Why Do You Fear My Brown Skin?

The nation is grieved by the mass murder and hate crime that took place at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The shooter seemingly killed these nine individuals for no other reason than they were black. Martin Luther King Jr. said that the most segregated place in our country is the church pew on Sunday morning, but every community struggles with inequity, difference, even segregation.

And what truly separates us? Fear. It is the fear of losing something: whether it is monetary or a part of our identity and who we believe ourselves to be in the world. My heart is broken because of this tragedy, but my faith is not shaken. As I have always maintained, "perfect love drives out fear."

Stricter gun laws are necessary, but not the answer. At best it's a safeguard. A stray bullet killed my three-month-old cousin, so I understand the reasoning for getting guns off the streets. But when my father moved into the suburbs and his white neighbors dumped their trash in his yard every night for a week, they did not use guns to hurt him. They were only armed with hatred. You can't legislate away hate and the fear that drives racism. Some will say this young man was a lone gunman whose actions stemmed from mental illness, but sadly, he is not alone in his loathing and discrimination against people of darker skin.

Across the globe, people with brown skin are despised simply because our skin is a dissimilar shade. The Dominican Republic is displacing people of color solely because they are perceived as "different." In Brazil it is not an accident that those in poverty living in Favelas are of darker skin. In post-apartheid Cape Town, South Africa, it is not happenstance that blacks and colored people are still treated inversely by white people, merely because their skin is another pigment. It appears that worldwide, the general sentiment is "if your skin is darker, you are second-rate."

What drives this fear of people with brown skin? If white people look at it closely, they can be truthful regarding the stereotypes made about people of color when we walk down the street, encounter us in a store, pass us in a car, see us at work, and move into the neighborhood. The gunman allegedly claimed that we are "taking over the country" before he raised his gun against the church members. Why does the white community feel like they are suffering defeat because someone of darker skin now occupies the same space? Why do they feel that we are not equals and our lives do not hold the same value?

Let's be honest. The solutions to hate and racism will not be found in legislation, but in authentic conversation. And these discussions must derive from white people who are courageous enough to acknowledge the racial assumptions they hold against people who don't look like them. People of color have been talking about these issues all along. I'm emotionally fatigued, as are many of us.

Until white people are brave enough to admit their prejudice, talk about the inherent racial hierarchy that stigmatizes our culture, and work to deconstruct this mindset so as to recreate a new paradigm, we will continue to experience the pain of these assumptions and the mistreatment of people who don't look like them.

We need a national discourse on race. Some will say it is not necessary; they are likely the people who act disaffected and uninterested because they feel the issue doesn't impact their lives and is not their problem. But it is their problem; it's everyone's problem as Americans. The world is watching and we should be ashamed of what we are showing them. We are behaving in a passive manner, in denial and unwilling to stare racism in the face. Our conduct has plagued our country throughout its history, beginning with Native Americans, and throughout, we have set a pathetic example for the rest of the world to follow. This is not who we are.

Together, let us create a safe zone for people to be open and genuine, even when the emotions hurt. We may not like what we hear, but we must find the strength to hold each other with welcoming hands in the spirit of healing. Fear originates from what we are not familiar with, and people are afraid of others simply because they do not know them. We must reach out and build relationships with each other, especially with those who do not look like you. It's the only way.

Laws will not eliminate hatred. The only approach out of this mess is through love: the love for one another and the positive messages we send regarding how we respect and value everyone, regardless of their skin color. It starts with our children, our families, our friends, our churches, our communities. It starts today.