Waking Late, Blackness & Dylann Roof

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I am, at long last, becoming the girl-woman who consistently appreciates being in her own skin. I have morphed into something other than a butterfly, which is how I used to romanticize my life in older blogging days. I used to use images of butterflies and rainbows and shit to describe the poetry of my life, when in reality, there was more chaos and entropy than there was rhythm and syncopation.

Nowadays I have become the girl-woman who loves her blackness and has learned to be comfortable with being black in a world which frequently not only rejects blackness, but is also hostile towards it. That’s not to say I never enjoyed being black, I had my moments. When I was in my twenties and a bit more fearless, reckless and brazen, I was more pronounced about my black love. Back then I was well-read with black literature, although I doubt I understood the scope of everything I was reading. But I knew enough to fall hard for Malcom and proceeded to fall even harder for Angela, Assata, bell and a number of others.

I was in an academic environment where, on campus, we would sit around enlightening and encouraging each other. But once the college days ended, we would all inevitably spread out, returning to the real world of working, paying bills, starting families, and raising children. Besides I had alcoholic priorities and addiction roads to travel. In addition to that, I hadn’t been raised to love myself or to love black people or to pay particular attention to the black struggle movement. I did not hail from that kind of nucleus household. I had to figure out most of adult life on my own. Taking vodka along seemed like a good idea at the time.

Nevertheless, here I am today at age 51, becoming the girl-woman God created me to be. And I don’t mind who knows it. I’m this beautiful discovery of late-blooming black love. And that’s all I want to say about that for now.

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I know there are droves of us, citizens, who have grown accustomed to varying levels of pretense around the racial issues which dog all of us. I can’t do it anymore. I love you guys, I do. But no, I won’t pretend. Pretending only brought about confusion, misunderstandings and a number of relationships built on lies as Americans. Pretending also brought forth some of our worst nightmares. Before there was Donald Trump as president, there was also a Dylann Roof. Dylann is what a country gets when it pretends that racism doesn’t exist. Dylann is the boy-man who walked into a black church twenty-seven months ago in Charleston, South Carolina, pretended to be interested in a prayer meeting, and then proceeded to open fire, murdering nine black worshippers in cold blood.

Dylann is in prison awaiting a death sentence that may or may not happen in my life time. This goes on my blog today because while many citizens have the luxury of moving on with their lives, this domestic terrorist act committed by a self-proclaimed white supremacist is the kind of racial reality which continues to haunt some of us as black people.

Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, a sagacious and eloquent writer, is one of my writing heroes. Recently Rachel traveled to Dylann’s hometown in South Carolina to view his murder trial, gather information and write about the murdered victims. But after spending some time there (numerous months, actually) Rachel, astute writer that she is, seeing how unremorseful Dylann behaved during the court proceedings — he represented himself at different stages of the trial — regarding the murders, she decided to make the focus of the story Dylann Roof himself.

Have you ever read a portrayal of events so accurate you felt like you were there? Have you ever read something which summed up feelings you struggled to accurately articulate? That’s what this essay by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah about Dylann Roof did for me. By focusing on Dylann’s heinous and hateful crimes, this courageous writer correctly depicted the evil and horrific side of American life. We are a country of many cultures and ethnic backgrounds. Among us, there are plenty of beautiful people of all colors. But we really need to look closely at how a Dylann Roof came to wreak such havoc among us.

According to Rachel, during the testimonies of the survivors and members of the victims’ families, Dylann refused to look up.

Here are a few excerpts (highlighted in blue) from A Most American Terrorist: The Making of Dylann Roof by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, published August 21, 2017 in GQ Magazine:

Roof was safeguarded by his knowledge that white American terrorism is never waterboarded for answers, it is never twisted out for meaning, we never identify its “handlers,” and we could not force him to do a thing. He remained inscrutable. He remained in control, just the way he wanted to be.

For the purpose of the article, while spending time in South Carolina, Rachel met and talked with some of Dylann’s family members, schoolmates, and neighbors. Speaking of a conversation she had with a few of his drinking buddies, she wrote:

Roof could talk about shooting up a college, brandish his gun, use racist slurs, all without being considered outlandish. These instances evaporated into their ears as liquored-up loose talk. To this day, Roof’s friends seem to have a striking inability to process the gravity of what he did. They have said things like: “He would talk about killing people, but none of us took him seriously.”

Based on witness testimony during the trial, Rachel goes on to recount what happened on the evening of the murders:

Dylann Roof arrived in Charleston at 7:48 P.M. In the preceding weeks, he’d purchased 88 bullets at Wal-Mart. They were hollow-point bullets, designed to expand when they hit body tissue and cause catastrophic damage as they passed through their target. He drove into the gated parking of the Mother Emanuel (Church) around 8:15 P.M. Then he walked into the basement entrance where the 12 members of the Bible Study were gathered in the Fellowship Hall.

Though the article is long, I encourage you to follow the link and read the rest of it here.

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Discussing such intense race issues on earlier blogs in bygone years used to fill me with anxiety and fury and apprehension. Writing about the subject filled me with a variety of conflicting emotions because I couldn’t figure out where I fit and I didn’t really understand how I was supposed to feel because, really, who was I? Was I just a woman or just some black person or was I just an American? Was I a mother or a wife or a black woman? Or was I a daughter or a sister? I thought I had to keep switching between my roles and when I switched, I thought I had to secret away the appendages of the unspoken roles.

If I was speaking as an American, I couldn’t let other Americans know how much I truly loved black people. And if I was a daughter I couldn’t let other daughters know I was marred by childhood sexual abuse. And if I was a mother, I couldn’t let other mothers know I preferred drunken stupor over parenting my children. I thought I had to keep all my personas separate and apart from each other. But then along comes a white supremacist terrorist shattering the lives of daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, mothers, wives, Americans, fathers and husbands too!

Listen, the truth is, as a black person living in America, life to me has always felt precarious. While there are plenty of non-blacks being good neighbors and loving friends to many, some are just not. Everyday of my life I am faced with stereotypical media portrayals of black people, workplace acts of micro-aggressive behaviors from people who view me as “other” while viewing themselves as mainstream, frequent police aggression towards my brethren, and so much more as a black person in America. And for too long (decades!) I thought the best way to get along was to either shrink to avoid being noticed or be seen as so happy and joyful, I wouldn’t be perceived as a threat. I’m not the only black person who has felt this way. What I now know, what many black people have always known, what some Americans of all colors have known too, is this— pretending to be something you’re not in order to get along does not work. No matter who any of us are, we are all potential sitting ducks for random violence. So you may as well go ahead and be who you truly are, living your best life.

I really encourage everyone reading this post to take the time to read the article in its entirety— A Most American Terrorist: The Making of Dylann Roof by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah.

In the meantime this is me, becoming the woman who is finally unapologetic about loving her black self.