Dylann Roof, 21, the gunman suspected of shooting dead nine people at a historic black church in Charleston. Photo: Facebook
Dylann Roof, 21, the gunman suspected of shooting dead nine people at a historic black church in Charleston. Photo: Facebook

Roof’s racism blows lid off US denialism

By Derek Charles Catsam Time of article published Jun 25, 2015

Share this article:

Racism runs deep in America and is, in too many corners, met with denial or obfuscation, writes Derek Charles Catsam.


Dylann Roof, the murderer and terrorist who sat in the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, for almost an hour before opening fire and killing nine African-Americans, was a racist.

And he murdered those nine people (and surely would have killed more) because of that racism. A racism that runs deep in America and that is, in too many corners, met with denial or obfuscation.

Just as it does in South Africa, where the AME church also has a long and interesting history that is a testament to the long-standing ties between the two countries, both pocked by white supremacy and black resistance, both struggling to come to grips with the ugliness of the past while celebrating the positive aspects that each undeniably has experienced

There are South African links to this story. Roof has been pictured wearing a coat festooned with two flags. One is the old South African flag. The other is the flag of Rhodesia. Both symbols, whether some want to acknowledge it or not, are of white supremacy. Just as the Confederate Flag flying at the state Capitol of South Carolina (and in far too many other places) is a symbol of racism.

And yet in America, and I’d argue in South Africa, a country in which I have lived, worked, and travelled extensively over the past two decades, and from which I recently returned, the denialism runs deep among far too many whites.

Because it’s never about race.

John Roberts, chief justice of the US, implied to us that the day of Jubilee had arrived when he led the Supreme Court in gutting the Voting Rights Act.

Fox News continued to peddle the calumny that Roof’s was an attack on Christianity, a way to allow white conservative Christians a way to play the role of aggrieved victims, a default setting for conservative white Americans.


Because it’s never about race.

Not the increase in murders at black churches in the US since 2008.

Because it’s never about race.

Not the accusations that a centre-left Democratic president is actually a socialist Kenyan usurper. Or the record numbers of threats against his life, and his family’s, according to the Secret Service.

Because it’s never about race.

Not when a 12-year-old black boy in Cleveland is murdered by a cop (within two seconds of getting out of his car) for playing with a toy gun.

Because it’s never about race.

And if you see race you are playing the race card. You are the real racist. You feel liberal guilt.

Well, you know what? Someone needs to feel some guilt.


I don’t even care that much about the gun issue. I know that makes me a bad representative of the left. Guns are the symptom, not the disease. I agree with those who argue that millions of gun owners are responsible, are concerned with safety, sport, self-defence, hunting. I grew up among these people in my home state of New Hampshire and live among them in Texas. I have known them in the Eastern Cape and the Free State.

But let’s be clear what this atrocity is about: It’s about racism. It’s about the original sin of America, the blotch on our national escutcheon.

But it’s also about denial. About denial of racism and its intensity and its consequences.

About denial of what Barack Obama’s election meant to many on the far right and to too many mainstream conservatives willing to blow the dog whistles about “taking back our country” and asking whether Obama loves America.

Too many willing to make the ultimate big lie in accusing Obama – the first black president in a country scarred by slavery and Jim Crow, a man who would not have been allowed at the front of the bus in Montgomery in 1955 or at the lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960 or to use the bathroom at the bus station in Jackson in 1961 – of being a racist.

This is our country. Fifty years after the Voting Rights Act (and 51 years to the day from when I am writing this, of former president Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act.)

This is our country. Sixty years after the murder of Emmett Till, a black teen who reportedly flirted with a white woman.

But this is our country, too, 30 years after the Langa Massacre and the abduction and murders of the Cradock Four.

This is our country. These are our countries. It might just be time to acknowledge as much.


* Catsam is Associate Professor of History and Kathlyn Cosper Dunagan Fellow at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. He writes about race and politics in the US and Southern Africa. He writes in his personal capacity.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Sunday Independent

Share this article: