Part 2—Echoes of Dr. King: In this morning’s New York Times, Alan Blinder describes the last of the Charleston funerals.
“Charleston Church Mourns One More Beloved Victim,” the headline says, employing a bit of language from Dr. King.
Myra Thompson was 59 when she was murdered. According to Blinder, “She joined [the Emanuel AME Church] when she was young, and she was long one of the church’s lay leaders.”
Governor Haley and Mayor Riley spoke at Thompson’s funeral. At one point, Blinder reports an implausible claim:
BLINDER (6/30/15): Hundreds of mourners could not attend the service in the crowded sanctuary, including some who said they arrived around 7 a.m., four hours before Ms. Thompson’s funeral was scheduled to begin. As Ms. Thompson’s coffin arrived, onlookers lifted handwritten signs that declared: “Love Wins. Every. Single. Time.”For ourselves, we wouldn’t call Roof “an evil man.” We think the term confers power on someone like Roof. We think it encourages other lost souls to follow along in his wake.
The signs also included “#CharlestonStrong,” a refrain that has been common here since the massacre. The suspect, Dylann Roof, 21, has been charged with nine counts of murder.
“We know that an evil man came downstairs 12 days ago with hate in his heart, and this community responded with love,” Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. said. “He came preaching and believing in division, and he brought unity.”
That said, does love win every single time? In the literal sense, it certainly doesn’t seem to.
Last Thursday night, Professor Butler went a bit farther than that. He spoke with Chris Hayes, who thanked him for his “frank honesty:”
BUTLER (6/25/15): It goes to a larger issue, that when black people talk to white people about white supremacy, we’re supposed to be loving and forgiving. The problem is, love and forgiveness are not productive in American politics. That`s not how social change is achieved. You know, you could do it through organizing, you could do it through electoral politics, you could take it to the streets. But being nice in the face of white supremacy does not advance racial justice.Are black people somehow supposed to be loving and forgiving when speaking in such contexts? We can’t say we observe that dynamic in our national discourse a lot.
At any rate, Professor Butler plainly doesn’t seem to think that love always wins. He specifically said that “love and forgiveness” are unproductive in our American politics.
Plainly, Professor Butler is deeply pained by the events in Charleston. That said, we were very much struck by his remark about love and forgiveness.
He was speaking as part of an instant pushback against the conduct of the Charleston families who had responded to the murders with expressions of love and forgiveness. “We are the family love built,” one of the mourners memorably said just two days after the murders.
People all over the world have responded to those families with expressions of respect which bordered on incomprehension and awe. Up north, many of our professors and journalists engaged in instant pushback.
To our ear, a fair amount of this pushback was openly condescending. It was too soon for the families to forgive, an omniscient short story writer explained in the New York Times, a paper which couldn’t run fast enough to keep condescension alive.
Some of the condescension seemed to mock the families for being too old-school churchy. Inevitably, though, it fell to the new Salon to complain about the fact that the families had spoken at all.
It’s hard to top the new Salon! Bravely fighting through her own remarkable lack of information, a fiery omniscient named Ericka Schiche heroically offered this:
SCHICHE (6/27/15): What kind of twisted criminal justice system does South Carolina have that would even encourage a family member to address a killer before a trial has even transpired? Charleston County Chief Magistrate James B. Gosnell Jr., a person who allegedly once uttered the word “n***er” in court, ought to be ashamed of himself for even exposing grieving family members to videotape of the cretinous killer standing with his back to armed guards less than 48 hours after the shootings. The looming question is: Who is protecting and advising these families which are now permanently damaged by the massacre of their loved ones in this moment of extreme shock, sorrow and bottomless dejection?We’ll assume that Schiche is well-intentioned in some tremendously general sense. That said, she seemed to suggest that the Charleston families needed someone to make them stop talking in such ridiculous ways.
For the record, Schiche knows what everyone else should do, but she didn’t seem to know what actually happened on the day to which she refers. In the court hearing in question, the Charleston families spoke directly to Roof, who was being held in a separate location, not to videotape of this pitiful soul.
Even at the new Salon, it was amazing to see Schiche’s fact-challenged condescension thrown into print. (Her factual error stands uncorrected, except in reader comments.) At any rate, readers of the new Salon were given a perfect tribal fantasy from which to derive their tribal pleasure:
The families only spoke that way because of the racist judge!
It’s hard to top the new Salon! That said, ponder these questions:
Did those pitiful Charleston families know whereof they spoke? Had they spoken up too soon, as the omniscient Roxane Gay seemed to tell us?
Should they have been told by advisers to keep their traps shut, as the all-knowing Schiche seemed to suggest? Was this “dangerous” mess the fault of a racist judge?
To our ear, the condescension expressed by these writers is obvious and quite familiar. But in our view, Professor Butler’s statement to Hayes was the most striking pushback of all.
Plainly, Professor Butler is deeply angry about these murders; there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be. That said, is it true that “love and forgiveness are not productive in American politics?”
In their statements after the murders, the Charleston families weren’t offering theories about what works in our politics. But is it true that “love and forgiveness” don’t work?
We were struck by Professor Butler’s claim because we’ve read Dr. King. He believed that love and forgiveness constituted a powerful force in effecting social change and addressing social problems.
In 1957, Dr. King published Stride Toward Freedom, his history of the Montgomery bus boycott. In Chapter 6, Pilgrimage to Nonviolence, he described the intellectual search which led him to conclude that “nonviolent resistance was one of the most potent weapons available to oppressed people in their quest for social justice.”
The concepts of love and forgiveness are central all through the chapter and book.
Dr. King describes an anguished search, undertaken at a young age. He describes the way he found the answer to his search in Gandhi’s concept of Satyagraha, which Dr. King translates as “truth force” or “love force.”
“As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished,” Dr. King wrote, “and I came to see for the first time its potency in the area of reform.”
Dr. King’s entire chapter can be read here. We’re surprised anew every time we read it. Truly, it’s a remarkable document, written when this world historical figure was just 28 years old.
You can read that chapter today. Tomorrow, we’ll run through highlights of the search which led him to his ultimate belief in the power of “the love ethic of Jesus” as a tool for social change.
Warning! If you choose to read that chapter, you may perhaps be embarrassed on several occasions. Dr. King’s basic concepts are considerably out of step with the times, though much less so in the low country than in the rest of our world.
In her report on two earlier funerals, Lizette Alvarez mentioned “the syncopated ‘Lowcountry clap’” which animated the musical presentations.
Those Charleston families live with some remarkable low-country cadences. This includes their religious traditions, which are tied to a brilliant moral and intellectual regime, one which has changed the world.
To our ear, the pushback hasn’t seemed to be real aware of that fact.
Tomorrow: A remarkable search