I have written in the past that we as Americans have much to be proud of in our heritage - and much to be ashamed of. We are a people of great ideals - and great irrational fears. Of great promise - and great failures.
The other day I was recalling an episode of "Dr. Who," a British sci-fi series. The villain in this particular story was a robot. After it was destroyed, someone remarked on how it seemed "so human." The reply is that "It was capable of great evil - and great good. So yes, I suppose you could say it was human." I was thinking the line should have been "you could say it was American."
So just like, I suppose I have to say in fairness, probably every other culture in history, we have our evils and I'm sure we each could come up with our own list. But I think there are two great unaddressed - and I'll get to what I mean by unaddressed in a moment - two great unaddressed evils in our society: sexism and racism.
I am not going to get into one of those pointless arguments about which of those is worse or more pervasive or more perverse, arguments which are unresolvable, a waste of time, and a waste of energy that would be better spent dealing with whichever one you thought more in need of that effort.
But what I mean by "unaddressed" is that there are evils that we don't regard much, which usually remain below our awareness. But these two, sexism and racism, we do know about. We are aware of. We don't have to be reminded that they exist at all. That's what I mean by "unaddressed." It's like someone standing in front of you to who you just do not speak.
And in terms of being unaddressed, I say that racism is worse than sexism. Note that I am not saying that racism is worse than sexism, rather than in terms of being unaddressed it is worse - because it is so much more visible.
Sexism is often subtle, not so easily perceived as such even by those who may have felt its direct sting. It's built on a foundation of independent but overlapping suppositions about gender and the social meaning of gender and of gender identity and the concept of biology-driven roles for each gender, concepts which at some point in the history of our species even may have made some sense but now serve - as all bigotries do - as a foundation for dominance and control.
All of which means that teasing the evidence of sexism out of our relationships, our personal relationships, our interpersonal relationships, our social relationship broadly defined, can sometimes be difficult. That doesn't make it any less real, just less obvious.
But racism? That is obvious. I mean, how can we deny this? How can we continue to deny, no, not to deny, to pretend to deny? Racism is an open, gaping wound in our society visible to anyone who will actually simply look, simply listen.
Seeing racism, being aware of racism, doesn't require subtle analysis, it doesn't require study, it doesn't require scholarly explanations or for that matter, simplistic explanations, either. It requires only the eyes to see, the eyes to read, the ears to hear.
On June 17, 21-year-old Dylann Roof walked into the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, sat with the parishioners for an hour during Bible study - then stood up, said he was there "to shoot black people," pulled out a gun, and calmly began murdering them in cold blood.
"You've raped our women, and you are taking over the country. You have got to go. ... I have to do what I have to do."
Roof appears in multiple pictures he posted online wearing a jacket with patches from apartheid South Africa and formerly white-ruled Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and waving a Confederate battle flag or burning a US flag. He told friends he wanted to start a race war. He told cops after his arrest that he deliberately chose the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church because of its history and connection to civil rights campaigns.
But still, still, too many of us look for a reason, some reason, any reason to avoid facing the simple hard reality of racist violence - or, as believe it or not Hillary Clinton accurately called it, racist terrorism.
Instead, the usual suspects run and hide behind the usual excuses. The right wing babbled and burbled that it all was about religion that it was not an attack on blacks but on Christians - more exactly, they mean, on them (because in the right-wing mind, they are always the victim).
On Fox and Friends, Steve Doocy talked about "hostility toward Christians ... maybe that's what it was about." Fox News host Heather Childers suggest Roof could have been motivated by "pure hatred for religion."
Meanwhile, Rick Santorum, regarded and so presented by the media as a rational candidate for president with rational things to say, responded to the murders by referring to "assaults on our religious liberty we’ve never seen before."
Another candidate who is offered up by the media as chock full of reasonable arguments is Lindsey Graham, who reacted to the news by saying "it’s 2015, there are people out there looking for Christians to kill them."
(Quick sidebar: A 2012 study revealed that not one of the 62 mass shootings in the previous 30 years was stopped by a civilian with a gun.)
Others even deny the racism outright or even try to say the whole thing is kind of good news: The Wall Street Journal editorialized that the very fact that officials condemned the shooting is proof that "the system and philosophy of institutionalized racism" no longer exists. So racist terrorism proves that racism is a thing of the past.
And at the end of it all, when the dodges fail and even when they don't, we make excuses for the violence. We humanize the murderer. Where low-level black street criminals are "thugs" who are somehow emblematic of their "culture," white racist murderers are isolated cases with no broader meaning. They are each time - as Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley described Roof - just "one hateful person" with - as former FBI special agent Jonathan Gilliam suggested on CNN - "some mental issues."
But this time it is so big, so obvious, that we can't entirely dismiss it. We have to respond somehow. So what are we going to do? How are we going to respond? What will be the focus of our efforts? How are we going to "solve" this? Why, we're going to take down the Confederate battle flags! Because that is what it's about, the Confederate battle flag! Not the hatred, not the bigotry, not the racism, the Confederate battle flag.
Take down the flags! That will take care of the poverty, the unemployment, the discrimination in housing, and all the rest. That will take care of the thousand daily cuts and slights of suspicion, mistrust, even fear based on nothing but your color, that will keep the next Tamir Rice or Freddie Gray from happening. That will fix everything while we remain unaffected, our own souls remain pure, clean, innocent, because we surely don't fly Confederate battle flags so the racism, the bigotry, it's nothing to do with us.
And so we can take a deep breath, congratulate ourselves on our progress as we still treat people like Rick IShouldBeInASanitarium and Lindsey Grahamcracker and the rest of that crew as serious people with something serious to say.
And we will do it until the next "isolated incident" from "one hateful person" with "some mental issues" arises.
And then we will just start over and do all the same things again. Because always and forever, we find a way to reassure ourselves that at the end of the day, it's never about us.
Sources cited in links:http://www.wesh.com/national-news/shooting-at-charleston-church-deaths-reported/33643410