The murderer left no doubt that the massacre at Charleston’s “Mother Emanuel” AME Church was an act of white supremacy, but GOP presidential candidates pretended it was anything else. (More)
Killing Them Twice: Republicans Erase Race in Charleston Massacre
We don’t have to guess why a 21-year-old white man drove from Columbia to Charleston, entered the historic “Mother Emanuel” AME Church, and then committed mass murder. He left a terrified witness alive to ensure that his message of white supremacy was told:
I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.
“He was big into segregation and other stuff,” Tyler said. “He said he wanted to start a civil war. He said he was going to do something like that and then kill himself.”
Add Facebook photos featuring the former flags of white-dominated African nations and a Confederate States of America license plate and racist comments to other friends, and his motives are clear. The FBI are treating this as a hate crime and both federal and local investigators are probing the killer’s online contacts.
“A sick and deranged person”
Yet in their reactions yesterday, GOP presidential candidates refused to confront the obvious:
Republican presidential candidates steered clear on Thursday of addressing the role gun rights and racial tensions may have played in a deadly mass shooting in South Carolina as Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton called for the United States to face what she called the “hard truths” underpinning the tragedy.
The responses to the attack in Charleston, in which a white man is suspected of killing nine black people at a historic church, showed the contrasting pressures facing White House hopefuls in each party as they prepare for primary contests
Several Republican candidates issued statements expressing condolences in the wake of the attack. But unlike Clinton and President Barack Obama, they did not call for action to reduce similar attacks. Few were willing to label the murders a hate crime, although police in Charleston said the attack was racially motivated.
“There’s a sickness in our country, there’s something terribly wrong, but it isn’t going to be fixed by your government,” the libertarian-leaning Kentucky Senator Rand Paul told a group of religious conservatives in Washington. “It’s people not understanding where salvation comes from.”
Speaking at the same event, Texas Senator Ted Cruz did not mention the race or possible motivation of the suspected shooter[.] The young man’s Facebook profile showed him wearing a jacket emblazoned with flags of apartheid-era South Africa and of the former Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, both formerly ruled by white minorities.
“A sick and deranged person came and prayed with an historically black congregation for an hour and then murdered nine innocent souls,” Cruz said, without referring to the race of the shooter.
“Deeper reflection beyond this horrible situation”
At least Sen. Cruz granted the dead their racial identities. Not so Rick Santorum, who never mentioned race at all:
You just can’t think that things like this can happen in America. It’s obviously a crime of hate. Again, we don’t know the rationale, but what other rationale could there be? You’re sort of lost that somebody could walk into a Bible study in a church and indiscriminately kill people.
This murderer didn’t “indiscriminately kill people.” His self-professed motives were all about discrimination against people of color. Santorum then turned to his favorite narrative:
All you can do is pray for those and pray for our country. This is one of those situations where you just have to take a step back and say we – you know, you talk about the importance of prayer in this time and we’re now seeing assaults on our religious liberty we’ve never seen before. It’s a time for deeper reflection beyond this horrible situation.
Yes, let’s reflect “beyond” white supremacy to the “deeper” issue: the religious liberty of business owners who want to limit their employees’ birth control and exclude LGBTs. Nine dead blah people are merely tokens in a larger story of the slide toward wholesale persecution of Christians.
“We don’t want to be judged by him”
South Carolina Senator and GOP presidential hopeful Lindsey Graham echoed Santorum’s killing-them-because-they-were-Christians fantasy:
But despite the fact that the Justice Department has labeled the attack a “hate crime,” Graham was not willing to go that far. “There are real people who are organized out there to kill people in religion and based on race, this guy’s just whacked out,” he said. “But it’s 2015. There are people out there looking for Christians to kill them.”
As for why he and Santorum seized on the Persecuted Christians meme while most other Republicans offered only anodyne, context-free responses, Sen. Graham perhaps unwittingly revealed his motives:
“I just think he was one of these whacked out kids. I don’t think it’s anything broader than that,” Graham said. “It’s about a young man who is obviously twisted.”
“No one at home [in South Carolina] believes this represents us. We don’t want to be judged by him,” Graham said.
“Sweeping indictments against … ideological and cultural enemies”
In American political dialogue, collective guilt is for Those People. Witness the MSNBC reporter, on the night of the attack, asking black Charleston residents what they should have done to prevent this crime. When Salon’s Chauncey DeVega flipped the familiar rhetoric about urban violence – asking questions like “What is radicalizing white men?”, “Is something wrong with the white family?”, “Is White American culture pathological?”, and “Where are the white fathers in the white home?” – the National Review’s David French responded with sputtering outrage:
Chauncey DeVega decried the “racial double standard” allegedly at work in the (hours-old) coverage of the attack, declared that “White right-wing domestic terrorism is one of the greatest threats to public safety and security in post 9/11 United States of America.” and then posited a series of bizarre questions that were irrelevant to the still-emerging facts of this crime. The questions, however, are deeply revealing of a certain radical mindset, one that seeks to use isolated horrific events to offer sweeping indictments against an entire ideological and cultural enemies list (anyone remember the aftermath of the Gabby Giffords shooting?). A crisis, after all, is a terrible thing to waste.
Unlike, say, sweeping indictments of black culture and claims of “an epidemic of black murderers.” Those links aren’t to fringe white supremacist websites, but to French’s colleagues at the National Review.
Most of French’s responses to DeVega’s are little more than childish “Yeah but you too!” retorts, but this one bears further investigation:
Yes, there is something wrong with the white family. Its rates of illegitimacy and fatherlessness have been climbing for years and are reaching crisis levels. Sadly, other races are in even worse shape. Here are some recent statistics: “72.3 percent of non-Hispanic blacks are now born out-of-wedlock; 66.2 percent of American Indians/Alaska Natives; 53.3 percent of Hispanics; 29.1 percent of non-Hispanic whites; and 17.2 percent of Asians/Pacific Islanders. That’s 40.7 percent overall.”
Note how French conflates “illegitimacy and fatherlessness.” In fact research shows these are distinct concepts and ‘single moms’ are increasingly likely to be living with their partners as unmarried couples. Once you separate “illegitimate” (unmarried) and “fatherless,” the New York Times’ Charles Blow reveals a startling shift in the data on race and fatherhood:
It has always seemed to me that embedded in the “If only black men would marry the women they have babies with…” rhetoric was a more insidious suggestion: that there is something fundamental, and intrinsic about black men that is flawed, that black fathers are pathologically prone to desertion of their offspring and therefore largely responsible for black community “dysfunction.”
There is an astounding amount of mythology loaded into this stereotype, one that echoes a history of efforts to rob black masculinity of honor and fidelity.
Josh Levs points this out in his new book, All In, in a chapter titled “How Black Dads Are Doing Best of All (But There’s Still a Crisis).” One fact that Levs quickly establishes is that most black fathers in America live with their children: “There are about 2.5 million black fathers living with their children and about 1.7 million living apart from them.”
In other words, 60% of black fathers live with their children … and those who do are more likely than white fathers to feed or share meals with their kids daily (78.2% to 73.9%), bathe, diaper, and/or dress their kids daily (70.4% to 60%), and read to their children (34.9% to 30.4%). Black and white fathers were roughly equally likely to play with their children daily (82.2% to 82.7%).
Among fathers who don’t live with their children, black dads stand out yet more:
- 12.6% of non-cohabitating black dads feed or share meals with their kids daily, compared to a statistically insignificant number of non-cohabitating white dads
- 12.7% bathe, diaper, and/or dress their kids daily, compared to just 6.6% of non-cohabitating white dads
- 16.5% of non-cohabitating black dads play with their kids daily, compared to just 6.6% of non-cohabitating white dads
- 7.8% of non-cohabitating black dads read to their kids daily, compared to a mere 3.2% of non-cohabitating white dads
You won’t hear those data repeated endlessly – unlike the rates for out-of-wedlock births – because they contradict the conservative narrative of black pathology. And you won’t hear Republicans talking about the white supremacist roots of the massacre in Charleston because race is never about white people:
Because race is constructed as residing in people of color, whites don’t bear the social burden of race. We move easily through our society without a sense of ourselves as racialized subjects. We see race as operating when people of color are present, but all-white spaces as “pure” spaces – untainted by race vis á vis the absence of the carriers of race (and thereby the racial polluters) – people of color. This perspective is perfectly captured in a familiar white statement, “I was lucky. I grew up in an all-white neighborhood so I didn’t learn anything about racism.”
To co-opt the dead in Charleston into a Christian persecution fantasy is to erase white supremacy from the story of their murders, denying their identities and the meaning of their deaths. It is killing them twice.
Update from Yesterday: The Anniston Police Department put Lt. Josh Doggrell and Lt. Wayne Brown on administrative leave following the SPLC Hatewatch exposé on their participation in a white supremacist group.