Those were the words of the man who sat through a Bible study class at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston SC and calmly waited before gunning down nine of the people that he'd just spent the last hour with. They welcomed him, without knowing him, without a reference, without questioning his right to be there, and he killed them for it.
I don't think there can be any doubt that what this young man did in Charleston meets that definition. He has admitted as much. And his words are as chilling as they are wrongheaded. "You're taking over our country." I think there are some Native American tribes who might disagree with that, at least the ones that are left, the ones that survived the genocide committed by our European ancestors.
That genocide was wrong. Slavery was wrong. History is full of things that societies have done that they shouldn't have. Are we so dense, so ignorant of the past that we have to keep doing them, keep repeating them? Have we learned nothing?
This report was given to Congress in 2002, In 2009 then Sec. of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano was criticized by Conservatives for a DHS report, Rightwing [sic] Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment. Unfortunately, that report doesn't appear to be too far off the mark. Since electing our first black president, we have seen a dramatic rise in racist rhetoric although it is often coded into things like the Birther movement and anti-immigration rhetoric.
Those coded messages that have been allowed to become news, give cover to people who may have been keeping those feelings inside because they were told in the past that those feelings weren't acceptable. Now, the prominence and acceptance of extreme right wing rhetoric on the airwaves and the internet gives them cover. It makes them think that Rhodesian and apartheid era flags, or Confederate flags, or swastika tattoos are acceptable. We have an entire "news" channel devoted to promoting xenophobic ignorance and fear of the "other". Which just makes me wonder, who's taking over our country?
And the rest of us just shake our heads and change the channel. Jon Stewart said it best last night on The Daily Show.
Emanuel AME Charleston, SC
...I could go on, but you get the picture. These events didn't happen in the mid twentieth century. Kids in school probably aren't reading about these in their history classes. Because they all happened in the last thirty years. It makes you wonder what it's going to take to get people to treat this like a real problem rather than a few isolated incidents.
The common denominator here is that these perpetrators were white Americans. In the case of the Holocaust Museum and the Jewish Center shootings the opinion makers would have us roll our eyes at the old Neo-Nazis who crawled out of their caves gun in hand. It's okay, that's not a new trend and eventually, those guys will die off right? We can call Eric Rudolph crazy because he hid out in the woods for five years. He's like the Unabomber living in the wilderness with no power or plumbing, and THAT guy was crazy. Rudolph can't be an example of a trend or anything.
The thing is Eric Rudolph had a network of like minded people helping him. And those old Neo-Nazis that we roll our eyes at when we see them on the news or at family reunions? You know you do. We've all got that an uncle who spouts off racist garbage at the holiday dinner table. Well, they teach young Neo-Nazis who reproduce like rabbits to make more Neo-Nazis. Meanwhile the rest of us shake our heads and have another slice of pecan pie. When we see one take action that results in someone's death, we shake our heads and think, 'Damn, that's a shame.' when we should be thinking, 'Man, that guy's manifesto sounds a lot like the stuff Uncle ____ was spouting at the last church pig-picking.'
Or like the folks on Fox News, we search for every reason under the sun why this thing happened other than the actual reason. Make no mistake, if that kid in Charleston had been anything other than caucasion, he would be dead already. Instead, he'll be portrayed as a lonely kid from a broken home, so everyone can shake their heads and wonder where it all went wrong. So, our questions can be focused on family instability or, education, or mental health treatment and anything other than what we should be talking about.
This man was a racist. And people aren't born racist even if their Neo-Nazi parents name them Adolf. They learn it. They learn it from their parents, or their teachers, or that one guy at the pig-picking/mudbog/turkey shoot/frat party. Sometimes, they even learn it from their preachers.
But the sad and ugly truth is that we, the non-racists, don't teach them otherwise. We roll our eyes and walk away or make excuses. We rationalize that those people need mental health treatment, but we assume that it's not our job to help them get it. We talk about gun control when white school children are gunned down in class, but not when black children in the city are shot on their way to school or in their own beds. If this attack in Charleston had happened anywhere other than a church, would people be this upset? Would we be talking about it this much? I don't think so.
I could easily draw this out to the conclusion that income inequality is what makes poor white kids blame people of color for their lack of opportunity. It's the poverty of information about how our society actually works that breeds this kind of misguided hatred. But we are also guilty by not standing up to Uncle _____ and telling him that we won't tolerate that kind of talk, or by allowing police to get away with treating suspects differently based on race, or by watching teachers treat children of color differently without even realizing it. We have to call these things out. We have to be more aware. We have to stop shaking our head and rolling our eyes and stand up to those people and their hatred.
Since last year, we've seen news story after news story of black people being abused and even gunned down by the people who are supposed to protect us ALL. They've been killed while committing minor offenses like selling loose cigarettes, attacked while walking to the store, or getting gas, or going to a pool party, and now a prayer meeting. It's leaving a lot of people wondering as Solange Knowles put it, "Where can we be safe? Where can we be free? Where can we be black?" I would add, or Hispanic, or Native American, or Jewish, or Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, Gay, Trans...?
My answer is? Over here. Right next to me. I'm not afraid of people who are different from me. I'm not worried that you're going to take my stuff. If we could all stop focusing on our differences, we'd find that we have the power to make some REAL improvement in the world around us.