White America has to face the culture that created Dylann Roof

Dylann Roof (Photo: From his now defunct website lastrhodesian.com)
Dylann Roof (Photo: From his now defunct website lastrhodesian.com)

Racism isn’t Haley’s comet. It doesn’t just show up every several years to remind us that it’s still around. It’s a constant fixture in our culture — both in America and around the world. There has been a constant, seemingly endless stream of evidence that reminds us that the fear and contempt for Blackness is as much a part of our everyday lives as it has ever been. A Black teenage girl in a bikini slammed to the ground by a White police officer who arrived on the scene of a pool party with the hyper-aggressive bluster of a soldier entering enemy territory; the murders of Mike Brown, Michelle Cusseaux, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray at the hands of police officers; the murders of Renisha McBride, Trayvon Martin and Justin Patterson at the hands of regular citizens. There have been as many as 12 Black trans women murdered over the past 12 months with little-to-no outcry from mainstream LGBT media. There have been those who have sought to exploit the suffering of Black people for personal gain; from Rachel Dolezal pretending to be a Black woman while climbing the ladder of Black activism under unnecessarily false pretenses to Chet Hanks copying Black culture in an attempt to fake his way into a legitimate hip-hop career and Vijay Chokal-Ingam claiming he pretended to be Black to “prove” affirmative action is a racist policy. And in the Dominican Republic, dark people are being forced out of the country at this very moment; rendered stateless by racism in the only home many of them have ever known.

And last week, 21-year old White supremacist Dylann Roof opened fire at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Roof killed eight people on the scene, with a ninth dying later at a local hospital. As a victim pleaded with Roof to stop, he reportedly declared “No, you’ve raped our women, and you are taking over the country … I have to do what I have to do.” Roof was arrested a day later in Shelby, North Carolina, and is currently in custody. It was an egregiously hateful and heinous act, and one that comes at a time of intense racial unrest throughout the country.

And in the face of all of this racial hatred, Black people are constantly being asked to explain it all. We are supposed to serve as White supremacy’s conscience — delivering enlightening and informative dissertations about why racism is bad. Or we’re supposed to shy away from discussing racism altogether unless we can deliver our message in easy-to-swallow “All Lives Matter” rhetoric that absolves White culture of its specific role in fostering the anti-Blackness. We’re not supposed to make our White friends feel bad; because the same people who can recognize cruelty against animals or the disregard for the environment is just “so sick” of hearing about the racism that dehumanizes Black people daily. But Black people didn’t create Dylann Roof — White supremacist culture created Dylann Roof.

“Why is it always about race?”

How can anyone ask this question in the wake of a mass killer declaring that he wanted to start a “race war” after he murdered nine Black people in a historic Black church while ranting about Blacks raping and “taking over?” What else could this be “about?” The denial of racism is racist — whether explicit denial or faux “concern” over other issues meant to obscure race as a central factor in an act such as this massacre. But for too many White Americans, it is necessary to divorce racism from even obviously racist acts of terror — because that’s just an uncomfortable conversation. So presidential hopeful Gov. Jeb Bush pretends that he “doesn’t know” why Roof killed nine Black people despite the fact that Roof has stated clearly that he wanted to kill Black people. And South Carolina’s Gov. Nikki Haley issued an initial statement that went so far as to declare that “we’ll never understand” why Roof sought to kill.

“Michael, Rena, Nalin and I are praying for the victims and families touched by tonight’s senseless tragedy at Emanuel AME Church,” Gov. Haley posted on Facebook. “While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another. Please join us in lifting up the victims and their families with our love and prayers.”

We know why he did it. He said why he did it.

“We are going to reach out to everyone, all victims. And we will touch them. We have victims — nine of them — but we also have victims on the other side. There are victims on the side of this young man’s family,” said Charleston County Magistrate James “Skip” Gosnell, Jr. at the hearing for Roof. “Nobody would’ve ever thrown them into this whirlwind of events that they’ve been thrown into.”

Such sympathy is being shown for this man’s family. I remember seeing social media posts arguing that Mike Brown’s parents were to blame for his “thuggish” behavior and subsequent murder at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson. I recall Trayvon Martin’s parents being all-but-indicted as deadbeats and careless about their son; which supposedly justified him being killed by George Zimmerman in 2012. But the Roof’s family has been declared “victims” — just as much as those nine churchgoers who were slaughtered at a prayer meeting. Family gave him the gun— did family also give him the worldview?

NRA official Charles Cotton wrote on a forum for Texas gun advocates that Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the slain pastor of Emanuel A.M.E. church and a state senator, was to blame for the killings because he opposed concealed-carry laws. “Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead,” Cotton wrote. “Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue.” He didn’t mention Roof or racism.

The constant fight for the recognition of Black humanity is psychologically damaging and spiritually draining. It’s not enough to acknowledge ambiguous “oppression” and it is flat-out destructive to pretend that this shooter’s family are just as victimized as the people he slaughtered out of racism. There has to be a clear and concise cultural assault on the scourge of White supremacy. The White supremacy that made a cop see a bunch of Black children having a pool party as a gang of hooligans; the White supremacy that tells us to empathize with a White woman who lied and exploited race for personal gain; the White supremacy that says it’s tired of hearing about the racism that is of its own creation. Don’t ask Black people for answers — demand that White people change.

Racism is not for Black people to dissect and analyze for the sake of “explaining” it to White people. This is a White invention and it is maintained by White culture and White structures — it’s time for White people to take up the task of dismantling it. It’s time for White people to start asking themselves hard questions. Black people have been talking for centuries. We’ve explained enough. You can’t keep staging interventions for an alcoholic who’s in denial, and Black people can’t keep offering evidence of racism that White people refuse to address in any meaningful way. Because as long as White people are comfortable, White supremacy thrives unchecked and Black pain is just collateral damage to that comfort.

Don’t ask your Black friends “Why?” Black people didn’t shoot people at church out of racial hate. Don’t ask your Black friends “What can we do?” Black people didn’t build this culture on the subjugation of other people. And don’t believe that everyone has the same burden to bear — because Black people aren’t shooting and assaulting White youth with the endorsement of the state. Go talk to your White friends. Ask them if they’re truly honest with themselves about racism. Ask them if they understand how deeply entrenched it is in our culture. And ask them what the hell they are going to do about it. Because Black people shouldn’t have to explain White people’s hatred; racism is not our creation and sure as hell ain’t our fault.

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