There’s a definite ebb and flow to the race debate in this country.
Or wait, maybe ebb and flow doesn’t provoke the correct image. Instead let’s try a minefield.
Most of the time, Americans go about their business quite well by dodging the subject. For white Americans, this is done by simply not bringing it up (see no evil, hear no evil, right?).
For communities of color however, racism at multiple levels is reality. While the daily slights of discrimination and prejudice continue, Americans go on with their lives, try not to “blow things out of proportion”, and pray that whatever they just endured will be the worst of it.
This system of duck-and-cover largely works for the country… that is until we hit another minefield.
Thus was the tragedy that befell Charleston, South Carolina last week. A young white male, welcomed into the historic Emanuel AME church, joined worshipers in bible study, looked into their eyes, and proceeded to murder 9 people in cold blood. As families and friends of the mass shooting try to pick up the pieces of their lives, people across the country are also left in a state of shock.
As further details of the mass shooting were revealed, we learn that not only was it not some isolated incident, but motivated by deeply-seeded racism.
Yet one week later, more Americans are talking about this, than a brutal and heinous act of domestic terrorism…
Why you ask? Because convenience. It’s a lot easier to discuss minefields surrounding a piece of cloth than it is to begin the real work of tackling the conditions that led to, and fed into such hatred. To be clear, I’ve never been a fan of the rebel flag either. Given the choice, I would gladly take them down, along with many painful relics of our nation’s racist history.
But if we think that cleansing the country of rebel and Confederate memorabilia is going to “fix” our issues with race, we are sadly mistaken. It’s true that this killer ultimately made an individual decision to walk into that church, and take the lives of those people. Only he is responsible for that. But at the same time, it is all of society that has helped to shape impressions of different races.
It’s also society, at least in states like South Carolina and Texas, that constantly lifts up the gun wielder as some ultimate hero that will save “us all” (who is us? who is all?) from danger in the face of an unknown enemy. You’ve heard the phrase “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” which as it turns out, is a complete lie. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the constitution’s right to bear arms, we should all at least agree that a gun is in fact a deadly weapon. After the December 2012 mass slaughter of children in Newtown, Connecticut, studies showed that a full 92 percent of Americans supported a federal law requiring background checks before the purchase or transfer of a gun. Yet politicians in Washington, caving to political pressure from a few fringe leaders, could not pass a law on requiring background checks before the purchase or transfer of a firearm. It’s not possible to know what a background check could have discovered about the killer in Charleston, but we do know that he was able to obtain the weapon without one being required.
With such hard truths surrounding the needed conversations around guns and race, it’s not surprising that the media and politicians have focused on the removal of the rebel flag. And yes… the removal of many of these symbols is a most worthy discussion. But hopefully one day, we will also stop fearing the minefields around race and guns in America, and learn how to truly make this country safer and more equal for all.