Majory Wentworth is the poet laureate of South Carolina. She recently collaborated on We Are Charleston: Tragedy and Triumph at Mother Emanuel with Herb Frazier and Dr. Bernard Powers.
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So Out of Words
In a world where too many people
have their fingers on the triggers
of guns aimed directly at black people,
we have borne witness, time
and time again, to executions
filmed on tiny cameras—
which allow us to see too much
which allow us to see not enough.
Judge, jury, executioner—
it’s due process in the suburbs
and the city streets, on winding
country roads and highways, sidewalks
in front of the convenience store,
where the streetlights don’t shine
in the back corner of a parking lot,
on the playground, behind the fence
in a field near your children’s school
on the street in front of your house.
This interminable spectacle
of black death playing on a loop
over and over again until
we become numb to something
that is now a permanent part
of the American memory.
How could these grainy videos
not translate into justice?
I just don’t know how to believe
change is possible
when there is so much
evidence to the contrary.
I am so out of words
in the face of such brutality.
Black lives matter, and then
in an instant, they don’t.
What is Forgiveness?
On June 17, 2015, a young white man walked into a Bible study at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., and sat quietly until the benediction, when he shouted racist statements and opened fire. The suspect, Dylann Roof, was arrested the next day. Killed were Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lee Lance, Cynthia Graham Hurd, Rev. Daniel L. Simmons Sr., Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, and Susie Jackson. After the killings, some family members expressed their forgiveness.
There are cynics who assume these extraordinary expressions of forgiveness were only a trip of the tongue when these family members were put on the spot—but if that’s true they would have recanted their statements or qualified them somehow. Each said something distinctly different at the bond hearing, and all the complexities and contradictions that weave their anger and grief into the notion of forgiveness must be considered. This forgiveness is not easy; it is quite the opposite.
But not every family had a representative at the bond hearing, and not all the family members feel the same way about forgiveness. Forgiveness itself is as complex as any human action. These extraordinary expressions of forgiveness do not suggest acceptance, nor do they imply forgive and forget.