I haven’t written about the massacre in Charleston. I haven’t processed it, either, but just ignoring it seems somehow shameful.

Regular readers of this blog know that there are numerous elements of the world we occupy that concern and (too frequently) enrage me. Willful ignorance leading to bad public policies, rampant anti-intellectualism, the loss of a responsible media…it’s a long list.

America’s inability to overcome our deeply entrenched racism, however, is at the top of that list.

I’m seventy-three years old. I’ve seen overt racism decline substantially over my lifetime. We passed civil rights laws. Nice people stopped telling racist jokes at cocktail parties. Intermarriages increased and disapproval of those unions decreased. We prepared to elect a biracial President. It seemed that the arc of history was–in Martin Luther King’s words–bending toward justice.

Then Barack Obama was elected, and overt racism came roaring back.

All the old white guys (and let’s be honest, plenty of old white gals) who’d been trying to cope with the fact that their lives hadn’t turned out the way they’d hoped, who’d been getting up each morning to a world in which they were no longer automatically superior simply by virtue of their skin color, suddenly had a black President. And they just couldn’t handle it.

The rocks lifted. The nastiness, the resentment, the smallness oozed out.

The internet “jokes,” the Fox News dog-whistles, the political pandering that barely tries to camouflage its racial animus–they’ve all contributed to a new-old social norm in which racism is winked at, and if noticed at all, justified with urban legends about African-Americans and outright lies about the President.

Every inadequate excuse for a human being who has forwarded a vile email about the President and his family, every gun nut claiming that people wouldn’t have been killed if only the pastor had been armed (in church!), every snide “commentator” who has spent the last six years making a nice living by playing to racist stereotypes–every one of them created the culture within which this terrorist acted. Every one of them is a co-conspirator in this mass murder.

And don’t get me started on a culture that lets any man insecure in his masculinity–no matter how mentally ill, no matter how demonstrably violent– substitute a deadly weapon for that missing piece of his anatomy.


67 thoughts on “Charleston

  1. Southern Poverty Law Center lists South Carolina as having 19 active hate groups, 14 of which are KKK, Neo-Confederate, White Nationalists or outright Racists. (Indiana has 16.) The commentators and Presidential candidates who are skewing this outrageous crime as an attack on “Christians” or an “accident” are clearly trying to avoid calling it what it is, a considered act of terror against black citizens by a racist perpetrator. To say otherwise is just plain wrong.

  2. Fine blog and excellent comment so far. Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.” I surely hope she was right. We can do SO MUCH better!

  3. Sheila, I have been saying for years now that racism has increased simply because Obama is our lawfully elected and majority elected president. It makes people angry when I say it so I say it often. The anger increased after his re-election. It was as if some folks thought, “Well we gave them a black president but they shouldn’t have had the gall to think they could have one again.” He has endured more (and more foul) insults than any president in my political memory–which runs back to Kennedy–and he has endured it with grace and dignity. Frankly I am ashamed of my country; deeply ashamed. Charleston was just some of the hate boiling up. There is plenty more where that came from. The title of my sermon tomorrow will be How Can This Happen?, but I know how I just don’t know how to stop it. If our country would simply listen to the words of the families and friends of the victims in this horror, they would learn more about real Christianity than any sermon they will EVER hear on radio or television, or, for that matter, in far too many churches. God bless them for being what Christians are supposed to be but so seldom are.

  4. Thank you, Prof. Kennedy, for this blog post. You bring some sanity to this sorry world of ours. You tell the truth. I wish that those people who need to hear your words could hear or see them. Maybe they would learn something about themselves that would make a change.

  5. JD, I’m with you. Clearly this was a hate crime. The young man stated openly before he began shooting that he was there to kill black people. He even admitted the same to law enforcement officers when he was apprehended.

    And, thank you for mentioning the SPLC Hate Watch. Their map of documented hate groups is at this link.

  6. Sticks and stones will hurt our bones and so will words which inspire gun violence.

  7. ” Ever one of them is a co-conspirator in this mass murder.”

    Excellent piece! You hit the nail squarely on its head concerning the culture that made Charleston possible. I admire your clarity and your courage. Keep it up!

  8. Have you seen Jon Stewart’s piece? We waged two wars, spent trillions of dollars, lost 4,000 soldiers, and are still sending drones all over the Mideast to “keep us safe,” but we do nothing to prevent the 30,000 gun deaths every year in this country. It’s brilliant!

  9. You go girl! You voice my sentiments & I appreciate your passion!
    I particularly noticed both the ignorance & racism when the President ran for his second term. It was appalling.
    We need to spend more time talking with one another and building bridges and pathways for our humanity to travel. We must connect with one another or we will perish together.

  10. You all need to look at the sad fact that we’re moving toward an unavoidable Race War. And praying in church will not be enough to stop it. We need much more than that to change the direction.

    The following is from “Inevitable Surprises: Thinking Ahead in a Time of Turbulence” by Peter Schwartz ( Gotham Books 2003) p. 6:

    “……I have become increasingly aware of the critical forces that will affect the world, in ways that most decision-makers do not automatically expect. These forces are what scenario planners call “predetermined elements”: forces that we can anticipate with CERTAINTY, because we already see their early stages in the world today. We know they are inevitable because they have already begun to take place They are also going to surprise us because, while the basic events are virtually predetermined, the timing, results, and consequences are not. We do not know how these events will play out, or precisely when they will occur. But we can anticipate the range of possible results, and the way the rules of the game may change thereafter.

  11. @ Joy in Indy:
    In the name of the Second Amendment to the Constitution. . . . . .
    Is this something the Founding Fathers got right for their time (Mad King George III 1738 to 1820) but wrong for us in 2015 and forever?
    They had to stop and reload those muskets after each (inaccurate) shot.
    We have killing machines.

  12. From the Republican Party Platform of 2012

    The Second Amendment:

    Our Right to Keep and Bear Arms

    We uphold the right of individuals to keep and

    bear arms, a right which antedated the Constitution

    and was solemnly confirmed by the Second Amendment.

    We acknowledge, support, and defend the lawabiding

    citizen’s God-given right of self-defense. We

    call for the protection of such fundamental individual

    rights recognized in the Supreme Court’s decisions in

    District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v.

    Chicago affirming that right, and we recognize the individual

    responsibility to safely use and store

    firearms. This also includes the right to obtain and

    store ammunition without registration. We support

    the fundamental right to self-defense wherever a law-abiding

    citizen has a legal right to be, and we support

    federal legislation that would expand the exercise of

    that right by allowing those with state-issued carry

    permits to carry firearms in any state that issues such

    permits to its own residents. Gun ownership is responsible

    citizenship, enabling Americans to defend

    their homes and communities. We condemn frivolous

    lawsuits against gun manufacturers and oppose federal

    licensing or registration of law-abiding gun owners.

    We oppose legislation that is intended to restrict

    our Second Amendment rights by limiting the capacity

    of clips or magazines or otherwise restoring the ill-considered

    Clinton gun ban. We condemn the reckless

    actions associated with the operation known as “Fast

    and Furious,” conducted by the Department of Justice,

    which resulted in the murder of a U.S. Border Patrol

    Agent and others on both sides of the border. We

    applaud the Members of the U.S. House of Representatives

    in holding the current Administration’s Attorney

    General in contempt of Congress for his refusal to

    cooperate with their investigation into that debacle.

    We oppose the improper collection of firearms sales

    information in the four southern border states, which

    was imposed without congressional authority.

  13. “Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it is not going to protect you from the coming storm (tsunami)” ~ President Barack Obama

  14. Sheila; thank you for a kick-butt blog, speaking out on Charleston and speaking out on what is becoming a pandemic in this country…it passed epidemic proportions a few years ago. Racism in all it’s ugly forms is a socially accepted fact in this country, it has been for centuries – and Indiana has always been one of it’s leaders. This is still Klan country.

    Wray; we are of like mind on many issues, this is an issue that is part of my life and has been for more than half a century. Racism is overt when there are deaths and acts of violence but the subtle, covert day-to-day racism eats way at one’s soul. I had “colored” friends in the mid-1950’s; when I married a Black man in 1973 I became part of a select minority, half of an interracial marriage. We were often targeted by both races; I was fortunate with my wonderful, loving in-laws. I was named “an honorary nigger” by my Black father-in-law; this touched my heart and – yes, I used the hated “N” word because that was the title I was given. I fear deeply for my biracial great-granddaughter, two biracial great-grandsons and Mexican-American great-granddaughter. They are targets of hate NOW as children, what is in their future? I commented on this blog about two weeks ago regarding my 15 year old great-granddaughter being racially insulted for doing her job at the Indianapolis Zoo by a racist white woman. The fact that the racist white woman was escorted out by security could end in a lawsuit; the racist’s freedom of speech is protected by the 1st Amendment. My great-granddaughter and the Indianapolis Zoo are unprotected.

    The meaning of the 2nd Amendment states “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a fee State,…” has been misinterpreted, misued and abused for decades. The currently armed faction are terrorizing this city and state and country – not protecting them. The residents ARE the heart and soul of this state, this city and this country. Two more Indianapolis residents were murdered by guns last night. This is almost a daily occurrance in this city and it is sad to admit but; the majority of those armed and killing others are our young Black residents. The 10 Point Coalition cannot do all the work; where are the white ministers going into problem areas to ease tensions? Where are the Hispanic and Asian ministers doing the same? Where are the mixed race groups of ministers trying to bring peace to this city? When I was mugged, injured and robbed over a year ago, some people’s first question was, “Was he Black?” An automatic asumption by too many people after so many years since the Civil Rights Act was passed. Oops; my bad. That no longer applies.

  15. The Moral Majority, Christian Coalition, and the Tea Party are “brands” all of which are extremely racist at the deepest level. And what we see happening now with the police altercations and the Charleston Massacre are premature explosions before the Theocratic/Racist Movement has reached a critical mass. That’s the only positive part of this horrible situation.

    The big issue is: Whether or not the pro-democracy forces have the civic courage to take advantage of the situation and organize effectively before the critical mass is reached. If the Republicans win the presidency, the mass will be reached. And the “Democracide” or the “final solution” will be complete.

  16. Each of us MUST fight racism any way we can. There are battlefields aplenty here in Indianapolis.
    Let us all face the ugliest of ugly truths: those battlefields are in our own families, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our city, and our state. It isn’t just those “southern” places, it is here. We must target the racism in our own hearts first, then dig deep and find the courage to take it on whenever and wherever we find it.

  17. I have trouble as a Northerner in the USA understanding how people could display the Confederate Flag as it is Flag of traitors and oppression and slavery. Wait though we have named several military bases in the South named after Confederate Generals (Traitors) such as Fort Polk and Fort Benning. The Confederate Flag flies in Charleston.

    It is difficult to believe someone could be so consumed hatred they would commit cold blooded murder. What is it that turns and twists a person to this level of violence?? Mass Murders in Colorado, Sandy Hook, 13 people and injured 32 more in a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas. and now Charleston. Indianapolis has more murders than the entire country of Denmark.

  18. @Theresa

    You’re right about racism being everywhere. I’m not talking about the racism in our hearts. I’m talking about a movement which has its roots in “southern places.” Specifically Dallas and Jacksonville.

    You don’t treat a cancer by forgetting its origins. The origins of this movement are not found in Indiana.

  19. . . . and Rick Perry (R-TX) calls this sad situation an “accident”. . .It took advanced planning, a drive of over 100 miles, and over an hour inside a house of worship for the perpetrator to carry out this “accident” and kill nine innocent souls. Even the dimmest bulb on the planet knows better than that. I think Perry is one of the teeming masses of Republicans we can mark off the debates list.

  20. Marv Kramer, I’ve seen just as much, if not more, racism in the North as I ever did in the South. And OMG, yes, I believe the Second Amendment is completely misread today, despite what SCOTUS ruled. I don’t think the Founding Fathers were talking about AK47s.

  21. absolutely, this is a hate crime! planned and premeditated. Fear is whst propagates all of this…I have been a republican all my life, but I am wise enough to know that Rick Perry will never win an election as president…nor will Cruz. And I would never vote for either of them. But I do think that Obama has not been a great choice for our country either. All of these candidates, including Obama and Hillary…are dividers. They would never be able to put the country back together again. Yes, I am proud our country was able to vote a black man into office…but we voted a black man into office simply because he was a black man, not because of his ability to manage our country. Same thing with Hillary…she may become elected because she is a woman…not because she has the ability to heal our country.

  22. Fred; spoken like a true Republican. President Obama was not elected because he is black, and by the way, he is biracial and was raised in a working class white famly who gave him a good value system. He was stopped by your party time and time again; holding this country hostage and a Congress that did the least to resolve problems caused by Bush/Cheney and their wars and tax dollar giveaway to the wealthy. President Obama’s greatest failure was in not allowing Bush’s tax cuts to the wealty expire on the date Bush set. I appreciate that you seem to be well bred but no more knowledgeable of facts than Gopper.

  23. You do know that this essay has gone viral? One of my friends had it shared 91 times from his page alone. Brava!

  24. Thank you for your thoughtful and understanding commentary. It is far too often thought that the mainstream in our country is to the far right, when in fact, it is left of center and fully aware of the inequities that exist in our country. Please remind everyone that we are all of the same star dust and outside of our external image, we all came from the same dust and will return there some day. Most of us do love each other, pray for each other, care for each other, and would do anything in our power to help each other – black, white, latino, oriental, native American, arab – it does not matter, for we are one!!!

  25. Sheila–you and I seem to share a mind in all the best ways! This piece has my thoughts, but better said than I could have.

    Thank you for telling the awful truth about what this once wonderful country has become.

    It’s not the country our Fathers fought and died for in W.W.2.
    It’s not the country Martin Luther King , and so many others, marched for, were beaten for, died
    for, trying to bring justice .
    This is in no way the changes we were trying to bring about in the 60’s.

    I grew up in Louisiana–with water fountains and restrooms marked “white only”. With a sweet, gentle black woman who came most days to my grandmother’s house to clean, do laundry, whatever was needed, for, i am sure, very little money. And she had her own plate, spoon, fork, and glass there for lunch, which my sisters and i were not allowed to use, because my Grandmother had been told we could “catch something”. When i asked her about those things,my Grandmother got very offended, and told me “down here we treat our nigras good”. (of course, no black people went to our church. they had their own, because “they like it that way”.)

    This kind of shit should have been LONG OVER by now. And yet, it is not. It’s worse now, because, in part, every idiot that wants one can do just what you said–get that gun that will make him a MAN. Thanks, NRA and gun manufacturers.

    And yet, I see and hear so many GOOD people, caring people, trying, still, to make things right, peaceful, being kind to one another without paying any attention to the color of someone’s skin, what they do for a living, where they live. Loving someone for who he/she is inside, acting on that love.

    We have to just keep on keeping on–spreading good wherever we can.

    That is the power we have–to do the right thing. That and the LOVE and KINDNESS that good people of any race, religion, nationality, monitory class, etc., can share with one another.

    And, oh yeah, get rid of the money loving, right wing politicians who are supposed to work for us, but work for the wealthy instead. And they try every day to make things worse for “we the people” so a koch brother or a donald trump can keep on not paying fair taxes. So VOTE too.

  26. What guns do, before they kill, is end the ability for people to communicate. They take away the safety of an adult debate about important issues. We all loose because we are scared to loose our lives or the lives of a loved one. Guns stop the most important and vital part of a civilization, which is the ability to have open discourse.

  27. “Then Barack Obama was elected, and overt racism came roaring back.”

    Think about that….a black man was elected and then racism became a huge problem. He has spent almost 8 years ridiculing and humiliation anyone who has a simple disagreement on policy. He has exploited every white-on-black appearance of a crime, while ignoring real black-on-black and exploding rates of black-on-white crime.

    Has he done even a single thing to unite us? No, he quietly worked with known race-baiter fraud, Al Sharpton, to promote false narratives that were designed SPECIFICALLY to motive black people to stay on the liberal plantation. And he has only provoked more racism by exploiting the emotions of people like yourself….. for nothing more than political advantage.

    There is no excusing an evil act by a kid on psychotic drugs. He’s a product of racism, no doubt. But his act was a reaction (in his mind) to the extremism coming from the left. Until the left reigns in it’s own extremism, these kinds of violent acts will only continue escalating from left & right.

    But your remark about everyone on the right being an accomplish is way over the top, since several people in the last few years committed similar crimes who were ideologically left and you make no mention of it.

    This seems to be the hallmark of the left though. Never accepting any responsibility, always shifting blame to someone else. Do you feel better now?

    Of course, the reaction to such obvious facts will only be ridicule from you and your readers, because the facts contradict all these liberal blame-shifting statements and emotional manipulation is all that you have.

    Now prove me right, folks! We all know how predictable you are.

  28. Good grief, the right wing fanatics that have come to comment don’t realize that they live in a bubble. Get out and view the rest of the world. Racism is everywhere and it’s not just in the USA. It’s everywhere and until we get a handle on these narrow minded views and stand up for our fellow humans (which the left seems to do more frequently than anyone else in the world) how will we ever overcome this bigotry?
    There is only one race, the human race and none of us get out alive. How about making our time here a little more tolerant of those with a different color skin, religion and customs. Get out of your bubble. For goodness sake!

  29. So well said. I’ve been having The thought for some time that just having a black president made racism rear its ugly head again in this country.

  30. I have felt, since the early days of President Obama’s presidency, that racism was coming out of the dark corners of our country in ways I could never have imagined. I am a child of the 60’s and was raised in a home with no racism and heard the message of our time that we are all equal. It has sadden me to see that racism was just hiding…waiting for a reason to come back. When Obama won a second term it gave me hope and a belief that our country was better than the Republican and Tea Party’s ugliness. Though racism has not slowed down in the slightest – I do believe there are enough of us to fight back. To not sit back quietly but to use social media in the best way possible. We must all say, over and over that racism is not tolerated.

  31. Great editorial,I would like to add one observation .I was young and very impressionable when the civil rights struggle reached its climax in the early 60’s.I watched ,along with most Americans ,the visceral hatred inflicted on mostly Black civil rights activists who endured those indignities with forbearance and courage.The actions of those hate filled mobs and White authorities made me ashamed,for the first time in my life,of who I was,a White American boy.It also made me realize that morality and heroism was not something inherited by virtue of birth but earned through action by standing up for what is right.The contrast of the two races reaction captured on the screen and news photos caused me to look outside my own race for heroes.Once again sixty years later, I look to the families of those victims for the same inspiration.Thank you for your courage ,endurance and dignity.

  32. “Racism came roaring back” only into the public view; it was strong and unhealthy when Bessinger’s Piggy Park went to SCOTUS trying to keep Jim Crow alive, when Strom Thurmond invented the Dixiecrats, and when the Columbia PD chief of detectives described the rape of an 11 year old black girl as “nigger doin’s”. Flying the Rebel flag on the capital dome and/or lawn was was, and is, a part of SC’s heritage……of racism.

  33. @Hal

    Massive Resistance to the Civil Rights Movement was escalating before the ink was dry on the Voting Rights Act of 1965. When will we ever stop kidding ourselves? Will it take racial warfare to wake us up?

    “Because of (the) Brown (Decision), 1954 was the year when-briefly-the forces pushing for a truly integrated America seemed about to impose true democracy to the South. White Supremacy and the Jim Crow institutions it inspired had been morally and legally discredited, and the spirit of egalitarianism was on the rise. The South’s politicians, however, opted for Massive Resistance instead of peaceful change, and the dreams of 1954 became the nightmares of the terrible decade that followed.” “The Politics of Massive Resistance” by Francis M. Wilhoit (George Braziller, Inc., New York, 1973) pp. 24-25.

    And behind the cover of religion, the white supremacy forces have become more and more powerful by adopting a strategy of two steps forward and one step backward, no matter who has occupied the Presidency, every decade the past 50 years.

    Listening to Rick Perry, I fear they’re not going to step backward this time.

  34. I am finding most of these comments full of insight and positive things we can do that are clearly the right thing.
    Except for you, ted. you are clearly a racist yourself–full of vitriol and stupid ways of blaming everything on Obama being President.
    His election did not cause racism, it just brought all the right wing rhetoric out of the closets, and all the black-hating cops and others with guns they should not have into the streets, shooting anything they could that scared them.
    The problems lie not within the Obama administration, but within the black hearts of those who thrive on hating someone for their race, religion, or any other difference from what their own tiny minds find exceptable.

  35. I live in SC. I’m 72. Been fighting this and other human rights battles since 1963. Sometimes I think we’re going backward as far as hearts go. Old racists and politicians die off, young white supremacists step up to fill their shoes. Cowardly politicians pandering to the Tea Party, the NRA, for greed, fueling hatred by fear mongering. The lowest white man can feel he or she is still better than the highest black man. For some, it’s a religious thing, it’s preached in many churches still. I did not come to these conclusions second hand. I’ve seen it myself, with family and friends. About all I can do is continue to speak out, call out the offender and refuse to participate in bigotry and ignorance in ANY way!

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