Tag Archives: Charleston

Black Churches Burning: A Brief Look

It has been over a month since the vicious attack on Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. In the immediate aftermath of this event at least six other predominantly African American churches in the South caught fire. In fact, just last week at Houston’s Fifth Ward Missionary Baptist Church was significantly damaged by fire. Although arson was not the definitive cause for all these fires it is difficult, to brush these incidents off as merely coincidences would be a mistake. The truth is the United States has a long history of racism, and included in that is a history of White Supremacists burning Black churches down: see this timeline. The way we discuss these occurrences is largely symptomatic of the discomfort that many feel when discussing the issue of race in relation to social problems.

For many who can recall some of the darkest times in American history the very notion of a church burning is very ominous. Church burnings have most often been associated with racialized violence and an attack on one of the treasured institutions in many African American religious traditions. It dates back to before the Civil War and has continued through various Civil Rights periods and into the present. One of the most famous cases of church burning occurred at the 1963 bombing of 16 Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. This particular attack killed four African American girls and helped to mobilize a nation against racism. By 1995 church burnings became such a concern that President Clinton set up a church-arson task force and even passed a law to increase the sentencing for arsonist who targeted religious institutions. Although the task force was short lived before it was disbanded in 1999 it had completed investigations into 827 incidents where churches were burned. Since the task forces disbandment it has been much more difficult to get a good estimate of the amount of churches that have been intentionally burned. Incidents are now reported to the National Fire Incident Reporting System. More often than not most cases are classified as “suspicious” until they can officially be ruled as intentional fires, despite the difficulty in determining this.

For the most part someone has to make abundantly obvious their intentions or the perpetrator must be caught with evidence that supports arson or hate as the main motivations for this crime. It is easy for White Christians like The Gospel Coalition’s Joe Carter to dismiss Black Christians’ concern for domestic terrorism when it comes to church burnings. Church buildings are viewed as sacred places, as spaces designed to confront racism in the midst of a racist society. The White Church’s history of shielding itself from the suffering of Black people and black churches is tied up with the long history of White domination. Needless to say it is challenging to say  at the least to classify many church fires as either arson or racially motivated crimes. However, this does not mean that church burnings have not been closely linked other forms of racial violence in the past. It does not take away from the peculiar timing of the recent church burnings that has coincided with a hate crime that made national headlines perpetuated against the oldest African American Church in the South.

The burning of churches has often been seen as a close relative of two other symbols linked with racial violence and Christendom, namely the burning of crosses as well as the raising of the Confederate flag. These particular symbols have been both directly and indirectly associated with hate crimes in America. There are many arguments that are made to disassociate one of these symbols, the Stars and Bars from its ties to the racist ideology. However, to not discuss race with the Confederate flag is to deny the logic that many supporters have historically used in carrying the flag. It may be true the Confederate flag has not been used as symbol of racism and hatred in every context but it is also true that in far too many incidents it has been. Similarly, it is possible that recent incidents of “suspicious” fires in black churches may not all be arson but the fact still remains far too many in this country’s history have been. Thus it becomes even more important to not disassociate these issues from race. If we continue to not have an open and honest dialogue about race, then incidents like Charleston will continue to be seen anomalies rather than what they are at the present: the norm.

The Racial Hierarchy of #AllLivesMatter

I did not in any way have plans to write this brief essay. I know I have taken a break from writing and I always planned to return and work harder than ever to build The Resist Daily as an online publication. Yet, I feel I need to comment on the on-going debate between #BlackLivesMatter, “#AllLivesMatter”, and yes, even “#BlueLivesMatter.” Two Saturdays ago at #NN15, Democratic Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley were both interrupted by Black Lives Matters protesters. Both of their responses were, “#AllLivesMatter.” (Note: I am using quotation marks for both #BlueLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter because they have proven to be disingenuous and racist forms sloganeering to contribute further violence to Blacks’ experience) Now, whereas Martin O’Malley stayed, listened to #BLM’s concerns, Bernie Sanders left as he cancelled his meetings with Black Lives Matters representatives. Rather than having our agency and our thoughts respected, #FeelTheBern defenders heaped condescension upon condescension towards #BlackTwitter. The ensuing clapback such as #BernieSoBlack drew the ire of Sandernistas online. What Sanders defenders refuse to understand was that #BlackLivesMatters is not about a “single” issue, it’s about basic survival and Black people’s right to exist.

The Black Lives Matter movement is a human rights movement in a similar vein to the Civil Rights struggle of the 1950’s and 60’s. It was founded by three Black women: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. There are currently 23 CHAPTERS of Black Lives Matter in the United States, Canada, and Ghana. It is not simply a hashtag, but an organized movement dedicated to exposing and ending police brutality, racial profiling and mass incarceration: ALL THREE of which negatively and unjustly impact Black women and men. This is the crucial difference between the Civil Rights Movement and BLM: whereas during the CRM, leaders such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. dared the state to arrest them and thus making them martyrs, BLM is resisting the very state apparatus that was expanded: the police state with its S.W.A.T. teams, its “war” on Black Men Drugs, and now privatized prison industry. Black Lives Matter is a response to virulent White Supremacy and state violence. Many of the White liberals who dismiss #BLM do so with the understanding that racism has not adapted to our post-Jim Crow world. Many white conservatives who speak of the good old days of Martin Luther King Jr. wearing a suit and tie enter the conversation with a twisted sense of patriotism and remain far often too selective about when to talk about “limited” government.

Just like the Civil Rights Movement faced backlash and state violence and had to counter racist propaganda from officials like the late Governor George Wallace, #BLM too has its opponents. At no point has #BlackLivesMatter argued that “ALL” police officers were antiBlack racists. Unfortunately in a racist society, White Supremacy is still seen as primarily individual prejudice and a private sin. To claim that #BlackLivesMatters’ protests versus police BRUTALITY and racial profiling is the same thing has hating all police officers IS FLAT OUT FALSE. This means that people really are not listening to stories of pain and destroyed families; they’d rather insist on the false narrative of White innocence and superiority, all which are contingent upon the racist myths of Black criminality. Unfortunately, this is where the often times overtly racist “#BlueLivesMatter” stands. If indeed #BlueLivesMatter were an ACTUAL movement rather than racist propaganda, why are not its advocates going after video games that promote lethal violence versus police officers (like Grand Theft Auto)? It begs the question when posts from “#BlueLivesMatters” include celebrations of police brutality, black death,

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and fascist understandings of community.

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Police are here to serve and protect, not SEEK AND DESTROY (Thank you, Michael Bay). “#BlueLivesMatter” isn’t about uniting people or organizing and networking to protect human life; it’s about propagating anti-Blackness and glorifying death and fear.

“#AllLivesMatter” may cater to a more progressive crowd, but it relies on a more subtle notion of prejudice in the form of color-blind racism. Time and again, statistics show that the persons who are most likely to get arrested and face police brutality for non-violent offenses are Black and/or Native American. These are facts, but what #AllLivesMatter does is not only make the anti-intellectual move of denying concrete data, this rebuttal (because again, it’s not even a movement, just a slogan) is a product of lazy thinking and willful ignorance. No one has actually argued that “no other lives matter.” Even in multicultural Canada, a mural of Sandra Bland was vandalized with “#AllLivesMatter”; why? what’s the proof in that action? When people say, #BlackLivesMatter, they are saying we live in a society that still has a racial hierarchy, and that hierarchy is exposed when it comes to police brutality, racial profiling, and the Prison Industry. Now, if Black Lives matter, those at the very bottom, it is only then that ALL LIVES can TRULY matter. It’s as James Cone said about #BLM, if we can get the bottom right, we can make everything upright.
From a Christian perspective, we worship a justifying God who cares about even the minute details, from the sparrow to the lilies in the field to every hair on our head. Divine providence starts from the bottom-up, lifting the lowly to new heights in fellowship with God and neighbor. #BlackLivesMatter is a call back to a God whose Son went to the very bottom of the world in Sheoul, who was raised up from death, and now whose Spirit resides in the life of the faithful as well as inspires all persons who are resisting oppression everywhere.