The domestic act of terror at a historic African-American Church in South Carolina has quickly been branded as a “hate crime” by US officials, and the white man who perpetrated it is described as a “troubled” person who was otherwise “sweet and quiet”.
This is a predictable media narrative has to many for whom the racist and white supremacist motives behind the killing are transparent.
Nine people were killed when 21-year-old Dylann Roof opened fire on the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17. Roof is a 21-year-old with a criminal record.
Hate crimes are defined and categorised by US state institutions as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation”.
Following this definition, the killings are not explicitly recognised as being racially-motivated. This allows some media outlets, like Fox News, to make this about a religious dispute.
For instance, Bishop EW Jackson told Fox News: “There does seem to be a rising hostility against Christians across this country because of our biblical views.”
If a “hate crime” can be so openly interpreted, it becomes easier to deviate from the more obvious reasons behind the killing of black people by a white man who paraded in the flags of white supremacist states such as apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
If it is understood as a race-related hate crime at all, its very categorisation by US officials can also make what was a blatant terrorist act appear an isolated event that has nothing to do with the racist foundations of the United States.
In fact, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose director James Comey recently confessed the police were racist, claims to work with the state to combat hate crimes since the emergence of the Skinheads and the Ku Klux Klan.
In other words, the racial hatred that needs to be fought is displaced onto some radical far-right extremists. Race-related hate crimes are thereby disassociated from the very culture and institutions that have dehumanised, killed and dispossessed Black and brown people in the US for centuries.
If the shootings were an isolated case and a deviation from the norm, they demand meticulous inquiry. Why would a white man kill these people? Who is this white man?
“I don't know what was going through his head,” a woman who knew the killer told CNN. “He was a really sweet kid. He was quiet. He only had a few friends.”
Stories detailing the killer’s personal characteristics abound, which paradoxically works to build empathise not with the victims of racial violence, but with its perpetrator.
It did not take long either before the killer was pathologised and mental illness seen as the cause of the terrorist act. For instance, an MSNBC anchor said on June 18 that “we don’t know his mental condition”.
As people on social media have been quick to point out, this not only erases racism and white supremacy as the motives behind the crime, it also contributes to the vilification and stigmatisation of people who suffer from mental illness.
In this light, the brutal killing of nine people at a historic African-American church by a white man is not seen as a historical legacy of the enslavement of Black people, the ethnic cleansing of indigenous populations and the ongoing destruction of Black and brown lives in the US.
In a culture that divides the world into “good guys” and “bad guys” — with white people often represented as embodying “good” and people of colour “bad” — it simply cannot be fathomed that in this story white people might possibly be “the villains”.
It is this delusion of white people’s exceptional greatness that instigates in-depth investigations to understand how “one our own kin” could commit this “random act of violence”.
It is easier to say the killer is “troubled”, than to look in the mirror and acknowledge that white supremacy runs in the DNA of White America.
There is no similar questioning and extensive investigation when acts of violence are committed against white people by people of colour.
Rather, in violent cases where the perpetrator is Muslim, it is automatically assumed the person is some backward terrorist without any political motive but the blood-thirsty drive to kill innocent white Americans and attack their exceptional freedoms.
The attack translates into “Muslim terrorism” that the 1.57 billion Muslims around the world must condemn and apologise for. Of course, no such thing is ever demanded from white people by the mainstream media or society.
As long as white people continue to run away from the reality of racial violence, to invent new myths and lies so as to cover up their past and present crimes and displace collective accountability, Black and brown lives remain at peril.
As long as white guilt glues a dominant culture that denies the reality of racism, Roof will not be the last person acting out on the white supremacist belief that Black and brown people are unworthy of existence and therefore disposable.
[Reprinted from TeleSUR English.]