In Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, I was taught that alcohol was not my problem. It was a symptom of my problem. The true problem ran much deeper than the substance I poured into my body.
A young man walked into one of the most historically significant African-American churches in the South, opened fire, and took the lives of 9 people. Not only are the lives of the families of those 9 people forever altered, an entire community now mourns, and a nation is brought face to face again with the reality of racism in our midst.
But he is not the problem. The problem runs much deeper.
The problem is hate. In a state that still flies a flag that is a symbol of hatred, division, and white supremacy people are actually asking where this young man could have learned to hate black people the way he does.
It is not enough to think we can just ignore our differences and our nation’s history and the result will be our children growing up to be loving and accepting. We must teach love. We must teach appreciation of one another’s cultural differences. We must be examples of this in the ways we speak and the ways we act. We must set the example in speaking against injustice of any kind. Until we actively teach love and appreciation of our differences, we will face these issues over and over.
The problem is maintenance of the status quo. We don’t want to be uncomfortable. We don’t want anyone to rock the boat. We want to believe that things are okay. Or at the very least that they are better than 50 years ago. We want to believe that if we don’t talk about the problems that exist we can pretend they don’t exist.
The problem is too many white people have allowed the status quo to go unchallenged.
The problem is too many of you are upset with me saying “white people” in my last statement than with the truth of that statement.
As Christians (especially white Christians), we are often unwilling to talk about racism from the pulpit because we are afraid it will make us uncomfortable when we mess with the status quo at church. But nine people had their lives taken from them while they were at church. It’s okay for us to get a little uncomfortable.
“The way things used to be” or “the way things are” is not good enough. The status quo lulls us into a false sense of security. We think we are balanced. But that balance comes at the expense of recognizing those for whom balance is little more than a fantasy. We must wake up to the problems that exist around us. We must acknowledge our role, either explicit or implicit. We must make changes. The simplest way to begin that is build relationships with people who have different experiences than we do. And it must be intentional.
The problem is trying to make excuses instead of facing what the real problem is. Media sources came out yesterday trying to proclaim that this was a religious issue, not a racial one. Many pundits said we would never know what the motive truly was behind what he did. Many people took to social media to say this was not about race and we should quit making everything about race and we are race-baiters for saying this was a racist attack.
Do you know who made this a racial issue? The shooter did. Him and only him. He made this a racial issue when he chose the place he chose; when chose the victims he chose; when he spoke the words he chose: “You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”
When we refuse acknowledge the real problem we alienate ourselves from those who are truly victims. Racism is still alive and well in our country and when we try to sweep it under the rug or give it a different name or turn a blind eye to it we are telling people of color that we truly don’t care about them or their experiences.
When we acknowledge that racism exists, we can do something about it. When we confront the structures and systems that are infected with the disease of institutional racism we can begin to effect change.
But we cannot change anything until we point to it and say, “This can stand no longer.”
The shooter perpetrated a horrific evil earlier this week. But he is not the problem. The problem runs much deeper.
The problem is the system that allowed him to grow into that hate and the individuals who turned a blind eye and a deaf ear because they thought everything was “good enough.”
Let us work on the real problem.