Forgive them for they know not what they do
NEW YORK CITY—The killings in Charleston of nine African American worshippers by a young white supremacist (Dylan Roof is the accused shooter) are not, as shocking and horrible as these are, surprising. The irrational worship of guns as emblematic of individual freedom combined with deep-seated racism to deadly effect, like a storm surge in tempestuous weather, drowning people of color in its wake. What renders this particular incident especially horrific was the fact that the victims were in a house of worship, bearing no animus towards the killer whom they had never met. The church’s congregation has since said that they forgive the murderer.
Adding irony to this gruesome event is the fact that the Emanuel AME Church is one of several churches in South Carolina founded as sanctuaries for African Americans running away from their slave masters. Roof is reported to have declared to one victim, “You are raping our women and taking over our country,” and that he once told a friend he wanted to initiate a “race war.” If one were to go over the headlined killings of blacks, and of black men in particular—Ferguson in Missouri and Brooklyn in New York are two dramatic instances—one might be forgiven for assuming that in fact a race war is already going on.
A manifesto that in all likelihood Roof wrote appeared on a website that has his photos, indicating that he is its originator. He throws down the gauntlet: “I have no choice. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is [the] most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to whites in the country.”
Will this latest mindless bloodletting mean stricter gun control? Unfortunately not; the National Rifle Association will once again issue their boilerplate rhetoric in defense of the Second Amendment and the threat of withholding its support to prevent politicians with all the backbone of a whipped dog from passing legislation to regulate and limit the purchase of guns. The ardent supporters of the NRA don’t seem to care about the loss of innocent lives, especially when these aren’t dead white folks. Former Texas governor Rick Perry’s description of the Charleston murders as “an accident” is among the more pathetic and deplorable attempts—led by Republicans, surprise, surprise—to play down the heinousness of the crime.
The logic of the NRA beggars anything resembling common sense. Does anyone for instance believe that strict laws regarding owning and driving motor vehicles translates into banning the use of such vehicles on the road? According to President Obama, “Per population, we kill each other with guns at a rate 297X more than Japan, 49X more than France, 33X more than Israel.”
Two things interest me about the Charleston killings. One is the shooter’s belief that African Americans are “taking over the country.” That clearly is a dig at the first African American president, Barack Obama, a demented cri de coeur and a deep if misplaced feeling that whites are losing their privileged status, that the insular world they have ruled so long, with its clear demarcations of race, class, and privilege, is being undermined by, gasp, non-white folks whose most prominent symbol is Obama. That he lives in the White House heightens the sense of white insecurity. I have always felt that the resistance to the president is driven subconsciously by a sense of desperation, that the line must be held against any further encroachments on the status quo. Driven, in short, by racism. How else explain the nonsensical belief that the president wasn’t born in the U.S. and that, horrors, he is a Muslim?
The sad part, with regard to Filipinos in the United States, is that many buy into these idiotic allegations—Pinoys who consciously or not ally themselves with the white holders of privilege and status, and who in fact comport themselves as white. (There is a cookie that perfectly symbolizes these folks.)
The other aspect that I find interesting—disturbing, actually—is the reluctance to label the Charleston killer a terrorist. This might be due to the fact that a white man is involved. And that he isn’t a Muslim. Make no mistake: A white Christian supremacist cold-bloodedly butchering African Americans in service of a larger if dubious cause is a terrorist.
At heart terrorism is an equal-opportunity affliction and neither skin color nor religion defines it; they never did, but the fact that Christian society—and the media—allow these as its main parameters only reinforces the privileging of whites. Like the plantation owners of the antebellum South, the Charleston terrorist did what he did simply because he felt that he could. Such arrogance and colossal ignorance defy reason, an irrationality that Langston Hughes refers to in his poem “The White Ones”: “I do not hate you …/ Yet why do you torture me, / O white strong ones, / Why do you torture me?”
Copyright L.H. Francia 2015
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