The Symptoms of Hatred-
Charleston Church Shooting.
With my Ethicist hat on (because I am upset, and being analytical is a defense of mine that I choose right now):
What happened in Charleston there are no direct words for. We all agree. I’m not going to try to say anything acutely about that out of respect for the families, the survivors, and those who were killed. I am praying for them, that is all I can do. From the reports, those who the tragedy most intimately wounded, and who have spoken to the media, have done so with pure hearts. With reflections of their spirituality and the deepness of their care for their God and for peace. This is theirs to respond directly about. Would that we were all motivated by such compassion. It is the one of the most powerful antidotes for cruel hatred. They are heartening, brave, enlightened examples of that. May their love ripple cross oceans and be rushed back to them with the incoming tides.
This horrible happening has spawned many conversations; that’s putting it lightly. It’s spawned conversations, arguments, and down right, no-holds- barred brawls. The topics of these engagements are important. Very. And volatile, obviously. But because we can’t speak directly for or about those most intimately affected (out of respect for each, whole, deep individual’s experience of what happened), we divert our pent up concerns and analysis to the political and the social—with a tendency to also release our passionate emotions about those topics. Often, In less than growthfull ways. We have a plethora of articles, posts, petitions about issues ranging from removing the Confederate flag, to gun control, to definitions of Hate Crime Vs. Terrorism, to the death penalty, to “mental illness” vs. “Crime,” to the deep American wounds that drive all of those conversations but especially, in this case, the stealthy and absurdly resilient virus that is racism. These are all critical topics and we need to have conversations about them. I don’t disagree with that.
For my diverted response, I do want to say, and this will get me into trouble, that I think this tragedy reveals more than the racial “elephant in the room,” and brings up more than gun and penal system policy issues.
What I want to ask-to discuss, with civility and sincerity and with a heart also trained on the victims, inspired, in part by their compassion– is, what about Dylann Roof? What damaged him so profoundly that he wanted to exterminate innocent human lives? Why wasn’t he helped before his pain became the pain of so many other people? “Because they were a different color” or “because he was crazy,” can’t be the complete answers. I, unfortunately, know plenty of radical racists who simply hate another “race,” wish they didn’t have to interact with them, are rude to them, etc. but none of the many I know have ever gunned down other humans because of that.
I have some discernment in choosing my acquaintances.
I also know plenty of certifiably mentally ill people—again, none of who have ever gunned anyone down for any reason.
If we trust at all in the kind of beings we are, we know that Dylann’s actions can’t be explained solely by racial hatred. Nor, therefore, can such actions in the future be prevented only by prohibiting racial hatred. This is just the symptom. One that should, of course, be completely annihilated. But still, it is part of the puss of a larger wound, I think.
Again, I am not discounting the importance of discussing racism in what I’m about to say. To the contrary, I am trying to honor the cruelty of it by exploring where, if we are the kind of beings we think we are—if we eat out in public, trust each other enough to ask for directions, exchange currencies with strangers, trust
that the guy at our front door is the post man and not Charles Manson—why haven’t we figured out how to better prevent this kind of machete chop to our belief in humanity?
So, let’s brace ourselves and look at some other acts that wound our faith in our communities*: for just a tiny few–Columbine. New Hope. Texas., Eric Garner, Matthew Shepherd. Wait. Let’s go back—back to when we can’t blame it on video games or the media: let’s go back to Kentucky in 1866, for a school shooting. A child brought a gun to school and shot dead the schoolmaster for what he believed was over correction of his brother. He did so in front of his class. • July 4, 1886 Charleston, South Carolina During Sunday school, Emma Connelly shot and killed John Steedley for “circulating slanderous reports” about her. Her brother had publicly whipped him a few days earlier. That, apparently, didn’t do the job.
In addition to learning, discussing and maturing in our thoughts on gun control, organized acts of hate, individual acts of hate, violent acts of hate caused by mental illness, we also might need to attend the one common factor: the pain and ignorances that cause hate and how we can heal those. Where did we, and yes, I
mean we, all of us, lose Dylann? Where do we lose others like him? How can we fix that, or at least acknowledge it and begin paving the way for prevention? He is not the first, we know. He is unfortunately, at the tail end of what is already too long of a queue. If found guilty, he will no doubt get life in prison or death sentence, but is he also not an elephant in the room? That serpentine queue—spanning races, cultures, and centuries, is a warning. We need to help each other understand how to do better.
The families of the Charleston victims have shown us one very powerful, very beautiful way, but there is more, much more, work for us to do if we are to even begin to tame this serpent.
Race, in short, is an excuse for hatred, not a cause. We need to address and heal the causes. Political issues are stern, as well distracting, nannies to the emotional development we’ve not yet cultivated. Social commentary is the cheap psychologist through whom we can vent, but not act. I certainly have no answer (duh), but I believe we are all responsible for that journey to get to the cause and to find the antidote. And we are all responsible to learn how to get there and to help each other get there.
*This list is not even close to comprehensive. Not even representative. Just examples.