Thursday, December 15, 2016

Set It Off

Prosecutors say [Dylann] Roof, a 22-year-old white man, targeted the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. Nine black worshipers were killed in that attack last year. Roof's goal, prosecutors say, was to start a race war.
Robert Siegel "Testimony Concludes After Jury Hears Survivor In Dylann Roof Trial"
Just about every story about Dylann Roof makes mention of his reported goal of starting a "race war" in the United States. And what I've been wondering is: How would that work? Despite the very real differences between Americans (and, one could say, the Americas) of different colors and ethnicities, the sort of wide-spread, dedicated, sectarian violence that we've seen in various parts of the world is more or less non-existent here. And so one wonders, what, other than simply being delusional, convinced Dylann Roof that attacking a dozen people in a church would cause a a surge in ethnic violence that would rise to the level of open warfare between Black and White Americans.

For me, the simple answer is "nothing." That is to say, Dylann Roof was (and/or is) simply delusional, lost in some far-off alternate universe in which his reported plan had some chance of success. And to a degree, that fits for me, because I can simply drop the entire narrative in the bucket that Chris Rock so conveniently labelled: "Whatever Happened to Crazy?" But even that leaves some nagging questions. Because in the same way that I wonder why so many mentally ill people seem to think that they're Jesus Christ, I wonder what it is about the idea of "race war" that draws the mentally ill White supremacist to it. From the point of view of actually imagining it, it makes a certain amount of sense - Whites in America outnumber Blacks by at least four-to-one, and in most wars, those are pretty uneven odds. But I wonder what people like Dylann Roof see that I can't see that leaves them with the impression that a single act of violence that barely makes a dent in national crime statistics would trigger one. Do they see a seething Black hatred lurking just beneath the surface that only takes a single, carefully placed, pinprick to bring it erupting out into the open? Do they see a pent-up White anger that is simply waiting for someone to show them how best to vent it? For me both of these rationales seem reasonable, but they have the slight problem of, to steal a line from James Carville, being backed up by everything except evidence. There isn't a reading of modern American history that I can think of that makes either one of them seem like the likely result of any one individual act of violence.

For many people, I suppose, this entire exercise is a waste of time and energy. I could simply drop the whole thing into the bucket marked: "senseless," and leave it at that. But I understand that there are people to whom this does make sense. And that maybe, if we know, why, there's something to be done to increase the time to "next time."

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