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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Has any murdering terrorist ever failed more dramatically than Dylann Storm Roof? Like any punk with a gun could, he managed to slaughter nine blameless African-American Christians at a historic church in Charleston, South Carolina. But his intention was to start a race war — and he succeeded only in shocking the moral conscience of the state and nation.

Racist atrocities like Roof’s have left indelible stains on this country since its founding—Elaine, Arkansas in 1919; Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921; the Birmingham, Alabama church bombing of 1963. Any historian can provide a longer list, although white people have generally forgotten these and other atrocities, partly out of shame.

To the extent that black people also forget, it’s largely out of self-preservation. The African-American capacity for forgiveness often comes as a blessing and a surprise. If black people contemplated vengeance like my Irish Catholic ancestors, I’ve often observed, you couldn’t live in the American South.

One would be naïve to think that anything essential has really changed in the wake of Roof’s murder spree. Except that the words and actions of many in South Carolina, “the home office of American sedition” as Esquire’s inimitable (Irish Catholic) blogger Charles P. Pierce calls it, make it possible to believe that something important already had.

I posted Pierce’s initial response to the Charleston atrocity on my Facebook page. Because when fierce indignation’s what you want, Charlie’s your man. 

“We should speak of it as an assault on the idea of a political commonwealth, which is what it was,” Pierce wrote. “And we should speak of it as one more example of all of these, another link in a bloody chain of events that reaches all the way back to African wharves and Southern docks. It is not an isolated incident, not if you consider history as something alive that can live and breathe and bleed. We should speak of all these things. What happened in that church was a lot of things, but unspeakable is not one of them.”

Pierce lampooned what he considered the crocodile tears of South Carolina politicians. He urged the state’s Republican governor, Nikki Haley to look at the “flag of treason” flying at the state Capitol before professing bewilderment.

Enter Emily Hanson, a Facebook friend I haven’t actually met. Emily’s profile picture showed her kissing a draft horse, one reason we connected. Another is that she often agrees with my columns.

“I am an Arkansan living in Charleston, SC.” Hanson wrote. “Until today, I had a wonderful job telling visitors about the rich history of Charleston. I quit today because I will no longer wear the Confederate hat required by my employer. Not because the company is in any way racist or intolerant, but because I can no longer wear a symbol that represents slavery, hatred, brutality, and so much more to so many Americans.

“Mr. Pierce made many very valid points, but I caution him and anyone else who wants to get on a moral high horse and talk about the southern docks and African wharves to…PLEASE don’t make this a Southern problem! It is America’s problem and we ALL have to look at our beliefs, attitudes, and treatment of others and begin the change we want in the world to take root in our own soul. I believe it is high time to heal the wounds of our past and I did what I could today by refusing to wear a Confederate hat and praying in solidarity with the Charleston of today.”

OK, so it’s a little contradictory. It’s not a Southern problem, but she’ll be damned if she’s wearing that rebel hat.

Also from her Facebook page, I know that Emily took part in several of the multi-racial civic and religious rites that have consumed the city since that terrible night. Along with an estimated 25,000 hand-holding mourners, she joined comedian and South Carolina native Stephen Colbert on the Ravenel Bridge spanning Charleston Harbor.

“Peace and Love and Unity in the Holy City,” Colbert tweeted.

Emily joined rallies urging Gov. Nikki Haley to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse. She changed her profile picture to a lovely child’s drawing of nine black angels ascending from Emanuel AME Church.

Shortly after Gov. Haley and the rest of South Carolina’s Republican establishment agreed to ask the legislature to quit playing make-believe and take down the accursed Confederate flag, Emily, bless her heart, posted some good news:

“I was contacted by my former employer, who…has decided to retire the Confederate hat as part of the uniform. (And I got my job back!) It goes to show that one person CAN make a difference! By thinking about what I could do as little old me, I have become a part of something far bigger than myself and part of a community that is ready to heal!”

Granted, it’s only a symbol. But symbols can express complex realities: This time was different. This time the murdering coward failed.

Illustration: Madeleine, 7, of Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina (via ABCNews)

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Copyright 2015 The National Memo
  • FireBaron

    “Shortly after Gov. Haley and the rest of South
    Carolina’s Republican establishment agreed to ask the legislature to
    quit playing make-believe and take down the accursed Confederate flag” Actually, they haven’t yet. They have only agreed to open debate on taking down the flag.

    • jmprint

      Yeah, Alabama is bringing theirs down.

  • itsfun

    As many of us think of the US flag as a symbol of our honorable military young men dying for our country, many in the south see the confederate flag in the same way. They see honorable men giving their lives for their way of life. I’m not saying this is a good thing, just trying to see the other side of the picture.
    That flag didn’t make that drugged out thug kill those innocent people. Lets not make mind altering drugs easy to get. Removing a flag will not fix any of our problems with race, immigration, drugs or any problem.

    • Sand_Cat

      The attitudes of those who revere that flag and are “proud” of their ancestors’ treason to preserve “their way of life” most definitely do feed the insanity of people like that “drugged out thug,” and the refusal to acknowledge that and the racism that feeds it are a BIG problem. Removing the flag by itself will not solve the problem, but it is a good beginning to the conversation and self-examination Americans as a whole refuse to have and will continue to refuse to have so long as the Confederate flag continues to fly and people pretend that it is a symbol of “honor” of any kind.
      One could use the same excuse for flying the Nazi flag as a symbol of German pride and the “honorable” service of those who defended and enabled the murder of millions.

      • whodatbob

        The flag controversy is a distraction used to prevent dialog aimed at solving the problem.

        • Sand_Cat

          I think that’s similar to what I said. The problem is not the flag, but the “pride” that keeps it on display.

    • whodatbob

      If the fools think removing the Confederate flag will prevent racism, bigotry and hatred let them remove the flag. Next day Love Fest will break out all over the world!

    • Insinnergy

      Ok… I’ll bite.
      Imagine being a Jew and living in a community where people walk around with SS and Swastika belt buckles, drive cars with giants Swastika flags and number plates, have the Swastika flying in front of the Capitol Building, where the mostly white police target and beat you, where all the main streets are called “Goebbels Blvd” and “Auschwitz Street”, and where your children go to Hitler High School.

      Then you might just slightly be able to understand why this flag removal is an important start… and why all parts of this scenario, plus white supremacy groups, plus unrepentant racist parents, no doubt, contribute to young white morons with easy access to guns, doing exactly this.

      • itsfun

        apples to oranges

        • Sand_Cat

          Only in your mind, but we already know you’re ready to defend the indefensible to maintain your delusions.

  • RusInMass

    All this self-congratulation for long overdue rejection of Confederate symbols is a distraction from the actually consequential business of gun reform. This near-illusion of progress is so easy compared to reforms that will save lives.