MATTHEW C. WHITAKER
NNPA GUEST COLUMNIST
The Charlotte massacre was a premeditated stab at the heart of Black America, and at one of the moral epicenters of the African Diaspora. It was the latest in a long history of calculated and explicit acts of racial terrorism perpetrated against African-Americans.
This was neither random nor without context. Yet, I continue to hear many observers describe their “shock” and “surprise.” Even a casual reader of American would know that there has never been a cessation of racist beliefs and racial conflict in America. White supremacists have never waived the white flag.
The Confederate flag is their banner de jour. Indeed, racial tensions have only worsened of late. Almost daily we are bombarded with news of unarmed Black people being shot while talking, walking, running, working, playing, and now praying while Black.
Indeed, the Southern Poverty Law Center reveals that there has been a 30 percent increase in hate crimes since 2000. It reported that the number of so-called Patriot groups, including armed militias, skyrocketed following the 2008 presidential election, rising from 149 groups in 2008 to an all-time high of 1,360 in 2012. The number fell to 874 in 2014 – nearly six times higher than when Barack Obama took office.
When I rejected a White male acquaintance’s attempt to describe killer Dylann Roof as a “misguided kid,” he angrily declared, “Roof could be my son.”
This man and millions more like him identify with Roof. They grant the baby-faced, salad bowl haircut-wearing White supremacist the kind of absolution that many people of color can only imagine receiving were, heaven forbid, the tables turned.
They do not see Roof as the latest in a long line of racist mass murders – the most recent, hateful, violent personification of our grossly unequal and unjust system, which is characterized and fueled by White dominance and disavowal of White supremacy. They see him not as the harbinger of violent bigotry, but an unwitting victim.
How to help
To my White brothers and sisters who have taken up the struggle and descended upon Charleston, signed petitions, written letters, donated to the cause, and otherwise acted in the aftermath of Roof’s carnage, thank you for you support.
Don’t stop. People of color need relief and you’re next up at bat. If true change is to be made, we will need all hands on deck – especially yours.
The absence of racism is not the presence of anti-racism. We need more than good intentions. We need Whites to, as Mahatma Gandhi urged, to “be the change you wish to see.” Racism will not go away until we eradicate it, and you must be as invested in its demise as people of color for this to happen.
To people of color, wake up and keep your heads on a swivel. There is no shelter or sanctuary for Black people in America. The American promise is virtuous and our advancements are real, but our trek in the wilderness continues.
We will not surrender and we will not back down. We’ll start by relegating the Confederate flag, the symbol of White supremacy and hatred that Roof so proudly waved, to museums where it belongs.
Matthew C. Whitaker is founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Arizona State University.