Rachel Dolezal, the white former Spokane NAACP branch president who purported to be an African American, has, through her duplicity, hurt herself, her family and all those whose lives are closely linked with hers. What she did (or failed to do), however, did little harm to the NAACP, the pursuit of civil rights and justice or the prospects of blacks in America. The media attention devoted to Dolezal has bordered on obsession. And it says more about our powerlessness to resist sensational and essentially trivial pursuits.
The shooting in Charleston, South Carolina is another matter.
The slaughter of nine black worshippers at the historic Emanuel African American Episcopal Church by a lone white gunman Wednesday night is where our attention belongs. The enormity of the crime that came out of nowhere is almost beyond comprehension: six women and three men, including the pastor and South Carolina state senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney, shot dead. The pain registers far beyond the walls of the church or the Charleston city line. Terror, revulsion and outrage are being felt in homes, churches and and in African American communities across the country.
Perhaps it is because we have been here before.
Charleston now takes its place on the list of atrocities in recent black history, joining, among others:
- The 1955 kidnapping, beating, and shooting of 14 year old black Chicagoan Emmett Till, whose broken body was dumped in the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman;
- The 1963 murders of four black girls, 11-14, who died in a KKK-led church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama;
- The 1963 assassination of NAACP Mississippi field secretary Medgar Evers outside his home in Jackson, Miss.
- The 1964 murders of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in Neshoba County, Mississippi;
- The 1968 assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King in Memphis, Tenn.
Then there are the current tragedies: police killings of unarmed African Americans like Eric Garner and Walter Scott. The abominations go on.
Rachel Dolezal and her private ghosts should be way down on the roster of issues that keep us awake at nights. The depravity that causes hate crimes like the wickedness on exhibit in Charleston is a national tragedy that warrants at least the intense media scrutiny now being devoted to that misguided “black” wannabe out west.