Charleston: Reflecting On An Act of Domestic Terrorism
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Politics and Activism

Charleston: Reflecting On An Act of Domestic Terrorism

It's time to start a national discussion about racism.

Charleston: Reflecting On An Act of Domestic Terrorism

This past week, President Obama was forced to address the nation in the aftermath of a mass shooting for the 14th time since he has taken office. He appeared noticeably exhausted and frustrated as he described an attack that resulted in the deaths of nine members of the Emmanuel AME Church. As I watched the media coverage of the shooting unfold, I was struck by the language they chose to describe the shooter. Dylann Roof was a loner, mentally ill, quiet, soft-spoken, and misguided. It is inconceivable why anyone would do such a thing. There is nothing anyone could have done. He was just a crazy, isolated racist. Was this an attack on faith? How could this happen in America, a post-racial society? After reflecting on these events I refuse to accept any part of this as normal.

I refuse to accept the idea that racism is a mental illness.

Racism is prejudice against a particular group of people combined with the privilege and power to create barriers for those people. It's systemic valuation of certain skin colors, cultures, ethnicities, etc. over others, and it comes in all forms, from murdering black church-goers to the continued use of stereotypes that "jokingly" define entire ethnic groups, cultures, and religions. Dylann Roof is a self taught white supremacist influenced by America’s culture of intolerance. His online manifesto and detailed reasoning for his actions show that he was clearly in touch with reality, though his perception of it was repugnant. He did not kill people because he was mentally ill. Anxiety is a mental illness. Depression is a mental illness. No where in a current, reputable psychological text book will you find a diagnosis called “racism.”

I refuse to accept journalism that does not acknowledge racism as a current issue.

I am tired of hearing news anchors deny the presence of racism in this country. I watched for an hour as Fox correspondents tried to paint this as an attack on faith. A man walked into a church and said, “I’m here to shoot black people. ... You rape all of our women, and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” If he was attacking faith, he would have said, “I’m here to shoot Christians.” There were plenty of churches in the area, but Roof chose that particular one because it is an institution at the center of the Civil Rights movement and a symbol of racial equality. Any time there is a story about racially motivated violence, there is immediately some explanation as to why it "isn't about race." Racism is deeply embedded in American culture and it needs to be addressed, not imagined away.

I refuse to accept attempts to humanize white terrorists.

Quite frankly, I don’t care about Dylann Roof’s childhood, his family life, or what his friends think about him. He doesn’t deserve a biographical article that explains how he became a murderer, and I have no idea why my newsfeed is full of his face. What I actually want to know is who the victims were, how we can help their families and friends, and how we can prevent this from happening again. I am angered by those who are choosing to portray him as a quiet kid who just went down the wrong path. He is a terrorist who has been treated generously by the media. If a Muslim individual committed the same crime, they would be vilified and dehumanized, and the entire religion of Islam would be to blame. Dozens of unarmed black men who were killed by police have been portrayed by the media as thugs and degenerates, yet the idea that trained officers should be able to handle unarmed civilians without shooting them is ludicrous. For some reason it is inconceivable that there could be some bad police officers among the many men and women who wear their badges with honor. Why does Dylann Roof receive the dignity of having his story told, while the families of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin had to listen as the media picked apart the character of their deceased loved ones on national television?

I refuse to accept the notion that this was an isolated incident.

In the last 30 years, there have been over 60 mass shootings in America that have resulted in more than 500 deaths. In almost 50 of them, the weapons used were obtained legally. There is no other developed country in which mass shootings are such a problem. Despite our clear need for reasonable restrictions on firearm possession, an NRA board member stated that Reverend Pinckney and eight of his congregants died because he opposed a bill that would allow for concealed carry in churches, daycares, and restaurants. This is victim blaming at its finest: nine people died because a racist man tried to start a civil war in a country where racism is tolerated rather than expunged. They did not die because their Reverend opposed gun control.

I refuse to accept the idea that white privilege does not exist.

As a white person, I have an inherent advantage over Americans who are people of color. I am more likely to live in a good neighborhood, receive a quality education, go to college and live above the poverty line. I am more likely to receive a job than a black person with the same level of experience. I am less likely to be stopped and searched by a police officer, or to be incarcerated for committing the same crime as a black person. White privilege has allowed me opportunities that I may not have had if I were a person of color. White privilege allows the confederate flag, a symbol of slavery, racism, and oppression and a rallying point for KKK members, to fly above government buildings in the south, but subjects Muslim women to harassment while wearing a hijab.

I refuse to accept indifference or inaction.

In his famous letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr stated that he believed the white moderate to be the greatest barrier to change for African Americans. I have lost count of the number of times I have heard someone say, "I support them but it doesn't really affect me," or "That doesn't happen around here, so I can't do anything." Racism is everywhere, gun violence is everywhere, and everyone has the power to make an impact in some way or another. So to my fellow white people, here are some ways you can ally yourselves with people of color:

  • Listen. If someone is telling you that they have experienced discrimination, harassment, or oppression, listen actively and don't look for ways to minimize their concerns.
  • Educate yourself. While a person of color may wish to have a conversation with you about the oppression that they face, it is not their job to educate you. There are plenty of online resources that detail the history of racism in America and its relevance as a current issue.
  • Acknowledge your own privilege. How do you benefit from being white? How might your opportunities have been different if you were born a person of color? Do you contribute to systems of oppression, and if so how can you change this?
  • Use your privilege to speak up and bring more attention to issues that affect people of color. This is not about guilt or attention, but your social responsibility to act.
  • Learn the history of the Emmanuel AME Church and of violence against black churches in the United States.
  • Reject the notion that the shooter was simply mentally ill, that this was an attack on faith, or that more guns could have solved the problem.
  • Learn the victims' names and forget the shooter's. He does not deserve your attention. Rather, keep the victims, their families, and their community in your thoughts and/or prayers and learn their stories.

I hear so frequently that people are tired of seeing the same depressing stories on the news and talking about racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. It seems like there is a new tragedy every day and I agree that it is exhausting. With that being said, I can't even imagine how much more exhausting it would be to actually be a person of color in America. I can choose to distance myself. I can turn the news off and pretend nothing happened. The problem is that a black man can't just decide to be white so that it's easier for him to find a job. If the victims' families turn the TV off and pretend this never happened, they don't get their loved ones back. While I understand that it is frustrating to constantly see doom and gloom on your Facebook feed, we need to stop complaining about how inconvenient the suffering of other people is and start finding solutions. Please, start talking, America, because I refuse to accept that this is the best we can do.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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