Bigotry At Half-Staff

Mother EmanuelIt’s been 4 days since 9 Americans were murdered in a South Carolina AME church, but not just any church. Those Americans were murdered in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston and that church carries strong historical significance. “Mother Emanuel” is the oldest AME church in the Southern US and houses the oldest black congregation south of Baltimore. That church was built at a time in our history when African Americans found themselves under increasing discrimination in the white Methodist church and the breaking point was when a stable for the hearse was built atop the segregated black burial grounds. A black man named Morris Brown left a white church in protest and more than 4,000 church member followed him to this new church. Undaunted by these defectors, state and city ordinance limited the time black churches could be open to daylight hours. Given that most black residents worked from sun up to sundown and the law prohibited black literacy, the white ruling class did everything to shut them down. Some black church members were arrested for defying these laws and were sentenced to fines and beatings. The original church, built in 1818 stood for only 4 years before white supremacists burned it to the ground after lynching Denmark Vesey, one of the church founders, along with five other men in what turned out to be a secret trial. 1834 saw the outlawing of all black churches in Charleston, forcing members to meet in secret until the end of the Civil War, some 31 years later. A wooden church was rebuilt just after the Civil War, but an earthquake destroyed that structure in 1872. The current building, constructed in 1891 was placed on the boundary of where blacks were allowed to exist in Charleston. So, for nearly 200 years, this church has struggled to merely exist as an institution, through arson, earthquake and even Hurricane Hugo in 1989 – but stand it has. Such is the heritage of South Carolina, if you happen to be melanin-enhanced.

If you are of the Caucasian persuasion in South Carolina, some would have you believe their heritage is embodied within the icon of the Confederate Battle Flag. I look at that flag and see traitors to our country. I look at that flag and see how it was used as a symbol of terror to be used against black South Carolinians. I look at that flag and see how white people try to say they’re honoring their ancestors by proudly flying that flag, but that’s disingenuous. I look at that flag and am reminded it symbolized people who hated this country so much, they no longer wanted to be a part of it. I look at that flag and see nothing but our national shame. If traitorous ancestors who enslaved other human beings makes you proud, knock yourself out. If you want that flag on your license plate, knock yourself out. If you want a Confederate flag patch on your baseball cap, knock yourself out. If you want to fly that flag on your personal property, good on ya’ – because all of those things tell me where and whom I want to avoid at all cost. I’m all about your personal right to express yourself and I truly appreciate you letting me know without opening your mouth that you’re nothing but a bigoted asshole.

But here’s the rub…

In the early 60’s, that icon of traitors, enslaversFlags and bigots was added to the mast of the South Carolina State House as a way for the white power structure in South Carolina to let the world know they didn’t think much of the Civil Rights movement. “We may have to let them vote. We may have to let their children into our schools. We may have to let them sit at our lunch counters, but we’re never going to let them forget that we liked it when the Negroes knew their place and if we get our way, they will again.”

The South Carolina Heritage Act of 2000 finally got the Confederate Battle Flag removed from the top of the Capitol building, but it was merely moved to a Confederate Soldier’s Monument on the State House grounds. And to make sure it can’t be removed, officials took the extra measure to padlock it to the top of the flagpole. Now, I have few delusions that it will be removed anytime soon. The Governor can’t order it removed or even flown at half-staff. The way the law was written, it would take an act of the State Legislature to do either. So while the State Flag of South Carolina and the American flag have been lowered to honor the dead, the flag of traitors, enslavers and bigots continues to fly high in the shadow of the Capitol building. Presidential hopeful Lindsey Graham called it a ‘compromise that works for South Carolina’. I call it a compromise that works for White South Carolina – meaning it was never a compromise at all. Location, location, location…

I call that “bigotry at half-staff”.

Bigotry is alive and well, not only in South Carolina, but all across this land, lest you think this a state-bashing session. You can find it in the way the mainstream media is delivering all aspects of the news on this story. Talking heads on cable news ask the hard questions of politicians: “Was this a hate crime?”, to which we get a mealy-mouthed answer that includes an “I don’t know what was in the heart of the shooter” to “this was an attack on religious freedom”.

What in the ever-loving fuck are you talking about?

SadnessWhen that 21-year old man targeted the people of that church, he said, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. You’ve got to go.” Did Rick Santorum truly believe he was accusing Christians of ‘raping our women’? Dylan Roof Storm was using the language of lynching and it doesn’t take a particularly bright person to understand exactly what he was talking about. Yes, the murders took place in a church, but there’s a reason for that too. Increasingly, African-Americans find themselves unsafe driving a car, walking down the street or even in their homes. The one safe haven for the Black Community has always been their church. The place where one is most likely to find black people in number, completely unarmed is in their black church. Was this church targeted? Yes. Not because it was a black church, but because Mother Emanuel is iconic of the struggle of Black America to participate in something so basic to our rights as a citizen: to worship without fear. That alone is what, in my opinion, makes this an act of domestic terrorism. The very idea that a Black American citizen can no longer feel safe in their house of worship without fear of being lynched harkens back to the days of Jim Crow. And I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Dr. George Tiller was murdered while sitting in a church pew and no one thought that was an attack on religious freedom. The Christian Right in this country turned that murderer into their martyr, so if you’re going to whine that Wednesday’s mass murder was somehow an attack on religious freedom, you’ll pardon me when I say, “Bitch, please…”

But Carol, you’re an unashamed Atheist. What are you talking about?

Yes, I am an Atheist and I have long stated that Freedom of Religion in these United States is a two-sided coin – you can’t have one without the other. This isn’t a ‘Christian Nation’, though most Americans self-identify as Christians. The Constitution doesn’t say you have the right to be a Christian or that this is a Christian nation. The Constitution says you have the right to worship whatever God so pleases you. It also says if you have no god, no one can force you to pray to one. I should think that all Americans should embrace something so fundamentally free. Sadly, there is a faction of Fundamentalist Christians and Christian Dominionists out there who not only believe this is a Christian nation, but that all laws should be Biblically based. They also believe that the Old Testament is for people of color and women but the New Testament is for White men of privilege. Yeah, if your God is enough of a prick to think it’s okay to make women and people of color second-class citizens, then you can’t wonder why I don’t want any part of your religion or your god. I want you to have the right to worship as you please while leaving me out of it. Fortunately, there are Christians in this country who believe the Old Testament to be an historical document while the New Testament is a handbook of how we should treat one another. I tend to be just fine with those Christians.

Speaking of the media, I would also like to point

S.C. Sen. Clementa Pinckney, pictured in 2012, was among those killed Wednesday, June 17, 2015 in a shooting in a church in downtown Charleston, S.C. (Andy Shain/The State/TNS)

S.C. Sen. Clementa Pinckney, pictured in 2012, was among those killed Wednesday, June 17, 2015 in a shooting in a church in downtown Charleston, S.C. (Andy Shain/The State/TNS)

out that Clem Pickney, Senior Pastor at Mother Emanuel Church was also a duly elected Democratic member of the South Carolina Senate. As such, he wasn’t just murdered, he was assassinated. ‘Assassination’ is not a word you’re going to hear via State Run Television in this case. I would dare to speculate that had Senator Pickney been white, that’s precisely the word that would have been universally used.

Of course, we can’t overlook the contributions of Fox News to this very predictable event. They churn out racism like a snow making machine on a warm Vermont ski slope. Fox News is nothing more than the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Propaganda, feeding the narratives of people like Dylan Storm Roof. Proof of that can be found in his 2,444-word ‘Manifesto’ that surfaced Saturday morning. An excerpt:

“The event that truly awakened me was the Trayvon Martin case. I kept hearing and seeing his name, and eventually I decided to look him up. I read the Wikipedia article and right away I was unable to understand what the big deal was. It was obvious that Zimmerman was in the right. But more importantly this prompted me to type in the words “black on White crime” into Google, and I have never been the same since that day. The first website I came to was the Council of Conservative Citizens. There were pages upon pages of these brutal black on White murders. I was in disbelief. At this moment I realized that something was very wrong. How could the news be blowing up the Trayvon Martin case while hundreds of these black on White murders got ignored?”

That is precisely the narrative that ran on Fox News 24/7 from the day Trayvon Martin was murdered to the day George Zimmerman was set free. People, Dylan Storm Roof was merely the weapon. Fox News and the Council of Conservative Citizens are arms manufacturers. As for the Council of Conservative Citizens? They cling to a White Nationalist ideology and the Southern Poverty Law Center describes them the following way:

The Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) is the modern reincarnation of the old White Citizens Councils, which were formed in the 1950s and 1960s to battle school desegregation in the South. Among other things, its Statement of Principles says that it “oppose[s] all efforts to mix the races of mankind.” Created in 1985 from the mailing lists of its predecessor organization, the CCC, which initially tried to project a “mainstream” image, has evolved into a crudely white supremacist group whose website has run pictures comparing the late pop singer Michael Jackson to an ape and referred to black people as “a retrograde species of humanity.” The group’s newspaper, Citizens Informer, regularly publishes articles condemning “race mixing,” decrying the evils of illegal immigration, and lamenting the decline of white, European civilization. Gordon Baum, the group’s founder, died in March of 2015.

Charming. Still think this wasn’t racially motivated? Still think this wasn’t a hate crime? Still think this wasn’t a case of Domestic Terrorism, Senator Graham and former Senator Santorum? Still think we don’t know what was in the shooter’s heart, Jebya? Hate doesn’t need a place. It needs an opportunity.

grahamconfederateflagSenator Graham said immediately following the murders, “This isn’t who we are as a country.” That’s where you’re dead wrong, Ms. Graham. This is precisely who we are as a country. We don’t get to talk about Post-Racial America anymore because Post-Racial America never existed any more than the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus. I’m tired of people attacking President Obama, who for the 14th time since his initial inauguration stood at a podium to address this country on gun violence and was again accused of politicizing a tragedy. I’m tired of being told that ‘at some point we need to have a national conversation on racism and gun violence’. The time for talking is over. It’s time to do something. The first thing we can do is get that damned flag taken down. If America has the will to pressure the State of Indiana to back down on anti-gay legislation when business says it doesn’t want to do business there, then those CEO’s Nimrata “Nicki” Randhawa Haley has been talking to who don’t seem to mind it should pick up a phone and say they don’t wish to do business in a state where terroristic symbolism is codified on the Capitol grounds.

Every time a terrorist attack takes place at the hands of Islamic extremists, there are cries across the land for all of Islam to denounce the violence, and yet I don’t hear that same cry for white people to denounce this act of Domestic Terrorism. Well, here’s one voice.

Dear Black America: It is with a heavy heart that I come to you and beg your forgiveness for the way in which my people have treated you. I beg your forgiveness that you have never been given the status of full citizenship in our shared land. I beg your forgiveness that the bile-filled hearts of so many people who look like me continue to seek the darkness and ignore the light, for it is not all white people who feel this way, but far too many. When you rise up, and rise again you will, I ask that you welcome a pale faced, gray-haired old white woman who will march with you through whatever streets, across whatever bridge and to whatever center of White Privilege exists to grant you the right to exist peacefully and with the status of full citizenship for which you have so long awaited. You are not alone.

The struggle continues.

Carol Baker is a political writer & a frequent contributor to Here Women Talk.

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Carol Baker