Tywanza Sanders just ain’t cool enough. Wait. Who is Tywanza Sanders? You probably just copied his name, pasted it in Google’s search engine and discovered a series of links related to the Charleston church massacre.
Without context, the name Tywanza Sanders is not as famous as the young black men who precede him in America’s film noir of bullet-riddled black male bodies ravaged from the gun barrels of bewildered white men.
In this sequel, however, there’s no fear-plagued law enforcement officer or suspiciously black, ominously-hooded offender. On June 17, 2015, Tywanza Sanders, 26, was at Wednesday night Bible study when he was shot and killed by Dylann Roof, 21, a white supremacist.
In our contradiction-stoned media culture, a good bad boy story gets supreme attention. What Sanders’ story is missing is the sensual gore of a proper, American black man murder hook, the kind of hook that leads to endless media coverage, documentaries and contagious hashtags, the kind of hook, we, as media consumers, have come to secretly (or openly) relish as those rap sheet-clad black male bodies with their rap lyric-personas and bullseye-saggy jeans wait for the next operatic stream of bullets, digitized glares, salacious scrolls and, of course, the perquisite prayer posts.
Sanders was posted on the outskirts of Insta-Tweet cred when he died. He hadn’t whistled at the wrong woman.
He wasn’t suspended for spraying graffiti or caught with empty marijuana baggies. He wasn’t allegedly on video stealing cigarillos and shoving a store clerk.
Sanders wasn’t even a serial baby daddy. (If there’s no rap sheet, perhaps a string of disgruntled baby mamas might have increased interest, right?)Sanders appeared to be, dare I say, the guy next door or at least the guy the American media used to pitch and sell in Wheaties commercials back in the day. He died one year after he earned a business administration degree from Allen University, a historically black school in Columbia, South Carolina, founded by former slaves in 1870 with roots in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the church where Sanders died. It was the same school attended by Clementa C. Pinckney, 41, a state senator, the church’s pastor and one of the murder victims.
Sanders was not the mass-produced, virally-marginalized, American black male victim. He was a barber with hopes of owning his own barber shop. He was reportedly a member of the Association of Black Accountants and the National Black MBA Association and was in the process of publishing a poetry book.
His final moments seem to play out like the motivational quotes that filled Sanders’ Instagram page, “freshwanza”. You can’t stop someone who knows where they’re going and whenever God is getting ready to promote you, there will always be an escalation of trouble.
During a Women in the World Canada Summit, Sander’s mother, Felicia Sanders, a Charleston church shooting survivor, described how her wounded son tried to talk Roof out of killing the parishioners. “We mean you no harm,” she recalled Sanders saying to Roof. “We mean you no harm,” Sanders’ final words before Roof “emptied the gun” in her son. (Roof reportedly told police that “he almost didn’t go through with it because everyone was so nice to him.”)
But nice guys don’t get 6,810,000 results (Trayvon Martin) or 4,170,000,000 results (Michael Brown) when you Google their names. They get 12,000 results like Tywanza Sanders. Our senses are unstimulated by the idea of a “good” black man, one who goes to Wednesday night Bible study with his mother and great aunt, in this case, Susie Jackson, 87, the oldest victim.
The old school American hero, the one who saw the strange visitor pull out his gun before the crucifixion crescendo, stood as a shield before his Aunt Susie, before giving up his ghost. (as it is written about Jesus in the Bible).
Our lack of interest in Tywanza Sanders’ story and stories like his mirrors a more devastating truth.
The moral contradictions that define and mobilize our alleged cultural freedom are becoming less satirical and more dangerous.
They are not just shaping our “likes” and “views,” but they’re deifying tweet-cannibals while silencing the narratives that beckon our clicks.
Most prophetic about Tywanza Sanders’ final offline post was the question he not only asked Roof before he took a final click but one that should summon our inner-dialogue before we glorify the next post: Why are you doing this?
Dinkinish O’Connor is an adjunct communications and English professor who teaches at St. Thomas University and Unilatina International College.