Over 24 hours since the horrific attack on Emanuel AME Church, also known as “Mother Emanuel”, we continue to piece together information and find the words to express our range of emotions in the aftermath. The loss of life, history, teachings, and future potential is overwhelming. Nine people sat, prayed, and worshipped as they believed to be just and true.
Among them a stranger sat and prayed, allowing a false sense of calm and trust to develop before he attacked. A child hid silently in the shadows. We need to break the pattern of denial and excuses when incidences such as this occur. This was not a mentally unstable person. This was not a random senseless act. The terror attack which took place Wednesday night, the murderous rampage aimed at crushing the spirit of a people, was not some confusing conundrum of a mentally disturbed mind.
America has a history, a legacy, of minimizing the affronts to full access to equality, justice, and liberty by non-white people. Despite how much people (particularly the mainstream media and certain political leadership) want to pretend this is some random, unknown occurrence, there is a very clear rhetoric and history rooted in homegrown white terrorism. Even with the clearest declaration of racist animus and terror, many people have a head in the sand syndrome. There is an ugly underbelly of American Society that has never been addressed. We cannot merely continue to sweep things under the proverbial rug as if it will just go away. The seed of hate has been sown deep and fertilized on tales of “taking our country back” and the “good ol days.” A country that promised the descendants of freed slaves equality, liberty, and freedom has languished in delivering on that promise. Whether conscious or not, categorizing terror attacks such as the murder of nine Americans as merely the work of a mentally unstable lone wolf only further subjugates the legacy of racialized terror and oppression.
It is long past time to tackle the bull by the horns and call this what it is. This incident was an act of terror motivated by textbook white supremacist rhetoric. Contrary to what has been reported by mainstream media, the killing of predominantly black women under the guise of vindicating the rape of “our women” is not a sign of insanity. Retribution for alleged rape of white women and upholding southern virtue has long been touted as a reason for destroying black lives. The charge of rape of a white woman by a black man was beyond inflammatory. It was used to justify the destruction of progress, faith, and life. Such an allegation served as the “cause célèbre” for the KKK and other groups who ascribed to white supremacist ideology.
The perpetrator of this heinous terror attack was at the minimum a wannabe white supremacist lackey trying to prove himself for the cause. At most he was a member of an active community bent on “reclaiming” the south. Either way, ignoring the presence of such extremism fosters an environment of hatred, intolerance, and terror. We cannot stamp out the last vestiges of hate by hiding behind false logic. The long history of terror inflicted on Southern Black communities, and notably churches, warrants a keen look at this incident. This must be labeled appropriately as an act of domestic terrorism. On August 5, 2012 a terrorist with white supremacist affiliations entered a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin and killed six people, wounding several others. Both cases have clear indications of deliberate, methodical actors with only one intention…terrorizing an entire community. Although many will attempt to label this as an act carried out by a “lone wolf”, “mentally unstable” “boy”, such attempts try to distance mainstream white thought from the white supremacist and fascist undertones that permeate throughout our society. The inability to rationalize something does not make it insane. The inability to rationalize something, is merely a failure to recognize and accept the plain truth. An “American” citizen proudly displaying the flags of Rhodesia, Apartheid era South Africa, and Civil War era Confederacy is a clear and deliberate message regarding hate and intolerance. You cannot continue to live in a universe that allegedly removed itself from the ugliness and hatred running through the veins of America, all while ignoring blatantly instances of racially charged activity. Your silence is tacit acceptance and perpetuation of this cycle of ignorance and hate.
Part of breaking the cycle is consistency in how we categorize and label events and their perpetrators. Consistency in legal terminology and treatment aides in progressive forward movement. Consistency in media coverage helps inform dialogue going forward. There are clear definitions for terms such as terror, terrorism, and terrorists. A lot of people are talkers. They talk a good game. They pay lip service to the cause. But they will not lay it on the line for progress. The masters of spin will try to convince you that somehow this is really about religious liberty, or just a random actor who was off his meds. If nothing else is clear, it should be that this was a deliberate act of terror and Dylann Roof is a terrorist. The friends and family who sat by and let this happen are equally culpable.
It’s time to tell it like it is.