We knew it wouldn’t take long. Before we even heard the names of the victims- we heard from media that the suspect was mentally ill. Enough.
Dylan Roof has made it quite clear, as have others, that he hated this group of people. He wanted to kill them just for being who they were- black. And yet the media and others toss out the synonyms for mental illness ad nauseaum.
We must stop this labeling. Foremost, the fact is that those who are mentally ill are more often the victims. Thus sliding in the euphemisms for mental illness so early after a violent event plants the seed that society doesn’t need to look any further. Mental illness will be the avenue the media and law enforcement travel.
Why? Why not, for at least a DAY sit with the concept that racism. is. real. Racism.and. hate. exist. People are evil. (And no, evil is not a mental illness either, Scriptural herd of swine perpetuate THAT myth).
I strongly believe that authentic discussions on racism are so raw and emotional that society prefers to avoid all but a cursory nod to racism when it comes to violent acts. So much easier to label someone mentally ill. “See? SEE? He’s sick, he’s deranged, and his mental state is in question.” And with that WE feel better. Whew. The evil is no longer among us. There’s a reason- we can point to it. We can rest.
Except mental illness demands its own attention from society. One not connected to the ugliness of racism.
The idea that anyone could be murdered while in a house of faith is anathema to many in the United States. So it MUST be the actions of a mentally ill person. (Consider how many mosques, temples, shrines are bombed in the Middle East and Africa on a weekly basis – you don’t hear mental illness, you hear terrorist).
Terrorism is not a stranger to US soil despite what media wants you to believe. Nine beautiful souls are gone in Charleston and Emmanuel AME as a result of hatred and racism. Six faithful worshippers at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin were murdered in 2012 due to bigotry and hate; Nine Monks in a Buddhist temple in Phoenix were executed for no reason in 1991. Black lives are being targeted.
I am begging people to think. To have that difficult, uneasy discussion, to sit with the concept that no, this cannot be explained away by a diagnosis. This is tough work. It’s not easy. I am a Chaplain, an ordained minister in the UCC. I do not sugar coat facts nor say things to make those I minister with feel better. (In reality that IS the work of a Chaplain- to companion in the messiness of life and meet the other where they are. Happiness is not the goal.)
So I implore my fellow ministers to choose their words carefully for their Sabbath sermons and prayer services. Do NOT choose the easier softer way and default to mental illness, sick mind, deranged, etc. Embody the pastors who were massacred Wednesday night- step out into the world- BE in the world- with its racism and hate and allow the discussion and anger and emotions to happen. Do not damper anyone’s grief with solutions and reasons for an evil act.
Make no mistake. I am not saying there is no hope. What I AM saying is that we must address this racism in our country now. Black lives matter. (I hear you mumbling all lives matter—- stop that too).
Can we- as a country – in 2015 – focus on the terrorist attacks on Black lives? Can we sit with THAT? At least for 24 hours? For a week? For a month?
Let’s start today. It is racism. Not mental illness.