Over the past day or so, I’ve been accused of being a “Leftist Race-baiter,” I’ve been accused of making things worse for focusing on the reality of racism instead of sweeping the problem under the rug (along with the very real experiences of people whose skin happens to be a different shade than mine), and I have been accused of “Fanning the race flames.” I feel like this is sort of like someone who points out the problem our country has with obesity being called a “fat-baiter” when he points out how many foods out there are killing people. I am trying very hard to stay positive though the last couple days, but I have to admit I’ve spent most of my time in despair. And in bed. I’m not going to lie to you: I don’t smell good. Not taking a shower is one of the forms my grief is taking. My wife is…. not thrilled.
Here’s something that I’ve noticed: People are confused by the difference between the concept of “a racist” and “Racism.” And when you point out Racism, what many people HEAR is you calling them “a racist.” And their definition of “a racist” is a person is a person who secretly (or overtly) hates people on the basis of the color of their skin. The news that has come out over the past 24 hours surrounding the murders of nine beautiful people at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church has made it pretty clear that Dylann Roof was “a racist.” So when you point out “Racism,” people hear an accusation of being like the murderous 21 year-old with a “Confederate States of America” license plate and Apartheid-era South African and Rhodesian flags on his coat. And they get defensive. “That guy is an aberration! A mentally ill lone wolf!! I don’t know anyone like that!!!”
But pointing out Racism is different than pointing out a racist. Racism is an unseen SYSTEM–a way of doing things, upheld by our social institutions–that effectively uses discrimination and injustice to separate and diminish people of color…. And by so doing, keep those of us with white skin the ones who have the power. I’ve talked about it before, but I have been pulled over SO MANY TIMES without getting a ticket. When the officer sees me, I can almost feel him or her assuming the best about me…. and that’s an advantage. Racism is the force that makes me more nervous when a black man walks up to my car than I would be if the man walking up to my car had skin that looks like mine. It is the system that has 50% less call backs on resumes with “black-sounding” names than on the same exact resume with a white-sounding name. And so, SO much more. In a fish bowl, a fish might be a racist, but Racism is the water.
And I think that might be where communication is partially breaking down. It someone points out racism, people think of burning crosses and white hoods, and that defensiveness rears its head, and they are like, “Not me–I love black people!” But behind that, they are unconsciously thinking things like, “If black people would just play the rules (our rules), they wouldn’t be getting into trouble.” But those rules might just be designed to keep people in a permanent second-class status. But if I’m being honest, I’m not in a place right now where I can deal with people who just don’t get it. A familiar sarcasm is coming back to me, and I’ve got this horrible hybrid of anger/sadness/cynicism that I can’t sleep off.
Consider this: At today’s bond hearing for Dylann Roof, the judge decided it was important to some time to make a personal statement. Here is the video of his remarks:
Just in case you you can’t (or won’t) watch the video, here is what he said:
“Charleston is a very strong community. We have big hearts. We are a very loving community. And 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 this young man’s side of the family. Nobody would have ever thrown them into the worldwind [sic] of events that they have been thrown into. We must find it in our heart, at some point in time, not only to help those that are victims, but to also help his family as well…. When it’s all done and said, Scarlet Wilson as Solicitor, and Ashley Pennington will have done the best job that they can do. They are some of the finest. Our law enforcement are the finest in this state, and they will do their job honorably. I trust they will.”
So let’s recap…. The judge presiding over this case thought it was important to remind everyone of the unseen victims in all this: Dylann Roof’s family. He took roughly 5 seconds commenting on how there were 9 victims…. and then he spent about 30 seconds calling for caring and empathy for the family of Dylann Roof. The same family who bought a young man (who dropped out of high school in 10th grade and had trouble with the law and trouble with substance abuse) a .45 caliber handgun for his 21st birthday. And–I don’t know this for sure, but I’d be willing to bet any and all of you $100 that it’s true–probably the same family who bought young Dylann Roof some really cool Rated-M first-person shooter video games where he had fun practicing his kill shots. There was no mention of the families of the nine black folks who just lost their mothers/fathers/brothers/sisters/sons/daughters/grandparents by Judge James Gosnell. But then, these comments were made by a man who once used the word N-word in his courtroom. He is quoted as saying, “There are four kinds of people in this world—black people, white people, red necks, and niggers” as he advised a black defendant during a bond reduction hearing. That’s right…. This judge said that. From the bench.
There WAS, however, mention of the prosecuting attorney and the public defender assigned to Dylann’s defense. Solicitor Scarlet Wilson and Public Defender Ashley Pennington received high praise and a vote of confidence from Judge Gosnell…. Possibly because of allegations of misconduct between those same two attorneys on another murder case. Scarlet Wilson happens to be the same prosecutor who brought murder charges against officer Michael Slager after video evidence came forward showing officer Slager firing eight times at Walter Scott, the unarmed black man who was shot in the back and killed. Officer Slager claimed that Scott had taken his taser, and he was afraid for his life. Luckily, someone happened to be filming the incident, and video evidence showed his claims to be false. So yeah, same town, same attorney…. Small world, right?
And then, the cherry on the poop sundae that was today turned out to be reading about how a man named Charles Cotton (perfect) who is a board member of the NRA, posted in a pro-gun forum and said that Senator Pinckney’s death (and the death’s of those eight other men and women) were his own fault. His comment has since been taken down, but he wrote that Pinckney “voted against concealed-carry. Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead. Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue.” You can see a screen capture of his comment below….
As predictable as this sort of stuff is, it still kills something inside of me to hear people say it. Just like it kills something inside of me when normally rational people call for “More Guns” (or “More Tigers”) and “Guns In Church” as a remedy for gun violence. Just like it kills something inside of me when a white judge praises his white attorneys and reminds us that there are some white people hurting too. Just like it kills something inside of me when people go on the attack when you mention Racism. A part of me has died today. Maybe I can find something to be hopeful about tomorrow…. Maybe not. It might be a while.