PLAY DEAD: My Thoughts on the Emanuel AME Church Massacre

EmanuelAME Worshippersby Joycelyn Harrison Henson
"Play Dead" - That is what the grandmother told her 5-year-old grand baby during the massacre at Emanuel AME. That simple directive has played on my heart and mind all day. It is a heavy thought.

I imagine how difficult it must have been for the grandmother to play dead while telling her grandchild

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to play dead. Did she have an inquisitive or rebellious 5-year-old like Bailey, and had to explain "In order for us to survive this experience, we are going to have to lay as still as possible, close our eyes, breathe lightly, and not make a sound. Watch me." Or was her grandchild obedient so all she had to say was, "Play Dead."

At the tender age of 5, I can only imagine the child's face as she tried to comprehend all that was happening AND play dead.

But I suppose playing dead may have been the easy part. The hard part began today, after they stopped playing dead; today, when they had time to reflect and digest all that happened.

How does one (especially a child) wrap their mind around such a tragedy? The grandmom may have a few coping mechanisms to help her post-tragedy. But how will the grandbaby cope? How will she deal with losing people she loved? Seeing them murdered? Will she be able to forget any of it? Will she ever be able to comprehend a massacre based on racial hatred? Will she have survivor's remorse for the rest of her life? Will the trauma permanently damage her perception and humanity?

Play dead. As I scan through these channels I think people are asking me to play dead too: "Don't get excited, we don't know his motivation." "Let's be peaceful."

"Let's talk about gun control."

"Look beyond the immediate storm."

I'd rather they kiss me first and simply say, "Please don't riot. The violence won't change anything or help." Then I wouldn't feel so passive and manipulated.

And although I recognize the rhetoric, am I still buying into it? Am I telling my children to play dead when I try to discuss these type events to them? My message to them:
'We can't hold on to anger over Trayvon Martin (or Garner or Brown, or Freddie Gray or Kalief or Noel Carter...) deaths. Some people act based on stereotypes, prejudgments, or even their experiences and we have to be mindful - more careful than most - when dealing with people in authority. You never know where the person may be operating from so you stand down, keep silent, be dead."

Like the grandmother at Emanuel, I guess I am. Play dead if it will save your life.
But here again the hard part of playing dead to save your life is the next day when you have lived through the experience and can reflect on what occurred. Was it fair? Was it right? Demeaning? Did I lose a piece of myself by playing dead? Why did I have to play dead? Because of my skin color? So I have to respect their ignorance by humbling myself?

No. That ain't what I want for them. I'd like a simpler message. I only want to tell The Manchild to be respectful. But that doesn't seem enough, not when he could be murdered with his hands up or even in The House of The Lord.
I want to tell him this: Be a part of the reform that must take place. Walk circumspectly while paying attention to everything. Let your voice and your vote be heard. Stand up for what is right and to bullies. Lean forward.
Because in truth the revolution that must occur will NOT BE TELEVISED. It will occur in the hearts and minds of folks willing to be a part of the change.


JoycelynHHenson 100 Joycelyn Harrison Henson is an educator and works for the Orange County Public School system in Orange County, Florida. She is also a mother of four and is very active in her community.