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.