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#CharlestonShooting: The Relevant Context

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#CharlestonShooting: The Relevant Context

Thomas Whitley

What's the relevant context for the Charleston shooting? Is it mass shootings? Is it attacks on places of worship? Is it white supremacy? Is it attacks on Mother Emmanuel? Is it the lives of the victims?

This is the question Rachel Maddow asked on her show last night. What's the relevant context? This question is important, as she points out, because what we determine is the relevant context shapes how we make sense of this event, how we make meaning.

What counts as context here for what happened in that church last night, it all either feels too obscene or too sacred to tie it down, right? All we really, really know is that this keeps happening, and every single time it’s unbearable.

Some want to point to the lack of gun control laws in this country and the fact that we are the only developed world where this type of thing happens at this rate. Others [*cough* the NRA *cough*] are blaming the pastor himself for voting against guns in churches. Many are questioning why we continue to speak of white shooters as lone wolves who probably have some mental illness and seem unwilling to label this event "terrorism." Fox News is grasping for any explanation other than racism. All of these are attempts to provide context, and thereby to provide meaning to this event.

Yet, as Rachel said, it seems impossible to tie down the context. it is all either too obscene or too sacred, to one person or another. One person's obvious context is the next person's harmful activism. But it is the decisions we make early on, the context within which we set this event, that determine how the story is told, how it is understood, how it is made meaningful, or how it is dismissed.

Context matters here. Context matters every time we sit down to write history. The context we choose determines the history we will write.