What happened in Charleston is the convergence of two of the most grotesque and horrific things about America — gun violence and racial hatred. Neither one is inevitable, but every time it happens there is “shock”, denial, and willful avoidance of what needs to be done to prevent it from happening again.
Unlike the supposed menace of foreign terrorism, these events — the killings of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, the ransom of Kalief Browder, the shootings at Columbine, Newtown, Isla Vista, et al — are us. These events are who we are. We can’t blame them on ISIS or Islam, Boko Haram, or Ebola. The militant extremists are us. The collateral damage, also us. This disease is our disease, and all of the wringing of hands will not scrub it from us.
And because we are both perpetrator and victim of our own undoing, we cannot or will not declare war as we do so willingly against other more distant threats. There is no shadowy, evil ‘other’, there is only our complacency, our self-delusion, and our confusion that our symbols and ideals stand up to our actual character.
The Confederate flag flew at full-mast at the statehouse in South Carolina after the shooting. This is the flag that throughout its history has symbolized slavery and treason, resistance to desegregation, terrorism through lynching and attacks at churches, and state-sponsored brutality against African Americans. When we fly a flag, we proclaim who we are.
Who are we, America? How much longer can we pretend not to know? Who will we fight to be?