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Drawing the Right Lessons from Charleston


Drawing the Right Lessons from Charleston

Fred McKissack Jr.

Pulling down the Confederate battle flag on the grounds of the South Carolina capitol is a step in the right direction. But our country’s problem with race won’t be solved by one long-overdue gesture.

Note the ridiculous comments online and on television in the days after the Charleston church massacre. Too many people continue to believe the preposterous notion that minorities are to blame for the nation’s racial woes.


It's true that the removal of the Confederate flag won't solve the "country's problem with race," but the author is right that it is "a step in the right direction." Some people will say that a flag is only a symbol, but symbols can have great cultural significance as myth and meaning. South Carolina flies a flag that symbolizes slavery and a war of rebellion. What does that say about that state's commitment to racial reconciliation? What does it say about the United States as a whole that this racist symbol--the confederate flag--has migrated away from the south and can be found in every state in the union, even though the flag evokes the specter of civil war and treasonous rebellion?

No surprise at all that vicious racist comments infest the online chat rooms of law enforcement. For many police officers, "the blacks" are not US citizens (certainly not equal citizens). The blacks are merely slaves off the plantation, with no rights that a white man is bound to respect (in the immortal words of a supreme court justice). The police do not think of themselves as protecting black communities; they act as though they are protecting "white" communities from the blacks. As for "serving" black communities, the idea is ridiculous. Slave patrols don't "serve" the slaves, they control and oppress them.

Not a few white people in the United States would like the blacks to simply disappear: to go away, die off, "return to Africa." This white fantasy of vanishing blacks has existed in US culture since the days of the Colonization movement in the 1830's. It persisted down to the Civil War when even Abraham Lincoln gave it some thought. It was only an aspect of Ku Klux Klan thinking, as the Klan was more concerned to keep blacks as slaves than to drive them out of the country. But the fantasy of all white America has been given new sinister life by the gains of the Civil Rights Movement and by the multicultural character of mass immigration. People like Dylann Roof see the permanent end of "white America" looming before them and they don't like it. Hence the desire for a "race war" to settle once and for all the troubling problem of "the blacks."

In one respect, Dylann's Roof's fantasizing comes straight out of American history--the embrace of the confederacy, the reliance on guns, the horror of "miscegenation," the paranoia of being "white" and oppressed...it's all there. On the other hand, there is a distinct neo-nazi element in Roof's thinking. The belief that a race war is just around the corner is hitlerite, because Hitler showed that a racial genocide is indeed possible. For racists, Hitler is the truth. Even the Klan cannot match up to the utter ruthlessness of the Nazis. It's clear that Roof went out of his way to commit a totally ruthless crime. In other words, he wanted to come off as a Nazi. And I would say that he fully succeeded.

And there are people in this country who speak harshly of Roof's victims! These people are America's own nazis.


Racism is an explicit part of the Southern Strategy. It gained momentum with the Dixiecrats of 1948, culminating in its explicit use with Nixon and the rest is history. For a very useful discussion of these issues by Eric Foner, one of America's great historians of this period, see the interview with Prof. Foner at Salon; http://www.salon.com/2015/06/24/the_face_of_racism_today_is_not_a_slaveowner_eric_foner_on_the_past_and_present_of_white_supremacy/


Well. This was just a piece in the larger scale puzzle of racism and/or violence conducted with the purpose of personal gain and exploitation of others. What do we call the actions of a brown person who in the name of smth somewhere kills or drones other brown people somewhere someplace across the border??? Actions that he/she does to earn his own compensation and generous benefits and to also increase the profits of those who hired him/her. What is indeed the difference between the two cases? This is a question I haven't seen raised much. As always, the oldmedia zeros in on the tree so that we loose sight of the forest.


Media reaction to the Charleston mass murder that fixates on symbolic issues--like flying Confederate flags in southern states or whether violent white supremacists are any less the terrorists than those crazed Islamists--are distractions from what is the most salient trigger of this horrific incident. Though abstracted issues are certainly worth debating, they are typical media diversionary tactics from what cannot be voiced openly yet is too glaring to keep denying.

Disconnected generalities about persistent racial violence in America divert attention from citizens' growing recognition that the police are increasingly out of control. Evidence week after week that brutal police are granted impunity for arbitrary, thuggish, and criminal abuse of power is never lost on the more mentally disturbed, hypervigilent, and brittle persons among us.

For police to wield total authority to shoot repugnant citizens subjectively perceived to be threatening, to have justifiable license to fire on blacks guilty of being black, in fact to make it their regular practice to hound impoverished classes with incessant fines as a formal policy for funding local services such as their own--is enabled only because officials from Obama on down signal their tacit approval by their silence and reticence in the face of police terrorism.

The white supremacist assassin with the name of Storm Roof took the Storm Trooper cops lording their power over stigmatized classes and scorned races as his supreme role model, as the epitome of the forceful command he needed himself. So he tracked down similar "inferiors" and social outcasts in a black church, found himself likewise aggrieved as a brother in arms, and then he fired too.


"There is a direct connection between this latest atrocity and the bombing that killed four black schoolgirls in Birmingham in 1963."

The song about it:


-by Richard Fariña

Come round by my side and I'll sing you a song
I'll sing it so softly, it'll do no one wrong
On Birmingham Sunday the blood ran like wine
And the choir kept singing of Freedom.

That cold autumn morning no eyes saw the sun
And Addie Mae Collins, her number was one
In an old Baptist church there was no need to run
And the choir kept singing of Freedom.

The clouds they were dark and the autumn wind blew
And Denise McNair brought the number to two
The falcon of death was a creature they knew,
And the choir kept singing of Freedom.

The church it was crowded, and no one could see
That Cynthia Wesley's dark number was three
Her prayers and her feelings would shame you and me
And the choir kept singing of Freedom.

Young Carol Robertson entered the door
And the number her killers had given was four
She asked for a blessing but asked for no more
And the choir kept singing of Freedom.

On Birmingham Sunday a noise shook the ground
And people all over the earth turned around
For no one recalled a more cowardly sound
And the choir kept singing of Freedom.

The men in the forest they once asked of me,
How many black berries grow in the Blue Sea?
I asked them right back with a tear in my eye
How many dark ships in the forest?

A Sunday has come, a Sunday has gone,
And I can't do much more than to sing you a song
I'll sing it so softly, it'll do no one wrong
And the choir keeps singing of Freedom.


what is the second to last paragraph talking about?
The men in the forest they once asked of me,
How many black berries grow in the Blue Sea?
I asked them right back with a tear in my eye
How many dark ships in the forest?

plz answer