On the Charleston Shooting and Why I Wish it Wasn’t Summer Break

This post was supposed to be the third and final entry on the issue of standardized testing. I had set aside the time today to work on that post, but that post and discussion can wait. The act of white-supremacist terrorism in Charleston, South Carolina and the all-too-familiar responses by the political class have left me shaking with anger over the last 36 hours. This week, in nearly every possible way, our stagnant national (non)conversation on race has been reinforced by our media. This will happen again and we all know exactly how it will play out.

These victims don't matter: Consider the ratio of information we are receiving about the shooter versus the victims. The shooter (whose infamy I will not contribute to) has had his name and picture pasted on every newspaper in the land. Every flavor of benefit of the doubt is being offered to him: "He was a nice young man." "Sure he told racist jokes, but I didn’t think he was a racist." "Maybe he was he mentally ill." "Maybe he was on drugs." The @SeattleTimes (in a since deleted tweet) cast the shooter as a potentially "sweet kid", meanwhile the victims (six women and three men) are nearly invisible in the media.

We don't know the cause... it couldn't be racism, we ended that: Consider the cowardice of politicians like Jeb Bush who had the temerity to say in an interview “I don’t know what was on the mind or the heart of the man who committed these atrocious crimes.” Or Nikki Haley the Governor of South Carolina (a state the flies the Confederate Flag over their capitol building) who said:

Michael, Rena, Nalin and I are praying for the victims and families touched by tonight's senseless tragedy at Emanuel AME Church. While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we'll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another. Please join us in lifting up the victims and their families with our love and prayers.

This is willful ignorance and avoidance. A mere glance at the media reports about the shooter tells us that he was known to have white-supremacist views and intended for his actions to be the catalyst for a second racial Civil War. We know exactly what was on his mind. He is reported to have told a witness to the shooting "I have to do it... You rape our women and you're taking over our country, and you have to go." There is no mystery. There is no hidden motivation.

This isn't a racial attack, it's an attack on Christianity: Consider the complicity of our media in distorting the conversation. Fox News underplayed the role of race in the attack, instead making it another battle in their make-believe “War on Christianity.” The war on Christians as perpetuated by conservative media is a fiction. I am a Christian. We are not under attack. We are not under siege from Islam, secularism or modernity. Christianity, especially the white Evangelical variety is a powerful force in every state house and governor’s mansion in the nation. There is no American war against Christians. There is no American war against Christians. This is in stark contrast to the openly declared and widely supported War on Drugs and War on Terror--two government efforts that have systematically made the targeting, incarcerating and killing of people of color a national priority since the 1980s and 2001 respectively.  My Christian fellow friends, there are wars afoot, but you aren’t the victims.

This isn't about race, it's about guns: Consider the words of President Barack Obama, who when speaking about the terrorist attack framed it primarily as another example of problematic American gun violence. The most memorable line from the speech was a call for gun control rather than a response to racism at the root of the terrorist’s actions:

But let’s be clear: at some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it. And at some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.

We as a society are so obtuse in talking about issues of race that our Nobel Prize winning President tip-toed around the motivations of a known white supremacist (whose publicly circulated photographs feature him wearing the flags of Colonial Rhodesia and Apartheid South Africa) in gunning down nine innocent blacks. The terrorist chose to attack a house of worship, the oldest black church in the South, one founded by a leader of a slave rebellion and did it while calling for a Second American Civil War, in a state the flies the Confederate Flag over their capitol building and we aren’t sure what motivated him? I just can’t.

In a weird way, I sort of wish school was still in session right now. I wish I could help my students process and think critically about what is happening. But if I am honest with myself, I wish school was in session so they could teach me today. 2014 National teacher of the Year Jeff Charbonneau recently tweeted: "great teachers ask: what will I learn from my students today?" This is a question we should all ask, every time we enter the classroom. Students haven’t had the hope, optimism or the sense of justice beaten out of them by life. They’re not cynical and don’t swap talking points. They are critical, solutions-oriented and non-ideologues. They keep me hopeful for the future, which is something I really am not right now.

 

Nathan Bowling

Republic of Cascadia