Thinking of Mother Emanuel

The attack at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston had me thinking at two o’clock this morning.  And I probably should have just written about it then.  I seem to recall some pretty coherent thoughts.  I hope I can remember them now.

My heart aches for the families of those who were killed.  At a prayer service, one of those speaking said that if we believe Jesus did not die in vain, then we must also believe that their family members did not die in vain.  I hope they can take comfort in that thought.  I know I would have wanted to scream if someone had told me that a day after Sofia died.  But I don’t have that kind of faith.  As far as religion is concerned, I’m not really sure what I believe these days.  And if their family members do not find comfort in their faith, maybe they will once they’ve had time to grieve.

It makes me angry.  It makes me sad.  I don’t understand it.  I don’t understand how one can hold such hatred for strangers.  Are there people I don’t like?  Of course.  Are there people who annoy me?  Absolutely.  But I can’t imagine hurting them.  And I don’t understand how one could extrapolate to sheer bigotry.  I may dislike a person who is tall, but I don’t extend that dislike to all tall people.  I don’t hate all tall people simply because I’ve been treated poorly by one.  And I don’t hate all blonde people because I’ve heard that they can be mean sometimes even though they’ve never actually done anything to me.  I don’t understand how, in this day and age, one comes to such a place of hatred.

And this violence stemmed from a very strong hatred.  The 9/11 terrorists did a horrible thing.  But they did not look at each passenger as an individual and say, “I’m going to kill you.”  How can we treat the attack at Mother Emanuel as something less?  To me, despite the fact that fewer people were killed, it is in many ways much much worse.  To sit with people for an hour before pulling out a gun, looking at each person in the church, and saying, in effect, “I don’t know you, but I know I hate you.  And I’m going to kill you.”  (If you haven’t seen Jon Stewart’s monologue about the attack, you can watch it here.)

But in my home in Michigan, removed from the South with it’s legacy of Jim Crow, mostly it makes me sad.  I’m sad to know that my daughter was born into a world where this sort of racism still exists.  Yes, I believe the First Amendment protects even the most hateful of speech.  The government should not be in the job of condemning speech.  But that doesn’t mean that we, as a society, have to condone it.

Of the reporting I’ve heard, there’s one thing that has made me say, “I want to hear more.”  Apparently one of the terrorist’s friends has described him as a white supremacist who had been plotting this attack.  The reason I want to hear more is because of that word:  friend.  Is the media using the word “friend” because there is no better word?  But “neighbor”, “acquaintance”, “classmate”…  There are other options.  So I want to know if this individual considered himself a friend.  I want to know how, if he knew about the terrorist’s views, they were still friends.  Because to me there are two ways you’re still friends.  1:  You listened to his ramblings and agreed with them.  2:  You listened to his ramblings and said nothing.  And both of those are bad.  I hope that my daughter grows up strong enough that if she confronts such bigotry in one of her friends, that she does just that.  Confronts it.  That she has the strength to challenge her friend’s views.  I hope she has the strength to say that she does not hate them for their views, but that she cannot call herself their friend while they hold such unsupported hatred in their hearts.

And being a theatre girl, of course I kept thinking of South Pacific.  “Carefully Taught” has always been my favorite song.  Even when I was a kid, I loved that song.  Even when I didn’t totally understand its message, the rhythm of the music and the meter of the lyric made me feel that there was something special about it.  And as an adult, as a parent, it means even more.  I hope I teach my daughter to recognize the humanity in all people.  I hope that I teach her compassion and empathy.

I’ll leave you with this version of “Carefully Taught”.  It’s one of my favorites.  It’s a mash-up with “Children Will Listen” from Into the Woods, sung by Mandy Patinkin.  It really increases the impact of the message of each song.  Does he over-emote at times?  Did Count Rugen kill Inigo Montoya’s father?  But I still love it.  It still reminds me of the responsibility each generation has to help teach the next to be better.  And maybe someday we’ll have a world where this hatred has finally burned itself out.

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