In the Spirit of John Brown: a letter to so called whites after Charleston


My heart is heavy this morning, a terrorist has killed 9 people in Charleston, South Carolina. A 21 year old white man went to a prayer service at Emanuel African Methodist Church after which he took the lives of 9 Black people. In the church which was home to Denmark Vesey, in a state that still displays the Confederate flag,racial hatred and white supremacy has stained the country, once again. My soul hurts, as it should.

This is a crucial moment for my people, so called whites. Many of us will be horrified, many of us will want to be there to support our Black brothers and sisters, and that is great. However, many of those same people will talk about this event in isolation. They will talk about how sick the shooter was. They will say things like “not all white people.”  Please, stop with that shit. This incident is not about one person. This is a single manifestation of a system that has always seen Black people as less than human. This is a single manifestation of a genocidal system. Yet, there will be those (Fox News) who try to separate this from our history, from our current situation.


At this time- just as the ancestor Denmark Vesey has been invoked- it is time for us to invoke our ancestor, John Brown. Those of us who truly want to stand in solidarity, who truly want to be a force for good are not without our own models. John Brown gave his life for the end of slavery. He understood it was much bigger than one white slave owner, one plantation, it was  system that must be destroyed, a way of knowing that must be erased from that planet. That fight is still going on this morning. We must have the courage to take up this legacy. To be fearless in the face of genocidal terrorism. If Black Lives truly Matter then we need to confront every person who wants to rationalize, or make apologies, or minimalize this as an isolated incident. In every workplace, in every home, in every church, in every area of government so called whites need to be talking about, reflecting on, and putting together plans to actively dismantle white supremacy. To avoid this is an act of cowardice, pure and simple.


Lastly, this is not a time to police the emotions and reactions of the Black community. We need to be doing our own work: looking at how we are colluding with the system that is taking the lives of Black people. May the spirit of John Brown guide us and may we be brave:  “Caution, Sir! I am eternally tired of hearing that word caution. It is nothing but the word of cowardice!”

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