South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley issued a statement regarding the brutal massacre of African-Americans in a historic Black church: “We’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another.”
Really Governor? We will never understand why a white person in a fit of rage for no reason killed a Black person?
Let me help you Gov. Haley, we do understand: it’s racism!
The reality is this is just another in a sordid history of mass murders, single murders, and assassinations that have stalked Black communities for hundreds of years. It is difficult to see how we can look at this outside the context of this racist terrorism.
In fact, the most important thing about this entire case is that we not treat it as out of the ordinary. There will be the very strong attempt to treat this event as “one-of-a-kind,” something that would never normally happen, the work of a “crazy” person who had no “logical” reason to do so.
The reason for this is very clear: The establishment in capitalist America is fearful of revealing the depth of racist oppression that continues to exist. Particularly in South Carolina, a state run by hard-core Tea Party types with a deep strain of racism that involves quite a bit of Confederate boosterism.
The leaders of South Carolina, then, will be loathe to admit their own complicity in not only the terrorism of the past but its glorification in the here and now. Ironically enough, Gov. Nikki Haley, a far-right Republican, faced more than her share of racism in her run for governor several years back. This includes a prominent state legislature who called her an anti-Muslim slur on a popular radio show—and faced no consequences.
We must insist that this was an act of terrorism, part of an ongoing pattern that started in 1619. Racism is deeply ingrained in the history of this country, the success of Anglo-American capitalism owes itself to slavery. The prosperity of America itself rests on the sectoral oppression of Black labor. Racism has intertwined itself with American life in a way that is fundamental to this system. We must demand that this reality be faced up to and dealt with. This is not a time for platitudes about “coming together” or “keeping the peace”—racist violence and white supremacy must be uprooted. A war needs to be waged against anti-Black terrorism.
Actions can’t be separated from their context
This was no ordinary church either. Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church has a long and storied history. One of its founders was Denmark Vesey, the leader of a planned slave revolt in 1822. The revolt was betrayed, but it would have been perhaps the largest in American history involving thousands of slaves.
Further, the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) is one of the most venerable institutions in America’s Black community. The church was founded in 1816 by the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen and other free Blacks who protested the segregated reality of the mainstream Methodist church.
The gunman was clearly conscious of this history. The shooter, in a photo of him widely circulating on the Internet, had pinned to his winter jacket the flags of apartheid South Africa and the racist government in the country formerly known as Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe.
He said that he “had” to do it because Blacks were “raping our women and taking over our country.” So rather than just a random “deranged” shooter, this young man was an overt racist, who was motivated by the ideology prevalent in the fever swamps of the far right. These forces have used the ascension of Barack Obama to president as a mobilizing issue, a marker for racists that the firm grip of white supremacy in America was slipping, and that now is the time to mobilize to save it.
This is the reality that must be recognized. This incident can’t be disconnected from the clearly racist attempts that have been used to mobilize the far-right by their political leaders that has had only the most tissue-thin veneer covering its racism, xenophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry, not to mention race baiting.
How is this surprising in that context? One of the two major political parties has for almost 12 years, with the backing of a massive media apparatus, used racist and bigoted imagery as a key mobilizing principle. Of course, ordinary white people take this seriously, unlike the billionaires who run things. For them, it isn’t just a game to seek political power and enrichment.
We cannot let those responsible for creating this context off the hook. It is entirely comprehensible how the creation of a witch’s brew of hatred by massively powerful forces would birth a deadly terrorist.
Right-wing radio and the Republican messaging is just as responsible for this as the young man who did these reprehensible acts. Anyone who refuses to acknowledge this, including Democrats, is either avoiding the real issue out of fear of being accused of “playing the race card” or a desire to make sure the racist realities that undergird American capitalism stay firmly in place.