The June 18 murder of nine African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina was a racist act, a calculated political statement, an assassination, another instance of the pervasive racism that has seeped into everyday life.
It was not an act of derangement or a flag-inspired event. It was not a crime directed against religious practitioners or as an attention-getter. It was not caused by gun-mania. Nor was it terror-driven. It was not the inexplicable act of a lone, desperate gunman. Politicians, “experts,” and the media want you to believe it was any and all of these things.
They do not want you to see it for what it was: a deliberate, racist murder that springs from the politics, institutions, and culture of the United States.
For days, talk radio, NPR, network news, and the commentariat debated a civil war battle flag, as though racism would be extinguished if all the symbols associated with the losing side in a civil war concluded one hundred-fifty years ago were expunged from public display. Liberals talked of removing street signs and statues. Symbol watch dogs now ceaselessly scrutinize everything from Civil War re-enactors to license plates, as if a world absent these reminders of slavery would eradicate racism. The stench of racism is being taken for its fetid substance.
Gun control advocates reached out to remind us of the damage that a .45 caliber Glock pistol can do. They spin the assassination as enabled by the availability of lethal firearms, conveniently ignoring the ugly legacy of racist violence through lynchings, bombings, and burnings. In the minds of many commentators, the Charleston event was little different from unfortunate, everyday violence perpetrated with guns. Racism is swept under the rug.
And then there are the hair-splitters who want to press the description of “terrorist” on the young racist assassin, correctly noting the hypocrisy of applying it selectively for some acts and not others. But the word “terrorism” has no legitimate use. It is dishonestly stretched to include virtually every national liberation movement from the Algerian FLN, the Palestinian PLO, to the South African ANC, earning Nelson Mandela the dubious distinction of being labeled a terrorist. On the other hand, the term has been opportunistically shrunk to exclude the death squads in US-friendly nations and the death-dealing, genocidal invasions and aggressions of the US military and its NATO allies. “Terrorist” has become the emotive expletive reserved for the victims of the bullies of the world. Does it enlighten to include the racist killer in the corrupted category of terrorist?
Talk show hosts think so. They consult experts to debate the question. And the question of racism is again evaded.
Politicians speak earnestly of a conversation or a dialogue on race. They want no such discussion unless it skirts the question of societal, institutional racism. They do no want to raise the matter of African American joblessness or African American poverty. They do not want to acknowledge the fact that many if not most Northern Blacks live in urban ghettos akin to Apartheid Bantustans. While African Americans are not required to carry internal passports, their skin color serves the same purpose in modern-day North America.
The media windbags will not revisit the betrayal of school desegregation in the 1974 Supreme Court decision Milliken v Bradley which effectively eviscerated Brown v Board of Education. The Burger Court stopped the desegregation process at the city limits, stoking white flight, accelerating the neglect of urban schools, and stifling the opportunity for urban African Americans to get a decent, equal education.
No leader dares shed light on the mass incarceration of Blacks, a process that has left millions of African American males socially ostracized, disenfranchised, and removed from life-opportunities. The passing of draconian laws and the simultaneous militarization of the police forces have been enforced with a Nazi-like brutality, only now marginally recognized by a justice-impaired media.
Pundits and policy makers willfully ignore the extreme and asymmetrical effects of radical deindustrialization upon the Black working class in Midwestern cities since the 1980's. Once vital, neighborhoods are now in shambles. And throughout the United States the near absence of Black faces on building sites can only be overlooked by those choosing to ignore it.
Public spaces for candid discussion and debate are dominated by shrill voices of fear. Before there was a Red scare in the US, before there was hysterical fear of Islam, there was fear of Black people. Birth of a Nation and Willie Horton book-end a century of scurrilous demonization of African Americans. Like anti-Communism and Muslim-hating, the consciously contrived fear of Blacks distracts the majority from its own grievances, its own abuse at the hands of the rich and powerful.
It is a bitter irony that these fears once enriched realtors who used the Black scare to herd whites to the suburbs and exurbs. Their children are now “gentrifying” cities, forcing Blacks from formerly affordable housing and out of these same cities, a not-too-subtle form of ethnic cleansing worthy of the Israeli settler-colonists in Palestine.
And when Black people rise up, as they did in Ferguson, Baltimore, and hundreds of places earlier, they are labeled “thugs,” “looters,” and “rioters.” The same press that delivers only invective in response to African American insurgency hypocritically labels Nazis in Ukraine “freedom fighters.” The same press that celebrates US-instigated coups against elected governments in Honduras and Ukraine finds nothing noteworthy in the institutional disenfranchisement of Black people through electoral maneuvers.
It is not merely hypocrisy that infects our media and culture, but the malignancy of racism. Mass culture-- television, film, etc-- and news media almost universally depict urban African Americans as gangsters, drug dealers, addicts, and other purveyors of violence and vulgarity. True, mass culture occasionally portrays Blacks sympathetically, but as the exceptional character escaping dysfunctionality.
The example of a dramatic shift in popular acceptance of gay marriage demonstrates the power of a cultural shift, a mainstreaming of a minority. As the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows, in only six years-- from 2009 to 2015-- support for gay marriage grew by 20 points, from 40% to 60%. This remarkable turn-around surely shows the effects of depicting gays as sympathetic figures in movies, sitcoms, news print, etc.
While the media should be applauded for helping secure this welcome change, it must be roundly condemned for persisting in demonizing African Americans. No similar effort has been made to mainstream Blacks. Instead, the powers owning and controlling our news and entertainment corporations fuel the fear, disdain, and even hatred directed at African Americans. They depict a minority alien to the values of hard work, civility, and respect. By portraying Blacks (and Hispanics as well as other minorities) as unworthy, they support their ruling class brothers and sisters and sow disunity in order to guarantee low wages and benefits, a ravaged social safety net, and social and political stability. There is nothing that ruling class elites fear more than the dissolving of the divisions, prejudices, and ignorance that preclude a unified, clear-sighted working class.
The corporate cultural and news complex, more than a shabby Civil War symbol, is responsible for the tragic event of June 18.
Given centuries of oppression and exploitation, along with a relentless campaign of social rejection, it is no wonder that Blacks are the only social group in the US with a more positive view of socialism than capitalism (Pew Research Center, May 4, 2010). One would hope that this wisdom garnered from the harsh lash of capitalism will be welcomed by others who are appalled by our country's treatment of their fellow citizens.