School of Law

“There is still a belief that black lives do not matter,” says Dr Solanke

23 June 2015 | Peter Edwards

Dr Iyiola Solanke reflects on race relations in light of the Massacre in Charleston, South Carolina

Massacre in Charleston, South Carolina

  • Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41 (Pastor, Emanuel African Methodist Church)
  • Cynthia Hurd, 54
  • Tywanza Sanders, 26
  • Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45
  • Myra Thompson, 59, a church leader
  • Ethel Lance, 70 and her cousin Susie Jackson, 87
  • Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74

It is hard to comprehend that a person could voluntarily join a Bible study group at an historic church, sit with that group in prayer for nearly 1 hour, and then stand up and shoot them. For many it is a horror too callous to conceive of but clearly not for 21-year old Dylann Roof and others who think like him. Maybe he is now a hero to these people, people – not only in Charleston – who believe it is legitimate to murder innocent people, just because they are black.

His stated intention was to start a race war – he failed: instead he has created a moment of racial unity and a powerful movement to finally rid South Carolina of its proudest symbol of racism and hate – the Confederate flag. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has called on the state legislature to stay in session so as to respond to popular demand to take down the Confederate flag.

The massacre in Charleston was an act of terror. It is a reminder that in the twenty-first century there is still a belief that black lives do not matter. It is a manifestation of racial violence at its most overt and inter-personal. However, rather than focus on Roof and those who inhabit his sick, supremacist world let us remember the victims.

African-American poet Jim Johnson stresses that we should not rush past this loss. When we do,

‘we contribute to a world that would strip them [the victims] of their worth and turn Charleston's pain into just one more commodity.’

Johnson urges us instead to be still: to read, re-read and remember the names. To pause a decent interval, shed tears of sorrow and be present to the pain. And pray. And remember; this is why we need strong anti-hate and anti-racial discrimination laws. The continued potency of racial hatred not only in America - but all over the world - should not be forgotten.

Dr Iyiola Solanke is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Law, University of Leeds. She writes about intersectionality, anti-discrimination law, social movements, the judiciary in Europe and EU governance.

She is the initiator and Academic Lead on ‘The Race Relations Act @ 50’ a conference focusing on legal changes and racial discrimination since the first Race Relations Act in 1965. The conference is on the 9-10 July 2015 at the British Academy. Find out more about The Race Relations Act @ 50 here.

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