This is how my mother raised her children. It is one of several lessons ingrained in my behavior and attitude. One time she asked me, “What race do you think Jesus is?” I knew the answer because she taught our Bible study at the Catholic church where my brother, sisters and I were altar servers. Jesus is every race.
Upon entering the NC prison system I got a crash course in racism and instantly regretted leaving the isolation and naiveté of my childhood. Prejudice was this ugly body odor that couldn’t be covered up with the deodorant of polite conversation. It permeated the air everywhere. The white guys I met would snicker and make lame jokes whenever a black guy said or did something. The black guys I met were often hostile and gave me distrustful looks having less to do with who I am and more to do with the fact I’m white.
After nearly two decades in prison I’ve witnessed every kind of prejudice and racism still baffles me at times. As a student of social psychology the “us and them” mentality is easy enough to figure at, but the unreasoning hatred that goes with it is not. Why should I care what somebody looks like to determine how I feel about him or her? What should it matter where you come from or who your ancestors are? The very idea of such a judgment is stupid, which makes the actions of Dylann Roof, and people who attitudes like his, utter idiocy.
While the civil rights era of the 60s did a lot to deconstruct and punish the most overt forms of racism in America, and today’s generation is a far cry from Jim Crow, there is still plenty of prejudice to go around. There is evidence of this every time a motorist is racially profiled or when white police officers shoot and kill unarmed black citizens again and again. These unjustifiable homicides are broad daylight lynchings without the use of a rope. One could go as far as calling it murder – in a few cases it was – and since it’s an organized effort based on a single ideology, even Jews can agree it looks an awful lot like a quiet pogrom.
The mass shooting at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, SC, is the ninth mass shooting in the U.S. in eight years. Dylann Roof, a self-proclaimed white supremacist who used the Confederate flag as a backdrop for his hatred, shot and killed 9 black men and women while they attended Bible study. Though the killer had no bomb or connection to Al Quaeda and ISIS, he was no less a terrorist. Roof’s brand of ideology was homegrown, an attitude taught to him by someone in his community or the Internet.
It is fitting the national conversation on race has grown to include the Confederate flag, even if it’s to avoid a much needed talk on gun control and the 2nd Amendment. During the Civil War the rebel flag was hoisted by 11 secessionist states who withdrew from the Union because it banned slavery. Even though the flag is historic, it’s a symbol of traitors and slavers who believed African Americans were inferior human beings. Like the Nazi swastika, the Confederate flag has no business in any public place unless it’s in a museum with other Civil War relics.
I understand many people in the south don’t view the rebel flag as racist or evil, and that to them it’s nothing more than a historical symbol. If everybody felt that way maybe the flag wouldn’t be an issue, but as it stands the stars cross a field of blood – African blood – and no such ideology should be maintained by any United States citizen.
That the flag has stood so long after the end of the Civil War seems to imply one or more of the following attitudes in the federal government: leadership contains white politicians who hold and practice racist beliefs and policies that undermine the United States Constitution; the federal government holds the flag in harmless nostalgia rather than a middle finger to equality under the law; leadership is concerned South Carolina will resist total elimination of their support of slavery and begin another civil war; the federal government didn’t care until it became a convenient way of avoiding talk about domestic terrorism and the trend of mass shootings.
Considering the need for the Black Lives Matter movement after numerous incidents of white police killing unarmed black citizens – justified or not – the firestorm over the Confederate flag seems like an obvious stop along the way. How could the governor of South Carolina ignore Dylann Roof’s use of an oppressive symbol flying on capital grounds when the national outrage over another act of domestic terrorism has included the demand, “DO SOMETHING!” Nikki Haley’s proposal to ban the Confederate flag from public places is the right action, but is it enough?
Once the last physical symbol of anyone’s desire to enslave is gone; when every last white supremacist group has been put on the NSA’s terror watch list and outlawed altogether; when the dangers of engaging in racist thinking became a required course in grade school and there is no need to rely on faulty home training for habilitation, then maybe the United States can make real progress toward one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for ALL.