On Race And The Mother Emanuel Shooting From A Southern White Guy

I have an informal blogging policy that goes something like this: I’m going to write about what I want to write about, and I’m going to be okay with not always writing things that people want to read about.  If you click through to read something of mine, that’s great!  I love connecting with people with common interests.

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Mother Emanuel AME Church. (Image credit: Pretty Terrible; click the picture to see Natalie Luhrs’s roundup of stories about the shooting)

At the same time I prefer to only write about things that I want to write about, I also try to maintain a small list of things that I will not write about for various reasons, ranging from issues of privacy to wanting to avoid clickbaiting to just not having the mental energy to deal with stuff in a way that’s worth someone else’s time.

For example, I’ve been debating with myself all week about whether I should weigh in on the Rachel Dolezal scandal.  That’s a complicated situation in a lot of ways, with intersecting factors like Dolezal’s fundamentalist upbringing that was likely abusive and the recent rise in public consciousness of transgender issues which too many people are incorrectly conflating with Dolezal’s cultural appropriation.  Seeing as I’m a cishet white male ally who didn’t grow up in a fundamentalist home, I don’t really have any personal axes of intersection with that story, and I feel like anything I could say would run the risk of being redundant or irrelevant.  I was going to let it go and focus more on things like the fact that E3 happened this week, and by most accounts it wasn’t absolutely horrible.

Then Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Depayne Middleton Doctor, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Jackson, Clementa C. Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, and Myra Thompson were murdered at their Wednesday evening prayer group by a domestic terrorist who explicitly declared that his actions were racially motivated.

Again, this is a story that, like many people on the internet, I’ve been following since I heard about it.  Again, I’ve been unsure if I wanted to say anything about it beyond the scattered instances of commiseration and mourning I’ve participated in through my various online social groups.  I’m trying to be an ally, and that’s a complicated thing, especially when this time, like so many others, I’m able to more easily identify with the aggressor than the victims.  I’ve spent my whole life living in the American South; I am steeped in the toxic culture of Confederate nostalgia.

When I was around twelve years old, I visited my grandfather for a week and listened to him incessantly refer to black people using exclusively the n-word (he made a joke about Danny Glover’s character in Lethal Weapon 4, saying “The n- died,” when his wife asked about what had happened while she was doing something in the kitchen) and then turn around and tell me that there was nothing inherently wrong with them.  As a somewhat more assertive adult, I sometimes wish I could ask him why he talked about black people the way he did if he really believed that.  Racism’s in my family.

My fraternity claims as its most famous alumnus Alexander H. Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy who explicitly said that the constitution of the Confederacy was founded on the idea that white people are inherently superior to black people and slavery is the best system for preserving that order.  Because our primary purpose is practicing rhetoric and oratory, we have an award named in his honor for our most distinguished speakers, which we display prominently in our meeting hall at the University of Georgia.  Until very recently, the makeup of our active membership was embarrassingly white.  Racism’s in my education.

In the town where I live, there are the wealthy white areas that are either associated with the university or located in our neighboring white-flight county, and there are the poor black areas that represent the majority of Athens’s permanent population.  Even in one of the most progressive towns in Georgia, the divide’s pretty evident.  Racism’s in my home.

I understand the sentiment that drives a person to kill people who look different from them.  It’s an insidious, and to many white people, invisible part of our culture that we so desperately don’t want to acknowledge, even in cases like the Mother Emanuel shooting where erasing the factor of racism makes the crime senseless.  Especially because it turns the crime into something senseless, something that we can’t identify with.  We want to say that we are not like that troubled kid.

That’s a bunch of bullshit.

In the ways that matter, the ways that actually lead to someone deciding they’re justified in taking a human life, I am just like that kid.

The only difference is I know it and I spend every day grappling with it.

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