A young white man, filled with hatred for black people, drove across two states to an historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina. He was invited to join the Bible study group which was in session and sat in a pew for an hour.
Much study has shown that grief unfolds specific emotional stages…
First, Denial / Shock. Predictably upon hearing the news or seeing what happened, people covering their mouth, turning away and down and saying something like ‘Oh God… No!’
The other stages unfold less predictably, but include…
• And, eventually, acceptance
Good question. First, for those in other parts of the world, and those unfamiliar with this sad part of US history, a quick history lesson…
Slavery was a major part of the economy of the British Colonies. Free labor, violently kidnaped from West Africa, made the American South an economic powerhouse. Before farm machinery, agriculture was labor intensive and free labor is wildly profitable.
Imagine the worst. It was worse than that.
The original twelve colonies successfully rebelled against British Royal control declaring themselves independent on July 4th, 1776. That is 239 years ago. And so was born the United States of America.
There was vast diversity between the Northern and Southern states. The most divisive issue being slavery, although slavery was legal and used to a lesser extent in the North and had been since colonial days. Hundreds of years.
Long story short… in the 1860’s there was a big argument over whether slavery would continue. And, the Southern states had their own rebellion to maintain slavery. They declared themselves the Confederate States of American, ‘seceded’ from the Union and attacked a US military installation, starting the insanely bloody and misnamed ‘Civil War.’
The constitution of the Confederacy made it very clear that their position and the issue of the war was White Supremacy. That the ‘Negro race’ was less intelligent, more violent and intended, by God, to be subservient to whites. All there in writing.
Fast forward to the early twenty-first century,
and, the Confederate battle flag was still widely display and used on clothing and other goods as a symbol of ‘Southern Pride’ and ‘Our Heritage’ and to honor the noble ancestors who fought in ‘The War of Northern Aggression.’ By romanticizing the story for 150 years they rewrote the part about the South starting the war and it being about white supremacy.
Also conveniently hidden is that the battle flag was used as a symbol and warning to black people by the Ku Klux Klan… a white terrorist organization that perpetrated horrible violence to keep blacks ‘in their place,’ including lynchings and church burnings.
The display of that flag went dormant for a while, until the US government initiated desegregation of the schools in the South. Until then, the policy that maintained racial separation, called segregation, provided ‘separate but equal’ schools. It was a messy transition involving US Marshals and the National Guard protecting the first school children escorted into formerly all-white schools.
The KKK started displaying the Confederate flag again as another upsurge of their violent terrorism ensued.
So, here, Today…
There is still an argument about that flag. The symbol of white supremacy and terrorism, but which many consider the last vestige of their ‘Southern Heritage.’
It was so easy for me to rant against them. I was going through my own process of grief about the killings in South Carolina. I remember the Civil Right movement of the 1960’s and the violence against blacks (then still called Negro) trying to gain full citizenship rights and respect, including the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I have hated the Confederate flag and what it stands for all my life.
And then, it struck me…
For those who honor that flag, taking it down is another… perhaps the last… step in giving blacks full citizenship. Exactly the opposite of the Confederate credo that declared blacks less human that whites, and subservient to them.
That must be terrifying. Even if one has no conscious understanding of the white supremacist underpinnings, it is the back beat of the song that is Southern culture.
So, they are going through their own Grief and perhaps terror.
Shock and denial that this could even happen. Anger, spilling into violence, caused by their underlying fears. Bargaining and depression.
I am still dealing with own sadness and rage
over both the killings and the reactions to them.
But, I have found a place of compassion and a way to understand what the people I used to just call ‘Southern racists’ are going through. And, I can bless them in their grief and pain.
They are mourning their loss. My opinion about that does not change their profound grief.