The world is perfectly organized to get the results we are getting right now.
Fellow white folks, I have something to say to you about Dylann Roof. It may be different from other messages you’ve heard this week. I don’t care to discuss whether his actions were terrorism or a hate crime – though I think it’s a useful conversation to have. Neither am I interested in discussing whether stricter gun control might have stopped these murders. While I think gun control is relevant, it’s too easy to devolve into a discussion that focuses, in my opinion, on a symptom rather than the cause.
What I’d like to talk to you about today, my people, is how we created Dylann Storm Roof.
Roof is not an island. He is held up by millions of inputs over his twenty-one years that led him to execute a plan to murder innocent black people. Inputs that took hold in the South long before he was born that told him black lives are less valuable than his own, then reinforced that notion over and over, every day of his life.
Indoctrination in to Southern racism is as sneaky as Nazi indoctrination was: it grabs our attention by telling us we are special. Chosen. Then it whispers that “they” are trying to take away our power and POOF, we’re prepared to attack this imaginary enemy to defend our position.
I won’t preach – we’ve all heard those stories and then tucked them safely away as “history.” Let’s talk about today.
Examples of the inputs that support the belief that black people are less than, apart, different from us. It probably started with his parents passing on the belief system that they had. Then, we supported him and sustained him right up until this moment:
1) Referring to Memphis, Tennessee as “Memphrica” – My home town is majority black. I see this reference daily on Facebook and I bet there are other similar references to cities that are majority black that I haven’t seen;
2) Flying the Confederate Flag – I understand that many Southerners have ancestors who fought in the Civil War and that it’s important to honor them. I understand that many continue to support states’ rights and that, at a high level, that’s what the Civil War was about. But many Americans (black and otherwise) have told us that it is offensive and creates a hostile environment for them, and we’ve told them to fuck off . We can say it’s about history – and maybe it is for some – but isn’t it at least a little about someone else having the power to tell you what you can and can’t do?
3) Way Down in Africa – America’s first black radio station, AM 1070 WDIA in Memphis is referred to in the white community this way. They are separate from us.
4) City Monuments: Until two years ago, there was a monument in Memphis dedicated to Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the KKK. Two more monuments: Confederate Park and were renamed along with this one when City Council voted on it in 2013. Notable, three white City Council members abstained from the vote. Again, fuck off black Memphians. NOTE: These types of monuments remain all over the South – Memphis isn’t special.
Then there are the countless racist jokes we laugh at, pictures on Facebook of our president as a monkey that we scroll past and saying out loud, “I wonder what he stole?” when we see a young black man running down the street. When we talk more than we listen and don’t stop to consider – at least for a moment – that what the African-American community is telling us about their experience could be true.
White Southerners, we created Dylann Storm Roof by supporting a system in which he could exist. Through our actions and our inactions, we have chosen to think of the African-American community as our enemy.
We loaded the gun.