As we all try to move away from America’s racial past, the Charleston black church massacre, leaving nine dead-including its senior pastor-is one more persistent reminder of it.
In finding out, Dylann Storm Roof, 21, the church assassin’s motive was the start another civil war I am reminded of American novelist William Faulkner who wrote in his 1951 novel “Requiem for a Nun,” “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
This particular act of domestic terrorism by Roof focuses a sharper lens on how the first shot fired during the American civil war at Fort Sumter near Charleston, SC in 1861 is still being fought one hundred and fifty years after its conclusion. From white slaveowners, Klu Klux Klans to present-day white supremacist groups, African Americans’ desire to obtain life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in this country has been obstructed—if not killed—by their acts of violence.
Yet we are a country that does not what to talk about race.
The Southern Poverty Law Center that tracks hate groups across the country has reported an uptick of hate groups since Obama took office. While South Carolina has nineteen hate groups, proudly referring to themselves as neo-Confederates, “liberal” Massachusetts boast eight with the nearest white supremacist group being an active chapter of skinheads called “Volksfront” in Boston.
With the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama killing four little African American girls-and thought be of a distant past-let us not forgive the burning of the Macedonia Church of God in Christ here in Springfield, Mass. just hours after Obama was elected that historic night of November 2008 as our country’s first African American president.
The day before the church massacre, exactly one hundred and ninety-three years prior, “Mother” Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church was burned to the ground due to the racial violence of a mob of white slaveowners. Mother Emanuel, however, rose from her ashes soon after the civil war I’m 1865, and the doors of the church has been open and welcoming ever since, even with this recent crisis.
Yet, we don’t want to talk about race.
If we thought Obama’s Millennials would be less racist than their parents, Roof quickly disabuse you of such a notion with the vitriol expressed in his manifest, harkening back to Jim Crow America:
“I wish with a passion that n**gers were treated terribly throughout history by Whites, that every White person had an ancestor who owned slaves, that segregation was an evil an oppressive institution, and so on.”
While most politicaly correct whites — at least those in polite company—wouldn’t use the n-word, Obama reminds us in his recent and much talked about podcast interview “WTF with Marc Maron” how America’s racism is still very much alive, using the n-word to illustrate his point.
“Racism, we are not cured of it,” Obama said. “And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say nigger in public.
For decades now, America has refused to broach the topic of white privilege.
During Black History Month in 2009, former US attorney general Eric Holder offered an explanation as to why.
“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot,” Holder said, “in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”
His speech was met with scathing criticism by those who said its tenor was confrontational and accusatory.
Many communities of color around this nation assert that white people show no real invested interest in engaging in this country’s needed dialogue on race.
While many whites have confessed their aversion to such a dialogue, stating that while a cultural defense of “white guilt” plays a role in their reticence, so too does their cultural fear of “black rage” for inadvertently saying the wrong thing.
It’s a debate that has been avoided because of political correctness. But it’s true that any discussion on race, no matter who’s stirring the conversation—Rachel Dolezal, our president, or Eric Holder—invariably inflames our emotions more that informs our faculties.
What further complicates the dialogue on race is a perceived as well as a real avalanche of criticism from communities of color about how whites are as unconsciously racist as they are incurably so. This, too, leaves the needed dialogue on race in suspension.
Ironically, the aversion to a conversation about race not only continues to harm people of color, it harms whites as well.
The irony of American history is the tendency of good white Americans to presume racial innocence. Ignorance of how we are shaped racially is the first sign of privilege.In other words. It is a privilege to ignore the consequences of race in America,”Tim Wise wrote in “White Like Me: Reflections on Race From a Privileged Son.”
On one hand we have the dominant culture’s continued indelicate dance of white privilege and single-issue battles that thwart coalition building with communities of color. On the other, we have some people of color dismissing the notion that white marginalized groups (white women, LGBTQ, the poor) may have something to offer communities of color in terms of advice and shared (if not same) experiences.
Sadly, civil rights struggles in this country—by blacks, women, and gays—have primarily been understood and demonstrated as tribal and unconnected rather than intersectional and interdependent of each other.
So, how do we make our way through the current tangle of misguided good intentions and valid suspicions concerning race?
The only way forward is to keep talking about race