The shooting of nine black men and women in a Charleston church has sparked protests against South Carolina’s ubiquitous displays of the Confederate flag. If you’re not from the American South, you might be surprised to find the Confederate flag displayed alongside the flag of the United States. And if you had no frame of reference at all you might even be excused for believing it had some “official” purpose, akin to a state or regional flag.
But it’s just where the spirit of the South remains. This isn’t odd, given the fact that the United States was built on slavery. A culture of slavery and its associated environment inevitably produces individuals like as Dylan Roof.
As we should expect with any state that has its roots in enslaving human beings, as well as any state that continues to perpetuate variations of slavery to this day, people will rebel. The slaves, specifically, will rebel. These may be minor acts of rebellion, such as the anti-racist graffiti on a Confederate war memorial. They may be larger acts of rebellion we will see more of in the future.
Minor acts against racist symbols are viewed disproportionately by those who view the symbols as extensions of the self. This is why a controversy has erupted over the defacement of a racist monument as opposed to, say, the defacement of an alley wall. The remnant symbols of chattel slavery in the United States are still sacred symbols to those who sympathize with slaveholders. Zachary Gaither, quoted from the article above, said “the Confederate flag is a Southern heritage of pride.” This is the mindset of those who wished to preserve the “dignity” of the memorial and covered the graffiti with a tarp. It’s also the belief of the organizations that erected the memorial in the first place, such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
As long as people exist who view symbols of oppression with pride, as long as people glorify oppression, we will face eminent violence. Violence is nurtured by oppression. The oppressors require violence to subdue the oppressed. The oppressed utilize violence in turn to cast off the yoke of their oppressors.
Dylan was one who glorified oppression. He glorified the Confederate flag – the flag was a source of pride to him. In fact, Dylan was a bit of a Confederate aficionado, fitting neatly into the stereotype of Southern racists who love Civil War bullshit. He toured Civil War battlefields and cemeteries. He rationalized chattel slavery in his manifesto:
Only a fourth to a third of people in the South owned even one slave. Yet every White person is treated as if they had a slave owning ancestor. This applies to in the states where slavery never existed, as well as people whose families immigrated after slavery was abolished. I have read hundreds of slaves narratives from my state. And almost all of them were positive. One sticks out in my mind where an old ex-slave recounted how the day his mistress died was one of the saddest days of his life. And in many of these narratives the slaves told of how their masters didnt even allowing whipping on his plantation.
Actually, you should read the full text of Dylan’s manifesto. It isn’t new material. It can’t even be called “extremist” material, because a significant portion of the mainstream population agrees with him. Just read some of the negative comments on a Black Lives Matter article. The material is the same. Black persons are “the real racists,” they have “lower impulse control,” and so on. It’s very racist, but this can’t be called extremism. Racism is not a fringe position. In many areas, especially in the South, it’s the status quo.
For example, Dylan credited the Council of Conservative Citizens (CofCC) for his data. This group shaped his beliefs. The Council of Conservative Citizens is a mainstream political organization, patronized by American politicians. It has remained mainstream despite being listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. American governors, a Senator and dozens of politicians at a national level remained open members of the CofCC through the turn of this century. An assortment of American office-holders and politicos regularly appear at CofCC meetings.
In fact, in the very same article where Vibe reprinted Dylan’s manifesto, the comments are full of people saying he was right. If you check the comments on any one of the articles I’ve cited, you’ll also find the same thing: widespread support for Dylan’s racist beliefs, if not for his violence.
The CofCC immediately denounced Dylan’s violence. As has one Kyle Rogers, a “rising star” of white supremacy who is on the board of the CofCC. Rogers is being called “the man who radicalized Dylan Roof.” Rogers also denounced Dylan. In fact, Rogers – in typical white supremacist fashion – has both denied being a white supremacist and claimed he is “opposed to hatred and violence.”
In fact, Rogers and Roof share, almost to a letter, the same set of beliefs. Roof was inspired by Rogers, after all. Violence is the only point of disagreement. Yet, violence is secondary. Racism caused the violence. And violence is the natural result of the racism perpetuated by Rogers, by the CofCC, and also by any person who displays a Confederate flag.
When those who incite hatred and violence end up seeing the fruit of their labor they tend to condemn it, of course. In Europe they could face criminal prosecution, while in the United States – despite “freedom of speech” – there is still a very real risk of facing civil prosecution in the form of lawsuits filed by the families of victims. It’s damage control. Aggressive violence is an inherent part of racism. There is no nonviolent racism. Dylan Roof is just the natural conclusion of following through on the premises of Kyle Rogers.
Many white supremacists and neo-Nazis even deny being “racist.” Instead, they call themselves “race realists.” When Rogers said the shooting was “an atrocity” and that he was “devastated” this is not an anomaly. We can see this in form, if not content, throughout American society. The American state, for example, portrays itself as the peace-maker while it simultaneously perpetuates global war. American police do the same to black communities at the local level.
In short, racism – be it from individuals like Rogers or entire institutions such as the government of the United States – often says of itself “this is not racism.”
Barry Sheppard at Red Flag made one of the best points:
The mass murder of nine African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina, by a white supremacist has to be understood in relation to the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the racist counter-movement spearheaded by police.
Dylan is said to have desired a race war. It would be more accurate to say he wanted the existing race war to shift from low-intensity to high-intensity. A race war has been in effect from the moment the first colonizer captured the first slave. Race war has never stopped; race war is the natural consequence of enslaving human beings. What we’ve done is disguise the race war. We’ve called it Jim Crow, or the War on Drugs and the War on Crime. Mandatory minimums, the death penalty, and life imprisonment. The police, having been militarized in the 60s and 70s, are the front line against people of color in the United States. Dylan killed nine and the media circulates the story, but most people still don’t know that the police have killed five hundred this year alone, and more than five thousand since the beginning of 9/11.
While almost half of Americans no longer trust the police, police still have significant support. The same police departments Americans support are routinely found to be harboring racists who share the views of Root and Rogers. Police whistleblowers have reported on a culture of racism within police departments inherent to policing itself. And law enforcement members are still being outed in 2015 as supporters and members of the Ku Klux Klan. None of this is controversial enough to mainstream Americans for a truly populist backlash (yet).
We could even say that Dylan’s racist beliefs are America. They’ve been there from the very beginning. Racism is manifested in the structure of the law itself, as well as the application of the law by the police. It is not a stretch to say that if Dylan wanted to get away with killing black people he could have become a police officer. In fact, if Dylan had been a cop he would be defended for the same actions he is currently being condemned for.
This is because Dylan Roof is more mainstream than many Americans wish to admit.