We have no right to be shocked

What happened last night in Charleston triggered a range of emotions. President Obama said he felt “heartache,” “sadness,” and “anger.” We all feel those things and more. Fear. Anxiety. Concern. Dread. Violation. Loss. Despair. Panic. Abandonment. Terror.

But none of us, not one of us, has the right to be shocked. That would mean that we were caught by surprise. It would mean that we had no idea something like this could happen. And we Americans can say no such thing.

When we live in a culture where a father celebrates his son’s birthday by giving him a gun, and where buying a pack of bullets is easy as buying a pack of gum, and where large segments of our society celebrate those “freedoms,” we cannot say we are shocked by Charleston.

When we live in a culture where a white cop shoots at an unarmed fleeing black suspect eight times in the back on camera, only to be supported by a group of concerned citizens who set up a defense fund for him, we cannot say we are shocked by Charleston.

When we live in a country where homegrown, anti-government, white supremacist groups have grown almost ten times since the election of our nation’s first black president, we cannot say we are shocked by Charleston.

When that same black president opens a personal Twitter account, only to be welcomed by calls for his deportation, accusations of his hidden Muslim identity, and numerous addresses of “Welcome to Twitter, nigger,” we cannot say we are shocked by Charleston.

When a group of hundreds of armed white Americans show up to a mosque (just because it’s a mosque) and hold a loud, hate-filled rally, donning t-shirts proudly proclaiming, “Fuck Islam,” we cannot say we are shocked by Charleston.

When we live in a place where mosques are vandalized almost monthly, where the most popular American movie in 2014 celebrated a white soldier killing Arabs indiscriminately, where a white man walked into a Sikh temple in Wisconsin (because all he saw was their beards) and calmly murdered six worshipers, where another white man in North Carolina steadily executed his Muslim neighbors (not about a parking spot), we cannot say, under any circumstances, that we are shocked by Charleston.

Don’t be shocked when we hear that the murderer sat with his victims, worshiped with them, then rose to slaughter them, because, as he was quoted by a witness, “You’re raping our women and taking over the country. You have to go.” Then don’t be even more shocked when they call him “disturbed,” “deranged,” “delusional,” or “depressed.” Don’t be shocked when they say tell us, “There were no warning signs.”

Don’t be shocked when they hesitate to call the act “terrorism,” or its perpetrator a “lone wolf.” Don’t be shocked when no “white” experts appear on CNN, explaining to us what it is about their culture that could lead one of them to do such a terrible thing.

Don’t be shocked when you see photos of him wearing patches celebrating apartheid. And then don’t be even more shocked when the elected representatives of South Carolina express their outrage, all while serving in a capital that proudly flies the Confederate flag.

The murderer in Charleston caused me pain, anguish, and sorrow. But I’m about as shocked by him as I was about the sun coming up this morning.

And most of all, don’t be shocked that our fellow white citizens are so shocked. We “foreign” black people and immigrants know way too much to express anything so ridiculous. But our “native” white brethren have yet to accept that racism is a problem related to their feelings, rather than a problem related to our existence. And that is precisely why the same churches that were the scenes of murder fifty years ago are surrounded by yellow tape again today.

About Amer Zahr 181 Articles
Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian, writer, professor and speaker living in Dearborn, Michigan. He is also the editor of "The Civil Arab."


  1. Excellent, all your posts are EXCELLENT!

    Sean (…a 12th generation North American WASP of English and Scottish ancestry, whose ancestors killed, and we’re killed by, the true indigenous peoples of this continent)

  2. …btw, for all you nut-jobs out there who prefer correcting spelling and grammar as a ruse to attack an individual as opposed to a message, absolutely: I meant to type “were” and not “we’re”.

    PS: If only my Arabic, or any other language I can only speak a smattering of, would be nearly as good as the English spoken by every Arabic speaking American I know!

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