Opinion: South Carolina church and Buffalo grocery store have no racial restrictions

·4 min read
Margaret Whitt is a retired English professor  who taught at the University of Denver for 27 years.
Margaret Whitt is a retired English professor who taught at the University of Denver for 27 years.

For 10 years, my family spent a June week at the beach. In the beginning, there were 10 of us, three generations. For the first five years, we used the same home on the beach in Isle of Palms. On June 15, 2015, a Wednesday night, the younger among us were having their first opportunity to paddle board, while the very youngest were with their dad or uncle in a kayak.

For dinner that night we went to a restaurant not far away and chose to eat outside — all in the days before we even remotely could see the coming of the pandemic. As we waited under our umbrella to ward off the blistering sun, caught a few breezes that came our way, I looked around to see other people enjoying the easy pleasant southern summer evening.

Across the way, I noticed three well-dressed Black women. Hmm, thought I. They were so nicely dressed, I thought, where would they be heading? Then I realized it was Wednesday night and vesper services were held in many a southern church. They are either on their way or coming from such an occasion, I decided in my head.

After dinner as we were driving back to our rental home, the radio was turned on, and we heard the news of what had happened at Mother Emanuel. We were in two cars, so a quick call was made. The car with the younger children went on home, and the car with the older grandkids, and some adults turned around and drove straight to the church. We couldn’t get too close, but we saw the police cars, the yellow and black tape, and general chaos.

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As we drove home that night, we continued to listen to the news. What senseless sadness. When we left on Saturday to return to our permanent homes, we drove back to the church, after stopping to buy some flowers at the grocery store. My two oldest grandsons took the flowers, got out of the car, and placed them with all the others that were propped against the fence in front of the church.

My daughter-in-law explained to them: This is what a community does when we want to show that we grieve with you. We don’t know you personally, but we want you to know that out here in this dark time, others care what happened.

We remember that the killer had hoped to start a race war. We remember that then President Obama went to the church for the funerals and when he failed in being able to say his hopeful words, he started to sing … "Amazing Grace." And the whole church stood and sang with him. And wept.

I remember the details of this event and its aftermath, especially the forgiveness of the killer by the victims’ family members, in part, because I was nearby the night it happened. And my mind flashed to the three well-dressed Black women at the restaurant.

Had their lives been saved that night because they had attended church and skipped the Bible study hour, replacing it with a nice meal out? (And those women — who they were and what they were about that night — is a story I made up in my own head, but it helps me in thinking — what about all those people who did not go to the bible study after church service?)

It has been seven years ago since the Charleston event at Mother Emanuel occurred. But what happened at the Tops Grocery store in Buffalo, where people just were doing what we all do — go to the grocery to buy a few things, a lot of things, that we need, that we want.

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Grocery shopping has no racial restrictions. As humans, we get hungry. We go shop for ourselves and for those we love. It is easily understandable. What is not, of course, is why such a mundane and easy task should be the reason that people were killed.

In such states as Texas, teachers are not permitted to talk in class about what happened in Buffalo without giving both sides of the story. Of course, we wonder what is the other side of the story? Does the Buffalo incident remind Charleston of what happened there? Of course it does. One grocery store shooting reminds us of other shootings. It all becomes more real when you happen to be nearby, but surely do we have to just keep having random shootings happen so that we come to understand that something is just plain wrong?

No wonder Jesus wept.

This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: South Carolina church, Buffalo grocery store: no racial restrictions