By Cary Brunswick
In America, there are no ``lone wolves’’ committing racial violence.
Yet, many observers and media commentators insist that because Dylann Roof was not a card-carrying member of some neo-nazi or white supremacist group, he was acting in a virtual vacuum, or was just another sicko with a gun. That is nowhere near the truth.
Roof was charged with nine counts of murder Friday, two days after attending a prayer group at an African-American church in Charleston, S.C., and gunning down several members of the congregation. Those accusations should be followed up with federal hate-crime charges.
That tradition of hate goes back centuries, when the bigotry and inhumanity of slavery was intensified each time an African dared to speak up, challenge authority or seek to break the shackles of slave-owner brutality.
For 100 years and more after the Emancipation Proclamation, not only speaking up and challenging authority but simply trying to live a decent life in freedom spurred hatred in minds infected with the tradition of ideas that espouses white racial dominance through violence.
For decades the Ku Klux Klan and other vigilante groups carried out tens of thousands of lynchings of blacks who did nothing more than try to make ends meet in the shadows of their former plantations.
Before the lunch-counter protests and bus boycotts, as a child I saw first-hand blacks trudge out to the back of diners to order through dilapidated windows. I watched as black children made their way up rickety stairs to sit in balconies to view motion pictures high above the white kids seated below.
As long as blacks behaved as directed by institutionalized racist segregation, they were permitted to co-exist. Their fears were reserved for the discriminate terror often unleashed by the vigilantes.
But the murders and massacres of the 1960s civil rights era illustrated just how far white supremacists were willing to go to preserve their inhumane vision of post-slavery society.
Birmingham Sunday, nearly 50 years ago when a church bombing killed four black girls, stands out as a stark reminder of how the terror of racism can slaughter innocents as well those who dared cross the lines of segregation. And there have been numerous black churches bombed or burned since then.
The sickness of white supremacy and the advocating of violence have not abated, and the message is readily available in the age of the Internet. Today, minds infected with racism do not have to attend KKK meetings; they just have to log on.
So, when South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley says ``that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another,’’ we have to wonder what would motivate her to misunderstand the tradition of racism and hate still prevalent and so easily accessible.
Haley’s statement is made even more absurd by the fact that she is a minority, an Indian-American born to Sikh parents.
Commentators also have tried to paint Roof as a ``monster,’’ ``loner,’’ and ``deranged.’’ All those descriptions may be true, but they are not aptly used in connection to the tradition of violent racism that obviously infected Roof.
And that tradition exists in South Carolina, though it may not be as well known as in Alabama and Mississippi. The debate over racism in recent days has shifted to the Confederate flag displayed outside the statehouse in Columbia, S.C.
In the South, Confederate flags are a common sight. For most people, they represent a southern heritage, a regional identity or a spirit of independence from the North. But the flag also cannot be divorced from the racism and slavery for which it was primarily raised.
Mayor Joseph Riley Jr. of Charleston, in an interview on CNN, said the flag on statehouse grounds ``needs to go into a museum’’ because ``for hateful people like Roof … it’s a symbol of hatred.’’
Then, Gov. Haley finally agreed it was time for the flag to be removed. “We are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer,” she said. “The fact that people are choosing to use it as a sign of hate is something that we cannot stand.’’For Roof, the Confederate flag that he so proudly hailed and displayed was a link to the tradition of institutionalized racism, and we have seen how that tradition has the power to transform its darker, violent side into the minds of racists who slaughter people just because they are black.