Africa as this magically safe haven, void of any issues. Countries in Africa have their own issues. Queer people still get stoned in places like Nigeria. Female genitalia mutilation is still an ongoing issue throughout Africa. So off the back that’s queer people, and women and girls who are in danger in the land that so many view as a potential safe space, but that safety isn’t being endowed to everyone. So who’s really safe? Racism and Patriarchy are worldwide. Black life is threatened everywhere- even in the “comfort” of our own homes. Domestic violence and abuse, poverty, mental illness dismissal, all affect black households. How can one feel safe under these conditions? What does “safety” mean? And to whom? Physical safety, emotional safety – there are a variety of factors that must be applied to creating an all-around safe space for all black lives. It is a daunting task for black people to assume the burden of creating and protecting safe spaces. Not one of the 9 people shot and killed in that Church had control over the actions and rationale of that murderer. The only way that could have been prevented was if white supremacy and anti-black racism in America had been unpacked and unlearned and eradicated. But it’s not our job to take on every bigot or every racist. That would only perpetuate the state of restlessness for us – minds that are never at peace because of race-related injustices. That would be contributing to the disturbance of our mental safe space. There isn’t a concise method to combating this. We shouldn’t be forced to have to do anything to protect what shouldn’t have to be in danger in the first place.”
I’m always black however I never feel safe enough to be such yet I never feel unsafe either. As a group respect the fact that black is fluid.
“Home or when I’m surrounded by other black people. Nowhere or Nothing America isn’t built to protect black people”
Comment and tell me, Where do you feel safest being black?