After 24 plus hours of thinking about the Charleston shooting, after watching the news spin the story in totally different directions based on political ideology, after wondering what to say, if anything, via social media, blog, or in person to my African-American friends and colleagues, after feeling inadequate and frustrated, I went to sleep and let myself dream. I dreamed of license plates with people holding guns and confederate flags. I dreamed of children hiding in fear while their elders were shot. I dreamed of troubled young men who find solace in violent and racist ideologies. I dreamed of outdated flags flying over statehouses and I woke up with one clear thought: I want.
I want this to stop. I want to stop hearing about mass shootings. I want to stop hearing about ideologies that use young mens’ vulnerabilities to incite them to violence. Whether the ideology is ISIS or white separatism, the strategy and result is the same. I want people to be sensible about gun ownership and availability. I grew up steeped in gun culture and I understand that my ranching friends in south Texas need weapons to shoot rattlesnakes when they are out tending cattle or to hunt deer that keep the cattle from having something to eat. But 21 year olds with no direction do not need weapons of any sort. They will surely hurt themselves or someone else. Twenty year olds living in suburban Connecticut do not need Bushmasters and Glocks. None of us do unless we’re on active duty in Afghanistan or elsewhere.
I want to stop having tailor made media: x, y, z media if I believe this way, a,b,c,media if I believe another way. To deal with our problems as society we need to agree on the same set of facts. And there are facts. We have good research on gun policy, mental health treatment, policing strategies, youth violence…the list is endless. But we have to use what we know to make things better. We can’t pick and choose which facts we deal with. That’s why we teach science to our children. We have to have a method for finding out what works and what doesn’t. I want us to use the good social science we have to benefit humanity.
And race. How I want to be the ally that I claim to be. I want to know how to affirm and learn from students, friends, colleagues, and those I meet in every interaction. I want to find the path that is not about being color-blind but is also not about taking on an identity that is not mine. I want to be able to acknowledge both the strengths of the culture I came from while not shying away from its, and my own, sins of omission and commission. I want to stop racist talk when I hear it in a way that preserves relationships and doesn’t ruin the dinner party and I want the courage to ruin the dinner party rather than be complicit in racism.
Most of all, I want those good, strong, people in Charleston to be alive. They were God’s agents in a wounded, hurting world. They came together in their Bible study for renewal and strength to keep fighting the good fight. They walked their talk by welcoming in the stranger. They were courageous and brave and victorious even in their sacrifice. The world is diminished without them although better because they were here. I want the same to be said for each of us.