"They're already using the nuanced language of lack of effort," Jon Stewart said on a night when he had no jokes for his opening monologue.
The shooting Wednesday night at Emanuel AME in Charleston was different from the bigger racially-tinged violence we've had this past year. On Staten Island and in Ferguson, white police officers were responsible for the deaths of black men on the street. In Baltimore, it was again white police officers responsible for the death of a black man, this time in custody. These turned into citizens vs. authority figures.
Charleston was different: A young white man walked into a black church and killed nine black people who were at Bible study.
As some of you know, I work in news. The story unfolded very slowly for us. The shooting took place around 9:30 p.m. For a long time, all the news we knew came from the Charleston Police Department's Twitter feed.
Police are responding to a shooting in Calhoun Street.
My parents live in Charleston, and, in fact, my father had finished up giving a tour and left downtown right as the shooting happened. I got a text from my mother, who said their internet and cable went down right around 9:30. Interesting.
We first got a paragraph of news from the ground at about 11:15 p.m. That's a surprisingly long time. Over the next hour and a half, we got bits and pieces of information. You can see our first story, which incorporates that trickle, is clearly a cobbled together mishmash of information. By about 1 a.m., there were confirmed deaths, and when we finished about 3 a.m., this is what we knew. So, not much.
Looking back only 36 hours after the shooting, things came about very quickly. The suspect was arrested, the governor is calling for the death penalty and the mourning can start in earnest without the manhunt. Now there are some things that are definitely worth talking about.
The sanctity of church. The victims of this shooting were gathered in a place of prayer, comfort and safety. I don't understand the underlying feeling that compels someone to shoot people, but I have to think that, beyond whatever racial hatred is at play here, it takes a little something different to walk into a church to shoot people. Apparently, Emanuel AME has seen this kind of thing before. It surprises me that in a Bible Belt town, a house of worship isn't sacred.
I get that there are perfectly legal reasons to own guns. I definitely respect the right to hunt, and I understand that by getting my meat at the grocery store I'm just asking someone else to kill an animal for me. But also note that the suspect arrested in this case, Dylann Roof, owned his gun legally. By and large, guns used in crimes are obtained illegally.
But let's look beyond gun control for a moment. A newspaper is historically the conscience of its community, and The Post and Courier is a really good paper. But I think placing an ad right on top of a major shooting story is something I hope took a lot of discussion when they were getting ready to distribute. Sometimes it's worth saying, "Sorry, we had to pull the ad."
The confederate flag is the only one at full staff over the state capitol. Far be it from me to tell you how to show your state's colors. But. The U.S. flag and South Carolina state flag were being flown at half staff at S.C. government buildings, but the confederate flag is at full staff. The flag is a point of pride for some, and a point of hatred for others. State officials decided at one point over the past few years it should remain at the capitol. Go ahead, remember it as a symbol of states' rights. But admit that it means something else entirely to a lot of people. To many, it's a symbol of oppression. This might be the right time to take it down entirely, but at least have the respect to fly it at half staff with the others.
#WeWillShootBack. This is among the more difficult things we're going to have to deal with as a nation. While up until this point, the unifying cry has been #BlackLivesMatter, the conversation on Twitter has shifted from a position of resistance to a position of revenge. With that necessarily comes a responsibility for all to be vigilant, and to not take on an act of pure revenge — that is, walk into a church and shoot a bunch of innocent white worshippers. That would be an identical act of hatred.
I get ambivalent about participating in Blog Action Day most years, because, while I always think it's relevant to the world, the topic isn't typically something I'm passionate about.
But I can say something about equality. It's a topic I've given up on more than once. On the one hand, the fact that you bleed red, I bleed red, whatever, is obvious to me. On the other hand, you just can't change some people's minds.
There's so much to talk about, overall. Some of what's going on in the world...
I can't believe we're even still talking about this. Sanctity of marriage? You know what's bad for the sanctity of marriage? Domestic violence. You know what else? Divorce. You know what the rates are among gay couples? I don't either, but I'm betting in both cases, it's substantially lower than straight couples. Look, you have a religious issue? No problem. We have a separation of church and state in this country. How about we just allow marriage to be a church institution, and call the legal bit a civil partnership?
Here's another one I can't believe we're still talking about, but sadly, we are. Women on the whole still make less than men for the same work. Women are still notably absent from positions of power. And while there are a growing number of associations to help support female business owners, we still need associations to help support female business owners.
Look, 50.8 percent of the U.S. is female, we should be seeing something like that in terms of female leadership in corporate America and the like. Don't give me anecdotal evidence as "proof" that we're making progress. The fact is, we're really not.
Racism and white privilege
"People think Dr. King gave his speech and racism was over," Chris Rock tells Ice T, continuing on to say that white folks didn't even really start to watch what they said in public until 1978 or so.
Look, there is never going to be a time when we don't look at "other than me" suspiciously. It's hard-wired into us, and it's the same mechanism that keeps us glued to news about murders and robberies even though our mouths say we want to hear good news instead. But we have the ability to make our actions pair with our beliefs (or what we claim as beliefs), and treat everybody with respect.
I'm sure that many of you have read the essay Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, but if not, take 10 minutes to do so, and, particularly if you're white and haven't thought about it before, do think.
I struggle with this more than any other, I think. I grew up in what I think is what is called a high-diversity school system. While I've never spent much time in "up-and-coming" neighborhoods (that means a place where housing is dirt cheap and you may not want your kids out after dusk), I find higher-end suburbs uncomfortable as well.
I've never had to live eight to a home, but there were times my parents worked multiple jobs.
I also happen to think a lot of racism is tied up in poverty, making it really a class issue.
If you need your eyes opened to class inequality in the U.S., listen to Ms. Pat school Marc Maron. Maron's reaction is of genuine surprise.
If you need your eyes opened to class inequality across the globe, check out Kevin Rose's interview with Scott Harrison. Harrison was one of those guys companies used to pay just to be seen in public drinking their products, and then he went on a trip and discovered there are children in this world dying horrible deaths because they can't get clean water. And then you can go give to Charity Water because you will totally feel like a selfish ass after you hear it.
Chances are if you're reading this, you don't live under a rock. Which means you already know that recently, conservative radio host Dr. Laura took a call from someone who wanted advice on handling a racist friend of her husband's. Dr. Laura went on to say the word "nigger" on air 11 times, was summarily bitch-slapped by her employers and the media, and resigned to go do something that allowed her the freedom to say whatever she wants to say. Because as an American, she should have freedom of speech.
Yes, she should. But as I like to tell people whose comments are deleted on news sites and on blogs who say, "What, you don't believe in freedom of speech?": The first amendment to the Constitution promises us a right to free speech. It does not guarantee us the right to publicity. Here, look. The language is really simple:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
People have freedom of speech. They don't have freedom from consequences for their speech. They also don't have a right to publicity. In fact, the very same amendment allows for a free press – that includes the freedom to summarily fire a personality because she pissed off the advertisers who keep the lights on.
It's very simple, really. And actually, this post was just an excuse to be able to throw the last two This Week In Blackness episodes up. Because you need to watch them.
I finally saw Saturday Night Fever, and was surprised to find that while the music and dancing certainly played a central role in the film, the movie was so much more about class, race, religion and sex in the 1970s than it was about the music.
For a movie to take on rape, abortion, quitting the priesthood, suicide, gang wars and racism the way this film did would still be a bold move. Frank, with whom I saw it as part of a double feature (the first film was Pulp Fiction), said he thought a movie couldn't do something like that today.
After having a couple of days to think about it, I don't entirely agree. I think a movie wouldn't do something like that today, unless it was going to tackle them in the past, the way A Bronx Tale did. Frankly, I think the major studios are chickenshit.
If you haven't seen Saturday Night Fever, or if you haven't seen it with an eye toward the political context, do so.
I finally read Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Don't ask me how I got through high school without reading it (or Catcher in the Rye or 1984 or Julius Caesar...), but I finally decided to give it a go. There are definitely some lessons to be applied today.
But it all boils down to one thing: no matter what we look like, who we share our lives with, what we believe in or what sexual organs we're attached to (if any), if you puncture our skin, we bleed red.
Underneath it all, we're all the same. That our young narrator, Harper Lee's Scout, could recognize that, is a sign that it's such an elementary concept, anyone should be able to get it.
Growing up, I learned that America was supposed to be a "melting pot" – a place where we all contributed to each other. As I hit high school and college, the prevailing attitude changed. We're a salad bowl – a place where a diverse group of people can all be in the same place and contribute to the overall aesthetic while maintaining their own individuality.
In other words, we all bring something to the table, and we're all important.
2010 will be the first U.S. Census on which people will be able to check more than one race. I'm not sure if this is a recognition that people identify with more than one heritage, a recognition that not everyone procreates intra-racially, or a way to brag about more diversity in some Congressional districts.
Check out NPR's series on mixed-race Americans for some interesting stories. I'm a little embarrassed, to tell you the truth, that this is even something we're still curious about – shouldn't we just be at the "we're the same" point by now? Do we still need to classify everything – everyone?
From the time we're young, Jewish people are taught about the Holocaust. We see movies. We read books. We hear from survivors – though even people who lived long, healthy lives after the Holocaust are dying off now.
We take it personally, even all these years later. Working for a weekly newspaper about six years ago, I was sent to cover a school event that featured children of Holocaust victims and children of Holocaust perpetrators sitting on a panel, talking primarily about forgiveness. I sat in the back of the auditorium and pretty much bawled for an hour and a half.
We are taught to never forget. If you forget, it could happen again.
And so the world puts on its blinders, and makes sure that Jews don't ever have to live through genocide again.
We forget about the six million gypsies, homosexuals and others who died during the Holocaust. In the U.S., we're systematically denying the latter group rights (that's the first step, by the way). We didn't believe anything was happening in Rwanda in 1994. We did so little about Darfur. We're certainly not in the Democratic Republic of the Congo right now.
I'm not naive enough to believe we can all just get along and that's that. But when we see genocide, why are we sitting still?
By the year 2042, whites are projected to be an ethnic plurality in the U.S., rather than an ethnic majority, a new Census Bureau report predicts.
This is eight years sooner than previously predicted.
And this is news...why?
First off, the way this is being framed is that "whites will no longer be the majority," because 54% of people in the U.S. will self-identify as Hispanic, black, Asian, Native American, Pacific islander or other. Non-Hispanic whites will still be the largest ethnic group, they'll just come in at under 50% of the population.
I guess this is supposed to make me worried about increased diversity or something.
And worse, scream the reports, by the 2020 presidential election, more than half of the electorate will be non-white.
Heaven help us.
The Times article offers a little perspective, but it's all historic in nature. In 1492, when Columbus "discovered" this place where there were already a bunch of people living, 96% of the inhabitants were non-white. By 1900, that number was something more like 10%.
The non-white population jumped in the 1920s and 1930s. Want to know why? Jews and people of eastern European descent weren't considered white by the Census Bureau.
I guess that must have changed when we took over the media and the government, huh?
I don't really think I have to sit here and argue about how we shouldn't fear ethnic and religious minorities, strangers, foreigners, third-party candidates and other un-American people like vegetarians, lactose-intolerant people, those who are allergic to gluten, and (God help us!) people who drive compact cars (wow, I think I managed to cover everyone who either currently reads this blog, has read this blog, or is likely to read this blog in the future). So I won't.
The most disturbing thing about this being widely reported as important news is that we're currently in the middle of The Great Immigration Debate. We already have this fear that people are sneaking into this country to steal jobs from God-fearing white Americans (who are lining up to pick apples and wash dishes, I know), and that if we let our guard down for one second, someone will blow something up and the terrorists will win.
(We'll skip the fact that it was a couple of God-fearing white Americans who blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma, because if we don't, the terrorists will win.)
Here's what I think will happen as the population starts to take on a more even ethnic distribution. I think that whites will finally start to notice that the people in power – at all levels of government, in the business world, among their associates at health clubs and country clubs – no longer look like the people they see when they go shopping, to the movies, to baseball games, and everywhere else.
Will we do anything with that realization? I'm not optimistic. But I am hopeful.
I'm not going to pretend to be uber-qualified to write about race, and I'm not going to go link-crazy here, but race is starting to come out as factor in the presidential race right now, and I feel the need to comment. I'm a white male who works in a mostly white office, so most of the racism I come across is in the media.
People told me during the primary season that they thought if Barack Obama was the Democratic nominee, which it appears he will be (and if he's not, he'll have a lot of explaining to do, since he's campaigning; same with John McCain, by the way – neither of these guys is official yet), people would vote for McCain just because of Obama's race.
Thing is, the people who would vote for president based on race would also vote for president based on gender. It would have been six-of-one, half-dozen-of-the-other on that count.
The latest polls are out, and guess what?
• People think race is going to be a factor • Obama is leading McCain by about six points • Add in Ralph Nader and Bob Barr, and Obama is up by 13 points (five points to Nader, two to Barr)
What does this say to me? Either:
(a) There's a bit of third-person effect going on here. That is, "race doesn't matter to me, but I bet it does to everyone else." Or,
(b) Race does matter, but it's not to whom you think. The people who want an old white guy in office aren't necessarily Republicans or even Conservatives. They don't care which old white guy they put in office, so long as it's an old white guy.
We knew that some McCain voters could defect to Barr. But did anybody honestly think Nader would be sucking votes from McCain?
What I do know about racism is this. If Obama gets elected, there will be extra pressure on him. If he has a lousy presidency, a large group of people who thought they were taking a "very open-minded risk" voting for him will cite it as an example that a black man can't run the country. And if he does well, there will be a group of people who will pat him on the head (proverbially, anyway) and say, "Good boy. You proved us wrong."
None of that makes me happy. It's just the way I see it.
Personally, I'm going to vote for the person this year I think will do the best job in the White House, whether it's one of the four men mentioned here, Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney, or one of the other dozens of candidates who will no doubt join the race between now and November.