It’s Really Simple: Racism is Bad.


Its Really Simple:  Racism is Bad.

 

I have been thinking about the Charleston shooting daily since it happened last

Wednesday, June 17. That is not to say that I have had a lot of “thoughts” about the tragedy, but

just that I have been thinking about it a lot. So, I suppose I would conclude from all this thinking

that I simply “feel” a certain way about the shooting itself and the coverage of it in the

intervening week. In short, the entire story makes me incredibly angry.

 

Of course, it appears that the shooting itself has made nearly everyone who has followed

it angry. I do not think it is unfair to characterize what that twenty-one year old killer did to

those nine victims as a universally loathsome act. Public figures and members of the media at

large have roundly condemned this young man and mourned for the loss of the nine—as well

they should. I do not see any praiseworthy value in these two acts, of course, as I do not find

much moral value in an act that is “supposed” to be done. Nonetheless, it is heartening to see

that a white man can’t kill black people for being black and be maintained as a cultural hero

anymore. There are plenty of people alive today with memories long enough to reach back to a

time when that was not the case.

 

What was not heartening at all, and is the primary reason this story makes me so angry,

was the reaction in the first days of the shooting to the shooter and his motivations. Everyone, in

general, said the appropriate things: “senseless violence;” “thoughts and prayers;” “horrible act;”

and so on. However, more so even than the massacre at Sandy Hook (in my view), there

appeared to me be an almost unconscious refusal to address the shooting for what it was: a

racially based act of terror perpetrated by a young man seeking to incite a race war. Fox News

initially reported this as an attack on Christianity.  Rick Perry, currently running for the

Republican Presidential nomination, bemoaned the mental health issues and drug addiction that

led to such a terrible “accident.” An NRA official from Texas (and several Facebook friends of

mine, in truth) wrung their hands about another “soft target” being exploited by a dangerous

criminal with a gun. If only someone in the Emanuel AME Church had been armed—this all

could have been avoided. And now, a full blown shit-fit over the public display of the

Confederate Flag has broken out among people who should know better. So, my anger and

constant thought about this story comes from a place of extreme frustration. Nine black people

can be killed by a proud, confessed racist, and a large number of the American right wing (and to

a smaller extent, the American left wing) want to talk about anything other than, as Jon Stewart

put it on his show from June 18, the “racial wound” that refuses to heal.

 

All this is not to say that issues of gun violence, mental health, and the offensiveness of

the Confederate flag on public land are not important. However, in this context, they should not

be sold as anything close to the central problem. For instance: no one truly knows what the

status of the Charleston killer’s mental health was at the time or what it is today. We do know

that he is a racist and wanted to kill black people; he said so himself. Does anyone remember

“Bull” Connor being given (though I doubt he’d accept it) the mentally ill diagnosis? What

about George Wallace?

 

In similar fashion, I am repulsed by the notion that the solution to gun violence in a

church is to start arming parishioners. Is there no place left to go for those who would rather

avoid arms in whatever form? The answer appears to be no. According to the NRA and its

right-wing supporters, peaceful people whom, in good faith, would rather live their lives without

the need for guns and the danger they represent, are merely naïve, sitting ducks. The people that

hold this position have ceded the argument to the violent and the murderous on account of their

“freedom.” How free are we really if we are so frightened of the potential violence of our fellow

citizen that we must literally bind ourselves to a firearm to feel safe?

 

As for the Confederate flag, the answer is simple. Symbols have power; symbols

endorsed by governments have power backed with authority. It is tacit (and in some cases not so

tacit) endorsement of a failed rebellion that, had it succeeded, would have supported and

propagated the institution of slavery. The Party of Lincoln should think long and hard about

defending the symbol of a culture and system that the president they so loftily claim as their own

struggled so mightily against.

 

Which all leads me to the heart of my frustration. These three issues I have just

discussed, compared to racism in America, are easy. The arguments are easy. The positions are

clearly defined; the premises generally agreed upon. The only disagreement is the conclusion at

the end of those premises. With racism, what I am beginning to see is that we are good at

answering the question, “Why is racism bad?” We are good at pointing out a few of the larger

overt acts of racism. The Charleston shooting is the most recent example. The murder of James

Byrd, Jr. is another. We are not so good at identifying racist attitudes, however. And, most

importantly, we fundamentally disagree about what racism looks like in America in 2015. As a

friend of mine put to me in a different context last week (and I paraphrase) “If I can’t accept the

framework, we can’t have a real discussion.”

 

So, I put this to you: we still do not get it in 2015. Honest mistakes with language can get

you labeled as a racist. Pointing out legitimate acts of racism or racist attitudes can get you

labeled as a race baiter. We do not know what it looks like in 2015—which it makes it easier for

hucksters and charlatans to distract us with talk of flags and religion and guns. I am tired of the

endless call for a “conversation about race.” We have been having it for over 200 years—having

it poorly.

 

Maybe we speak different languages when we speak about race. That would certainly

explain the comment I saw from a friend of mine last Friday. He was quick to point out that not

all white people are racist murderers. As if that were something that needed to be said or was

being argued by anyone. Perhaps for him, when he hears “white man shoots black man for being

black,” he hears “whites kill blacks for being black.” If that’s the case, then the first step to an

effective discourse is to learn a new language…a language where point scoring does not inform

the vocabulary nor recrimination the syntax.

 

A language that starts from a simple, organizing premise:  “Racism is bad.”

 

Any takers?

 

Lefty

AKA Blake Lubinus

the doc n lefty show des moines iowa politics

Thoughts?