The AME or African Methodist Episcopal Church fostered my earliest spiritual growth. Sunday services, Easter speeches, Mother's Day programs, Men’s Day, Usher Appreciation Day, Vacation Bible School — all of these are part of my memories from childhood to adulthood. It's been years since I've attended church (moving around and overall laziness of finding a new church home... I know, I know. I can hear my grandmother quietly disapproving of my excuse-making), but I can still recite AME Liturgy from memory. I know this banner with the African National Colors — red, black, and green framing the Christian Cross with the anvil - representing hard work - very well.
Richard Allen, an emancipated slave, founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church—the oldest independent Christian demonimation founded by people of African descent—in 1816. In my upbringing I came to associate Bishop Allen and the AME Church with a very strong Black Liberation Theology. The church is unapologetically Black and unapologetically Christian. Members, clergy and leadership of the AME church have participated in every major freedom struggle in the U.S. - from abolition, to defying Jim Crow and Segregation, to fighting for civic, political, economic and educational franchisement today. My social justice activist roots definitely were born in the AME church and continues to be fed by its leadership.
So it was with an especially heavy heart that I received the news of the massacre of nine precious souls (plus the traumatization of two others who survived) at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Wednesday night is bible study night for most churches. Those six women could have been my aunties, those men could have been my uncles and cousin.
This is how I feel.
I'm just tired. I'm tired of being anxious and afraid. I'm tired of greiving the lost of life of people who look like me. Who could have been me or my siblings or parents or nieces or cousins or grand parents or my neighbors or my students. I'm tired of bad shit dispropotionately impacting my community! These tragic events born of racist, disenfrachising policies and attitudes are too much for my soul and body and psyche to bear. I swear, most people have no effing idea how hard it is for people of color, black people in particular, to show up to work and be present, let alone continue to perform.
Can you even imagine the weariness we endure when we show up to work, in the lab, in the field, in the office and try to go on with the day? Can you imagine how isolating it is to be at your desk surrounded by co-workers or fellow grad students and everyone is humming along about their day or weekend and you're the one sitting in silence trying to not burst into tears or scream?
Now can you imagine having someone say or suggest you just suck it up or that you should focus on 'the science' as if that's all that matters? When people you (may) know or have connection to (via family, church, school, or greek letter affiliation) have been slain in the sanctuary? We can't go to store and walk back home. We can't stand on the corner. We can't cross the street. We can't go to the pool. We can't play in the park. We can't wait for the train. We can't knock on a door or flag for help because our car brokedown on the highway. We can't even pray in church...and feel safe.
What other ways of performing do we need to demonstrate to feel safe? Why can't we just be...safe and feel secure while we just minding our own business? I'm exhausted of performing, of going out of my way of instructing other students of color of how to perform in order to stay alive, safe, "off of the radar" and beyond suspicion. If this isn't what terrorism feels like, then I'm completely befuddled. Racism is terrorism; and I swear Black folks in America have PTSD.
I'll be sure to stay focused on the science only when that's all that matters in life. In the meantime, I have to focus on staying alive and keeping my family as safe as possible while I crank out what data I can.