Guest Opinion: The Charleston Massacre and Bodies That Matter

By Thabiso Bhengu (@fistvoices) 

Days after the Charleston massacre where a white terrorist, who has worn white supremacist symbols such as the Old South African, Rhodesian and Confederate flags, has killed nine black people in church, Thabiso reflects on the way in which the shooting has been treated by various segments of society including media and police reveals which bodies matter and which don’t. 

The recent terrorist attack by Dylann Roof, an adult white male aged 21, at Charleston, South Carolina shows us something important. It shows us that even with a gun and blood in your hands, if you are white, you will be given the benefit of the doubt: you were framed; you were playing with a toy gun and a mistake happened or if they cannot remove the idea that purposefully killed them, a logical explanation as to why you could have done the unexpected from your “kind” will be found. Why? Because white male bodies are rational, compassionate beings who often donate money in Africa and will leave their comfortable beds  to sleep outside the street to demonstrate their benevolence to mankind even when they are privileged and Chief Executive Officers of big  firms that are  developing African civilisation.

In the couple of days that I will come to know the terrorist, I will also learn about the terrorist’s family, I will be bombarded with his high school reports and how he was intelligent and performed above average, and if they invest enough time, I might know that he preferred reading cook books rather than crime fictions. If he had a girlfriend or boyfriend, I will know the gifts and gestures that he might have offered his partner.

These are things that will be more important than the names of those he murdered (Cynthia Hurd, 54; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49; Hon. Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 45; Myra Thompson, 59). Nor will I know how many children they left behind or whether they were the only bread winners. I will not know why they were gathered at church or what they prayed for.

I will only know that they died from the hands of a “young boy” who was troubled by his background or the constant disruption of violence in his life as a human being that made him to do what is inhumane?

This is how you write about bodies that matter, everyone has to be patient as they gather evidence that will show us that there must be an acceptable explanation to why he massacred them, CNN wrote an article yesterday and within few paragraphs told us their big discomfort “It’s uncertain who bought the gun Roof used because he could not have bought the gun himself, he could not have been raised in white racist America that taught him the worthlessness of black people.”

In the process of waiting, we are expected to not be enraged because black anger is unacceptable and if they do allow us a chance to protest, we must be quiet, silent and not misbehave otherwise we will be reprimanded. We must instead make a big display of forgiveness.

The humanisation of Dylann Roof is not only on how media chooses to write about him but also about his arrest, how police came to his house and walked out. How he wore a bullet proof vest given to him by police as he walked. It is how Roof was not Eric Garner, he was not choked for 15 seconds, he walked out breathing. He was not Trayvon Martin – no one followed him with a gun waiting to shoot. He was protected. Whiteness is always protected whether through misconstruing black narratives or in this case physically.

He was a human before he killed them, he remained a human after he killed them. Perhaps he became even more of a human?

South Africa is not an exception to this violence, whiteness mutates and adapts to its environment and finds ways to maintain its legitimacy through violence, whether it’s paying black people enough money to leave their slums and come work inside their homes without just enough income to cover the cost of transport, or its through immortalisation or tribute to the gods that crafted this system in this country in the form of statues in places where we study, work or make love or its through untransformed curriculums in universities or systemic exclusion through language.

This is the violence of whiteness; a system like this is able to breed the likes of Dylan Roof and many others who have not gathered the “courage” to shoot us because the tools at their disposable are still powerful enough to reprimand us when we choose to revolt and make our voices heard.

White supremacy worships its own. Let us all prepare our tears as we kneel before Roof as he confesses his accidental mistake or whatever logical explanation we are going to be offered, Let us see a white male human who will become a God in front of our eyes. Let us see another one getting away.

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