I am angry. I’ve been angry since I was four and realized I couldn’t marry Martin Luther King, Jr. because he was dead.
I am scared. I’ve been scared since I was a teen, and truly understood the danger my father put himself in registering people to vote as a Freedom Rider. The level of terror that I feel as the mother of a Black son living in America is not something that I can begin to explain.
I am a namesake. My paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Graham. If I remember correctly, she died when my father was 12 or 13 years old. He named me Graeme after her. Every few years, the Graham cousins would have a reunion or bump into each other on the streets of Charleston. My dad would make a big deal over me being their 'namesake,' and depending on my age I was proud, embarrassed, secretly proud - but outwardly embarrassed, or just mildly annoyed with these interruptions of our daily routine. Still, it is part of my identity.
These stories - these little histories - are what make up our humanity. Memory and honor and family are some of the things you can’t tell about a person just by looking.
Cynthia Graham Hurd was my father’s cousin, and mine. She was one of those women who clucked over me as I was grew up – reminding me to do well in school, asking questions about what I wanted to be when I grew up, and subtly pressuring me to live up to the name I was given. Cynthia was also one of the nine people slaughtered inside Mother Emanuel on June 17th.
The second the media got hold of the name of the terrorist responsible for the shooting, they began looking up details about his life. Anyone interested can find out all about him; his family, his friends, his motives, and the burger officers bought him after his arrest.
He is humanized.
Pictures of those nine people massacred last week in Charleston can be found online, the Reverend gave some speeches that are floating around too, but that’s about it regarding their stories.
You don’t know who the victims are, and you're not supposed to.
You're supposed to focus on the terrorist. You're supposed to hear about his plausible mental issues and/or other possible reasoning and justifications for his actions that day.
The media humanizes the terrorist.
His victims? The people he martyred? They become faces on a unity banner or someone’s Facebook profile picture. They are not treated like actual people; people with favorite colors and dislikes, songs and TV shows that made them laugh and cry. They were people with best friends, secret crushes, pets, car payments, and health concerns. They had jobs with coworkers they hung out with and others they couldn’t stand. They left behind mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons, daughters and grandchildren.
They were human; beautifully and tragically human.
One of those victims had a namesake.
I hope one day this nation will come to terms with its tendency to humanize a White terrorist before humanizing a Black victim.
The only way things will change is through action, and I don’t see any real action happening - none that makes me less afraid for my son or family.
You can take down all the flags and stop selling memorabilia, but you don’t get any extra points from me for doing the decent thing. You can stand on a bridge and hold hands for a beautiful picture and feel really good about it. But when the flag comes down, and you’ve walked home from the bridge, the people of Mother Emanuel can no longer afford to live within walking distance of their church.
I hope one day we will face the fact that the man responsible for this is not a monster - he's just a racist.
Racism is alive and well, and I don't see things changing.
The infant mortality rate of Black children in South Carolina is so much higher than it is of White children we call it, "The Cradle of Shame." Black men are locked up for minor offenses, and my father gets scared every time he drives past a police car. Black girls are kicked out of school almost twice as often as White girls. Our school board invited a new potential Superintendent to interview with only White members, and no one batted an eye.
We need to acknowledge that evil walks among us. It does not take a monster to do evil things. Human beings, Americans, do evil things every day.