On Sunday June 21, 2015, #GoHomeDeray top-trended Twitter nationally for at least 14 hours. The hashtag included tweets directed at Deray McKesson, an activist who became well known after the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. You may recognize him from one of his more popular CNN interviews that took place in Baltimore, MD after the death of Freddie Gray. Since last August, Deray has been present in various cities to seek justice in incidents where racism is speculated. The tweets were largely from Deray adversaries who bluntly shared their opposition to his presence in Charleston, SC.
Those participating in the trending topic appear to believe that Deray and/or his views promoted the “riots,” looting, and other unrest that has occurred in response to various incidents across the country. They feel that Charleston is coping with its grief with unity and forgiveness, and that Deray’s presence is not needed or wanted.
This blog is not necessarily to defend Deray, but more so to discuss the repetition of history, disconnect, and irony demonstrated by #GoHomeDeray. It will also discuss how unity and protest can coexist.
Unfortunately, it is not new for black people confronting racism to be told to “go home” by white people who prefer they just leave it alone. Black people were often told to “go home” when they called out racism and injustice, and advocated for their rights during the Civil Rights Movement. Even Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was told to “go home” in the Mason City Globe-Gazette in September 1965. While this is not the first time for this “go home” rhetoric, this may be the first time we’ve seen it done via social media. #GoHomeDeray makes us wonder how far we’ve actually come.
Additionally, #GoHomeDeray demonstrates that there are still people who do not understand black’s people’s plight and the issues being raised. The “riots” and looting that people do not want to see were not caused by Deray. They were caused by feelings of helplessness and pain; feelings that our society perpetuates (and has long perpetuated) through seemingly small and systematic forms of racism. Of course, I am not condoning this behavior. I am not saying that it is the right response. But in the words of Deray McKesson, “you don’t have to condone it to understand it.” If we want to see the “riots” and looting stop, let’s address the root of the issue so that people will not feel so helpless, like they have nothing to lose. Instead of telling people to “go home” let’s work to address the actual cause and alleviate the racial bias that yields this unwanted reaction.
Many of the trending tweets expressed that there is unity and forgiveness in Charleston so they do not need Deray to be there. The unity and forgiveness is indeed positive and necessary. However, it does not negate the need to address the racism that caused this massacre in Charleston. It is amazing and beautiful to see the families of the 9 victims choose forgiveness despite this life changing tragedy. But if we allow that forgiveness to prevent us from addressing the racist root of this crime, we will have let those 9 lives be taken in vain and we are bound to see something like this happen again. For too long, this country has been trying to overcome racism in this polite, politically correct, “kumbaya” way. Well, there is nothing polite, politically correct, or “kumbaya” about racism so until we address this thing directly, and stop being afraid to talk about it, we will be as effective as an umbrella in a hurricane. Policies still need to change. Systems still need to change. Hearts and minds still need to change. So activism is still necessary.
Lastly, #GoHomeDeray is ironic. There is a contradiction in emphasizing unity and forgiveness while also excluding people from being a part of it. Shouldn’t we want to invite people into that unity? What benefit is it to make such a positive experience “invitation only?” It seems like we would want even those who have responded in less favorable ways to be there, so that we could model a more ideal way. Making unity only for a certain group or type of people is actually the opposite of unity– it’s divisive. #GoHomeDeray took away from what seemed to be a first step in coming together and caused people to question the authenticity of the “unity” in Charleston, reiterating the lack of unity in this country.
Both unity and protest (defined as “something said or done that shows disagreement with or disapproval of something,” Merriam-Webster) can happen. We can unite to support the families and Charleston as they grieve an event in our nation’s history that will never be forgotten. And we can protest the racism, culture, and systems that affirm mentalities like that of Dylan Roof. They can coexist, and their coexistence can be beneficial. Just maybe, unity will cause understanding of the experience of Black people in the United States, which causes understanding of the need for change and protest, which motivates people to join the protest, which then brings us back to unity.
9 people have been killed. We should be doing everything in our power to ensure that they do not die in vain; that change and progress comes from their sacrifice and that of their families. #GoHomeDeray isn’t doing that.