This is for Elisabeth Hasselbeck of “Fox & Friends,” who described last Thursday’s act of white extremist terrorism at Emanuel AME church in Charleston as an “attack on faith.”
It’s for Rick Perry, who said maybe the shooting happened because of prescription drugs. It’s for Jeb Bush, who said, “I don’t know what was on the mind” of the killer. It’s for South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who said, “We’ll never understand what motivates” a crime like this. It’s for Glenn Beck, who said, “I don’t know why this shooter shot people. He might shoot people because he’s a racist. He might have shot people because he’s an anarchist. He might have shot people because he hates Christians.”
This is also for the reader who called the tragedy a “hoax” perpetrated by the White House to promote racial hatred and gun control, and for the one who said, “Charleston was not a hate crime.” Finally, it’s for any and everyone who responded to the massacre by chanting, tweeting or saying, “All lives matter.”
For all of you, a simple question: What the hell is wrong with you people? Why is it so hard for you to call racism racism?
It is not news that some people go to extraordinary lengths to avoid conceding that America remains a nation stained by racial discrimination. Bring them a hundred testimonies illustrating it and they are unmoved. Bring them a thousand studies quantifying it and they say that numbers lie. They deny self-evident truth because otherwise, they must concede racism did not, in fact, end 50 years ago, and they are heavily invested in that fiction.
Still, it is breathtaking and heartbreaking to learn that this recalcitrance holds firm even in the face of so blatant a crime. Nine people dead following an attack upon a storied African-American church. The alleged killer: Dylann Roof, a 21-year old dropout with a Moe Howard haircut whose racist motivations were pretty clear to authorities from the beginning and have only become clearer since.
He said he wanted to shoot black people. You don’t get plainer than that.
Yet, even in the face of this utter lack of mystery, some of us professed confusion about the killer’s motives.
An “attack on faith”? Only the “War on Christmas” delusions and anti-gay fixations of Fox could make this about that.
“All lives matter”? Of course they do. But what is it about the specificity of declaring “Black Lives Matter” that some people object to? What is it they find problematic about acknowledging that black lives in particular are under siege in this country? It certainly wasn’t “all lives” Roof sought to snuff out when he entered that church.
And Glenn Beck’s professed confusion about the shooter’s motive? It is simply bizarre that a man who once famously dubbed President Obama “a racist” based on no evidence beyond the voices in his head has such difficulty being that definitive about a white man who drove 100 miles to shoot up a black church.
A few days ago, a Toronto Star reporter tweeted video of a mostly white crowd that marched through Charleston chanting “Black Lives Matter.” God, but that was a welcome sight – ice cold lemonade on the hottest day in August. It was a stirring, needed reminder that compassion has no color.
All this obfuscation and pretend confusion, on the other hand, is a less welcome reminder that, for all the undeniable progress we have made in matters of race, there remain among us not simply moral cowards, but far too many moral cripples hobbling about on stumps of decency and crutches of denialism.
Last week, nine people were slaughtered in a house of God for no other reason than that they were there, and they were black. It is a sad and simple truth that some of us, for some reason, have not the guts to say.
For that, they should be profoundly ashamed.
Leonard Pitts Jr.’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org.