White people: Don’t get defensive. I was brought up in the South. I know what it’s like. A bunch of grown men, pillars of the community, get together around the grill, maybe at the volunteer fire station, maybe at church. These are your neighbors, people you know and respect. You want them to like you. Then one of them tells a racist joke and they all laugh. So you laugh too. What’s the matter, boy, can’t you take a joke?
My public elementary school was 100% white. The Baptist Church where I was baptized was 99.9% white. One time a local boy married a negress (CRINGE) and it was a big scandal. They don’t come around much anymore. Everyone is happier this way I suppose, although his folks are a mite touchy about it, so it’s best if you don’t mention it. They can’t help what their boy did I reckon. Kids these days got no moral fiber.
This is the environment that produces people like Dylann Roof, a whisper campaign of white supremacy. It’s understood that we don’t talk about it, except amongst ourselves, because of our humility. We was raised better than that. We was born better than that. A lot of fine talking folk pay lip service to equal rights and the New South, but when they is amongst good ole boys, they know how to act. They laugh at the jokes, too. Even tell a few.
I internalized this bizarre secret sense of superiority, just like Dylann did. I took it to college, the first properly integrated school I ever attended. Once, in the privacy of an elevator, I told a joke to a fellow I knew and liked. It was a Jew joke. He looked me square in the face and said, “You know I’m Jewish, right?” He never held it against me. Maybe he thought I was Jewish, too. To this day I’m ashamed to tell that story. He shined the light of truth on that joke and I saw it for what it was, an insideous form of evil that preyed on ignorant and xenophobic minds, isolating them in a chrysalis of fear. I still feel that fear when I tell that story.
Dylann feels that fear now. He believed the whisper campaign of white supremacy, just like I did. He knows it’s a lie now, because the people he attacked are forgiving him, and the people he thought he was defending are nowhere to be found. They’ve retreated into their chrysalises of fear. They are lying to each other in whispers. They are shouting lies at the world outside. “We don’t know why he did it!”
They know. Down at the flea market, the same vendors selling Confederate Flag belt buckles are also selling replica “Whites Only” signs, and if you’re white, they’ll let you look at the Swastika knives. Why do they sell Swastika knives? The Nazis were white supremacists, too. All these things are part of a greater lie, the lie of “historic inevitability.” They believe, like Krushchev, that they will bury us. These symbols are subconsciously tied. No one ever says the Nazis had the right idea, at least not within my hearing. Yet they are fascinated by the Nazis, admiring their courage, giving them a place on the same pedestal as the glorious Confederate Dead.
The Confederacy and Nazi Germany have striking similarities, namely that both were hate-fueled death machines gestated in a chrysalis of fear. Both preyed on ignorant and xenophobic minds. Both were prepared to face complete destruction rather than compromise, which is to say, both were irrational. Both provided a simple ideology which, if accepted blindly, offered escape from the complicated present with illusions of a glorious past and a glorious future.
Those illusions were stronger than the reality of kindness and love that Dylann witnessed at Emmanuel AME Church on Wednesday night. He almost didn’t do it, but some illusion, some aspect of the whisper campaign of white supremacy, convinced him to crawl back into that chrysalis of fear.
I’m astonished at the love and forgiveness that is being poured out on Dylann by the very people he attacked. I’m always astonished at the all-conquering power of love. They may break his chrysalis of fear, or he may fortify himself in there until he dies. Either way, there are a whole lot more chrysalises, and we need to break all of them, and we need to do it now, because if we don’t, they will become another hate fueled death machine.