Not Colorblind, Just Plain Blind, To The Roots Of Racist Terror

Isaiah J. Poole

It was not a matter of if, but from where, some disgusting and barbaric reaction would come to Wednesday night’s terror attack at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. in which nine people died. Not surprisingly, Fox News was among the first out of the gate.

The “No More Mister Nice Blog” captured a segment Fox and Friends aired this morning in which the shooting was branded as an “attack on faith.”

“It didn’t matter that, by the time of the broadcast, the police chief of Charleston had already declared the shooting a hate crime, or that a reporter had interviewed a survivor who said that the shooter had told victims, ‘You rape our women and are taking over our country and you have to go,'” the blog author wrote. “The prime directive on Fox & Friends was not to report the truth – it was to establish a counternarrative that shifts blame away from Fox’s ideological allies and toward Fox’s ideological enemies.”

If some of the other writing of the right – and there was actually remarkably little from the right-wing media that I saw as of mid-afternoon Thursday – was less hell-bent on driving a narrative counter to the plain facts of the case that a white supremacist went into a historically African-American church known for its civil rights advocacy and for that reason killed nine people, it was certainly notable that the coverage steered clear from any notion of a connection between the incident and America’s continuing legacy of racism and violence.

But, to be fair, this is not merely restricted to rabidly right-wing ideologues and to the people who trade in extremist bombast for ratings and website clicks. Listen carefully and you will hear well-meaning people say things like “I can’t imagine something like this happening.”

To which you have to ask, “What did they teach you in American history class?”

“As a nation, we delude ourselves if we think that Wednesday’s attack is an isolated aberration,” said a statement issued by The Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, Episcopal Bishop of Washington, and Rev. Gary Hall, dean of Washington National Cathedral. “From 16th Street Baptist in Birmingham [the 1963 church bombing by white supremacists in which four children died and 22 were injured] to the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin to the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City, sanctuaries of prayer have been the target of violence. Too often, the false idol of racial superiority has been the motivation; too often, easy access to guns has been seen as the solution, not a symptom of a more severe sickness.”

It is that false idol of racial superiority, and the system of privilege that has been built around that idol, that needs to be indicted, tried and prosecuted as vigorously as Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old who pulled the trigger on those nine churchgoers Wednesday night.

“I think that we need to draw a line in the sand within the progressive movement because this is about the murder of lives that are here,” writes Nelini Stamp, co-director of Rise Up Georgia and the leader of a youth racial justice group called Freedom Side, in an email interview. “And that line needs to be around white supremacy as a system. … We need to actually take this issue head on or we will continue to lose lives.”

“This is a big moment for the narrative on race,” wrote Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice. A first step, after “we mourn our dead [and] recover from our shock,” is to “hear from the community in Charleston, from some of the leaders and coordinators in the Movement for Black Lives, and then begin brainstorming on message and strategy.” She called on “race academics” to “get organized to highlight the structural nature of anti-Black racism and the way Blackness is forged in context and history, while boots and groups on the ground need to speak very clearly to the experience and the shared demand – stop killing us and here are the steps that will make that happen.”

“The shooting in Charleston is the result and the product of a protracted political genocide resulting from institutionalized racism, centuries of dehumanization and the current denial of economic and political equality of opportunity,” wrote the Rev. Jesse Jackson in a statement today. “Today everyone is outraged at the killings, but there is not the same outrage that African Americans are number one in infant mortality, in life expectancy, in unemployment, in cheap wages, in access to capital and denial of bank loans, in imprisonment, in segregated housing and home foreclosures, in segregated and underfunded public schools, in poverty, in heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, mental health issues, HIV/AIDS and the lack of access to health care and more. We ignore this institutionalized state of terror and the resulting racial fears at our peril.”

Jackson called in his statement for a White House conference on racial justice and urban policy. “Racism deserves a remedy,” he concludes. But this incident should call America to the realization that it needs something deeper than yet another White House conference can provide – a recognition of the continuing infection of racism in the nation’s bloodstream – an infection unfazed by our denials of its existence or our protestations that it’s not our problem – and the determination to do whatever it takes to root out that infection and heal its effects once and for all.

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