|Charleston, SC and Me
||[Jun. 18th, 2015|11:59 am]
I've never been to Charleston, South Carolina. I never intend to go there. So aside from the rather obvious point that they celebrate their past (which includes a solid history of supporting the Confederacy, including the state capitol flying a Confederate flag), and the many-many pictures of pretty old houses and Spanish-moss-draped trees and colorful gardens, including on some PBS shows about gardening, I don't know Charleston except when something there hits the news.
Which it has in spades lately. I had seen the video of the black man shot in the back by a police officer who later claimed to have been in fear of his life. (Ritual disclaimer: it's not just Charleston, S.C. Texas has its own out-of-control white cops and right-wing gun nuts, a plentiful supply. I've already blogged about the racist white cop in McKinney, Texas, screaming abuse at unarmed black teenagers at a pool party and throwing a young girl on the ground and kneeling on her.) But now Charleston has the church shooting. The young white guy who shoots and kills black men and women in a church during a prayer meeting, after going in and sitting with them awhile (with the intent of killing them.) And people who are asking why, and how does this happen (all those people are white--the black people know exactly why it happens, has happened, and will happen again until white people quit doing it, raise kids who absolutely will not do it, raise grandkids who absolutely will not do it...But we still have actively, eagerly racist white parents and grandparents. And I can say from personal experience that arguing with them does not change their mindset.) Some white people are wondering if maybe the shooter wasn't a white guy, really (you can practically hear them praying for it to be a Hispanic guy with a grudge, a middle-Eastern terrorist trying to stir up race hatred, some other foreign terrorist, anyone but an ordinary young white guy who just hated black people.)
Now he's in custody: Dylan Roof, a 21 yo with previous police arrest. Young white guy. Here's The Daily Beast's background info on him. "Strong conservative beliefs", check. As in, hates people of color, thinks they're all criminals. "Southern pride," check. As in "hates people of color and thinks the Confederates should have won the Civil War and open slavery of African Americans should still exist." Family buys him a .45 pistol for his birthday even though he's known to use drugs and wears racist slogans, check. As in the song from South Pacific, he was "carefully taught" to be an angry racist, a Confederate apologist, a "south will rise again" gun nut assassin.
His claim, quoted in this article (and probably taken from the witness he left alive to testify to why he did it) is "“I have to do it. You’re raping our women and taking over the country. You have to go.” Right. There it is, the old lie that has been used to justify suppression of people of color from the beginning of slavery in this country...black men are all rapists if not chained down, and black people are "taking over." Taking power that belongs by nature to white men. Possibly even gaining power over some white people--as police officers, as elected officials, as officers in the military, as--and this is what has stuck so hard in the craw of white supremacists--as President of the United States. Every vile jest about the President and his wife, every vicious attack, every threat, comes from that old lie, that white people should have the power and black people must not because they will rape white women. (And women are "ours"--belong to white men. That's another rant. Later.)
Dylan Roof and his kind are the white population's responsibility. Black people didn't make him into a murderer, someone who would walk into a church and kill the people worshipping there. "Family values" that include racism and bitterness and anger gave him his excuses, his reasons, his weapon. "Conservative values"--white conservative values--that paint people of color as lazy, worthless, violent, natural criminals, unredeemable--and "Southern pride" with its emphasis on the injustice of the Civil War and the myth of white superiority and the need to protect white women--those gave him reasons, excuses, and what he perceived as a mission. He's not crazy. He's the kind of domestic terrorist, the idealistic assassin, that comes out of that stew of hatred, mythology, lies, and self-pity again and again. There is social support behind him; he may have acted alone (though his parents bought him the gun) but he knew he had an approving, supportive milieu in which to develop these ideas, nurture them, hug them to himself.
And right there is the white population's responsibility. We leave children to grow up being trained to be racists, and some of them trained to be racist killers. We let adults' racist outbursts go unchallenged. We are silent. Not all of us, no...but too many. Too many of us are scared. But are we as scared as Tamir Rice in the last moments of his life when he, a 12 yo boy, was shot by an out of control white policeman? Are we as scared as those men and women in the Mother Emmanuel AME church when Roof pulled out his gun and started shooting? Do we have any excuse for being that scared, other than...we just aren't very brave?
Some of you reading this may be on the other side. You may be proud of Roof. You may be teaching your children that black people are criminals, racists, deserve to die, must "go." Your vision of America is an all-white, right-wing, facist state where nobody gets to disagree with you. I'm not talking to you; you're beyond hope and I feel about you the way you feel about black people. Worse, even. You're a disgrace to your race.
I'm talking to my fellow white people who consider themselves moderate, who are maybe conservatives but aren't, in their minds, racist, who are maybe Southerners who aren't, in their minds extreme in their Southern pride (great-grand-daddy was so brave, you know) and think maybe the Confederate flag is a "freedom of speech" issue. I'm talking to you who don't want to be rude, don't want to make a fuss, don't want to upset your spouse, in-laws, neighbors, boss, co-workers, etc., when they make racist comments, when they defend racist attitudes, when they expect you to laugh at their jokes and you don't want to but you also don't want to be "PC." To white liberals who are liberal in silence because Twitter mobs are unpleasant, your family doesn't need the hassle, and so on. Enough with that.
Yeah, it took me awhile too, esp in the years right after my military service because I was getting the post-Nam bashing of former service people if I opened my mouth about anything (and sometimes when I didn't say anything) and basically curled into a defensive posture of not giving a damn publicly for (admittedly) too long. I'm not proud of that. But here's the thing, fellow white folks: most of the time confronting your friends on racist comments and jokes does not get you beaten up. You can go that far. You can tell your brother-in-law, your uncle, your best friend, to knock it off. That you don't like those comments, that the jokes aren't funny, that (if they're FoxNews watchers) they're factually wrong. You can tell the guy at church who thinks nobody's offended by flying a Confederate flag that you're offended, that the flag has never stood for liberty and justice for all. You can tell your friend that they have a right to be proud of their ancestor who fought bravely in the Civil War, but that the cause was vile. You can correct misstatements when you see or hear them (yes, the Civil War WAS about slavery; the VP of the Confederacy said so at the start of the war.) You can move on to contronting the racists in print (or e-format), in letters to the editor, in email, on blogs, on Twitter and other social media. Yes, there's blowback. So? You thought defending the country involved no risk? If your excuse is that you don't have a big enough platform--use the platform you have. If it's one other person you talk to--that's a start. Break the silence.
The victims of this racist terrorism cannot stop another occurrence. They're dead. The potential victims of the next attack cannot prevent attacks as long as there are hate-filled white people who want them dead. White people are the only ones who can put pressure on other white people to change, and use sufficient force (if persuasion isn't enough) to make change happen. White people have the resources, both economically and politically. If in fact (as I believe and hope) most white people are appalled by such things--if they want the violence against black people and other people of color to stop--then they--we--are going to have to quit hiding behind the excuses we've been using. We're going to have to swallow all the easy excuses we make for not speaking out, for not arguing, for not answering back, for letting our white leaders wimp out. Because that's what it is--wimping out. We need to get over that. We need to accept the responsibility that history has given us. We need to make healthy change happen.
If you reading this are a person of color, my apologies to you, to the victims, to the families who lost their loved ones, to the church for the loss of its pastor, to voters for the loss of the man they elected...though, as you already know, apologies alone don't get the job done.
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