Saturday, June 20, 2015

Did You Look Under The Bed?

I’m quoting at length here, from this ABC News article, because I want to make sure that I’m retaining the context of the reporting.

[Joey] Meek[, a childhood friend] recalled how Roof, 21, spoke about how he wanted segregation reinstated.

“He didn’t agree with some things and somebody had to do something about it,” Meek said of Roof.

“He said that he thought that blacks the blacks in general as a race was bringing down the white race,” Meek said.

Meek, who did not bring his claims to police before Thursday morning, said that he has known Roof for at least seven years and that his friend had dropped out of high school in ninth grade and been working at a landscaping company recently.

Roof stayed with Meek and his mother, Kim Konzuy, for part of last week but he was not staying with them in the days leading up to the Wednesday evening shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. They said that there was nothing particularly unusual about his behavior in recent days.

“He never said the n-word, he never made racial slurs, he never targeted a specific black person. He never did any of that so it was just pretty much a shock,” Meek said.

Meek said that Roof did have a confederate flag on his license plate, though Meek said that many people in the area have that and they believe it is not related to racism or slavery.
Friend of Accused SC Shooter Claims He ‘Wanted to Start a Race War’
I’m not the first person to make note of the fact that our desire to make racists out to be monsters allows them to walk among us unnoticed. This interview with Joey Meek really shouldn’t point out anything that we don’t already know - that when you affix the label “racist” to a handful of specific behaviors, such as using the word nigger, making other racial slurs or targeting specific individuals because if their perceived race, you can miss the fact that someone who openly says that “the blacks in general as a race was bringing down the white race” or that he “Wanted to Start a Race War” might have some racially-motivated animosities. And my point isn’t call out Meek and the other people who were reported to have known Roof and understood that he was planning to spark a race war is stupid or willfully ignorant. It’s that they understand racists to be people with fangs, horns and tail, instead of just a bad haircut. And there’s a reason for that.

“Who your people are” is a really big deal in the United States, if not for humanity in general - and often a much bigger deal than it really ought to be. And in the South, this is very evident. While the Civil War was a quite some time ago, it’s not Battle of Hastings long ago - the last surviving confirmed veteran of the war died in the mid-1950s. Go back four or five generations from my own age cohort, and you’re there, if you didn’t overshoot entirely. People don’t want to believe that great-grandpa Joe or great-great-grandfather Henry were among the greatest villains of history because that often casts them as villains, too. And so “the confederate flag,” which was a military emblem, rather than the standard of the Confederate States of America as a nation-state, morphs from being something that people fought under and a sign of violence and battle, to a marker of “heritage.” And it stops being about the economics of the former Confederate states reliance on forced labor and becomes a matter of the “tyranny” of Washington D.C. Because your people being descended from people who fought bravely for the cause of freedom plays a lot better than them being descended from people who treasonously took up arms against the duly elected government of their own nation.

The smartest thing to do would be to let go of the idea that the actions of people long dead should be a source of pride or shame in the present. The fact that someone is the descendent of a Confederate, a Nazi, an Islamist or a United States Marine should be completely immaterial when compared to what that person is doing in the here and now. But just because it’s a smart course of action doesn’t make it an easy one. We are, as someone once told me, always looking for reasons to throw someone else overboard to make sure that we stay afloat, and if we can’t find a sin of yours to hang you for, those of your forebears will do nicely. Such is always the way in cultures of scarcity.

Racism needs to be just another trait of a person, rather than a marker of the worst sort of Evil. We don’t have to laud it any more than we laud laziness or a lack of self-control, but our drive to expunge it from our society by making it monstrous isn’t working - instead we’re simply creating reasons for people not to see it when it walks among them. Groups of people have many traits in common with individuals, and one of these is it’s hard to change (or even simply deemphasize) something that you can’t bear to see in yourself. And the more we push to make monsters out of people who make moral judgments based on skin tone, the more the people around them will look for virtual monsterhood and overlook everything else.

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