OPINION: To be here again, black lives and Charleston
Young black girls in dresses, hats, and gloves hurry down the stairs. Their Sunday best traces random patterns in the wake of their steps. Chatter on Coretta Scott-King's hair populates the air with childlike carefreeness. Suddenly, stairs, walls, ceilings and floor, burst into a bitter cloud of wood, dust, brick and bodies. An explosion that will echo through time.
This scene, depicted in the film Selma, is a creative reimagining of the Birmingham church bombing of 15 September 1963 by Ku Klux Klansmen. The 16th Street Baptist church has become a key site in the architecture of the civil rights movement.
The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston is yet another. The mass murder of nine members of the Charleston church, at the hands of Dylann Roof, is a re-exposition of how the same moments ricochet through history. The 'historical dimensions' of racism reveal a constant and exhausting violence.
It is an American life that knows all too well the terror of mass shooting, and the twin terror of Black Death. It is expressed in the subdued statement of Barack Obama: "I've had to make statements like this too many times". It voices the exhaustion of being here, again.
McKinney and Charleston have joined litany of locations that have become shorthand for the devaluation and violence on black lives. In one week, global conversation on police brutality enacted on a 15-year-old girl in McKinney , Texas was hijacked by the Rachel Dolezal moment, and superseded by Charleston. The latter has left many wondering how many new names will join the ever-growing list of Black Death, pondering how many more names will serve as eulogies that speak of the ever-present danger of being housed in black skin in the US, and beyond. The title of Cornel West's novel narrates these moments: Race Matters, still.
Here, we turn on our own historical inequality and injustice, with racial segregation at the Curro School in Roodeplaat making news last week. History replicates itself and rhymes with the present. We ponder: 'Here, again?'
This unrelenting experience distorts Frank Ocean's words: 'We are all human beings spinning on blackness'. While he was speaking more metaphorically of the human desire to be seen, known, touched and acknowledged, it seems incredibly relevant to the dizzying repetition of Black Death and racism - constantly pervading our digital screens and news media. It's dizzying to be here. To spin on this, again.
'Black lives matter' is a constant refrain that we recite in the face of these things, staring structural dehumanisation in the face. It is as a truth, affirmation, reminder, protest, demand, and verbal riot against a consistently devalued humanity. We will keep writing 'what feels like the same column', again and again. Our conversations on street corners, social media posts, and dinner tables are peppered with the same language. Punctuated by an exhausting déjà vu.
The past lives too easily in the present. It obscures and entangles the great strides, successes and achievements we have made. It's an uncomfortable coexistence.
Lauryn Hill's Black Rage keeps replaying in these moments, the lyrics wrapping themselves anew around each moment. But that rage is not a lone feeling. It coexists with despair, fear, a breathless sense of helplessness, hope, exhaustion, grief, disbelief and a gamut of other emotions that speak with one voice, asking the same question: Here, again?
In these moments, we try to find language for the unspeakable, searching for a way to articulate what each moment means, to honour its victims, and attempt to make sense, even when none readily appears. I take a difficult yet important refuge in the words of Toni Morrison: "I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence."
Danielle Bowler holds a master's degree from Rhodes University and is a Mandela Rhodes scholar. She is currently an assistant researcher at Mistra and a member of Feminist Stokvel. She likes to think critically about the world around her, which often includes making complex political arguments about pop culture and Beyonce. Follow her on Twitter: @daniellebowler