Who or what is to blame for Dylann Roof? This is a question people have been debating since the 21-year-old massacred nine faithful men and women gathered for Bible study in Charleston’s Emanuel A.M.E. Church, a Black house of worship with a rich history going back nearly 200 years.
A white man walks into a Black church and brutally slays nine Black people. It shouldn’t require a doctorate in critical race studies to suspect that this was a racist act committed by an anti-Black terrorist. Yet when violence is perpetrated against Black people in this country, the social commentary always resembles Gumby, bending and twisting logic to turn the calculated wickedness of a white supremacist into a neat and orderly explanation.
Grasping at any justification other than unapologetic and unflinching racism, politicians denounce the deadly attack, faulting lax gun laws, and the media probes Roof’s history of drug abuse to rationalize his “cold stare.” Because it’s easier to point to gun control and prescription medication abuse than to admit that American institutions allow racism to flourish.
We don’t have to struggle to explain what created Dylann Roof. Racism is in the air.
Of human ignorance I am almost in despair
For racism is around me everywhere
But like they say sheer ignorance is bliss
The Confederate flag has long been a symbol of racial division and simmering source of controversy. In South Carolina and seven other Southern states a sign of racist hatred flies over taxpayer-funded state capitol grounds.
But state governments aren’t the only institution with dirty hands here. The largest institution in the country with the collective responsibility for educating the vast majority of our nation’s children also had a role in the formation of Dylann Roof. On Saturday, a racist screed penned by Roof – with a searing indictment of the high school dropout’s public school education – surfaced on social media.
From The Daily Beast:
He wrote that America’s history of slavery was based on myths and lies, using the fact that not all Southern whites owned slaves to downplay the malevolence of the institution. He also claims to have read slave narratives that were overwhelmingly positive towards the slaveowners, without naming the texts or pausing to consider whether they had been coerced.
Roof’s manifesto claims segregation “existed to protect us from them”—both in terms of violence and supposed cultural purity. “Integration has done nothing but bring Whites down to level of brute animals,” he wrote. “The best example of this is obviously our school system.”
It would be easy to brush off Roof’s manifesto as the rantings and ravings of a sinister killer. But how many people in this country were shocked that such violence could strike a Black church, blissfully ignorant of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and a long, painful history of attacks?
The Black American experience is mistaught and misinterpreted in schools, leaving students deceived and prejudiced. Roof would have no doubt about slaveholders and the system of slavery if the brutal physical, psychological and sexual exploitation that encompassed the transatlantic slave trade was taught honestly and truthfully.
The civil rights movement is taught as a string of heroes, martyrs and glorious events where America triumphed over racism. Except segregation in housing and schools and pools and restricted access continues. Racist injustices are taught as a historic footnote – not a contemporary evil – allowing delusions to fester and grow in youth like Dylann Roof.
In the emotional aftermath of the Charleston murders, a backlash against Confederate symbols is spreading nationwide and galvanizing the public into action. “Take Down The Flag!” has become a rallying cry. We need the same degree of unyielding force directed at our schools. Demand anti-racist curriculum in all classrooms. Call for anti-racist professional development for teachers and administrators. Make ethnic studies a graduation requirement.
To quote Teaching Tolerance, “Institutional racism exists throughout society and our schools—public, private, small, large, mono- or multicultural. None is immune to it.”