Dylann Roof Was Wrong: The Race War Isn’t Coming, It’s Here

roof

Dylann Roof was wrong. The race war isn’t coming. It’s already here. It began the moment the very first old world (proto-European) citizen stepped on the shores of Africa and the Americas and other soon-to-be-colonized places and said, “God has given this land and these people to me. This is mine.”

The belief in God-given possession flows like a vampire virus through the veins of this country. We eagerly draw lifeblood from as much of the world as possible, in land, natural resources, and cheap labor. What does it mean to be born in a place that measures your value, your worth, your very life by the calculus of possession? That calculus extends through time to us from those founding greed-filled moments invading our waking consciousness and driving us forward in a strange confession.

We believe in competition born of the desire to possess. We believe in striving against others for the sake of survival and growth. We believe that excellence emerges from struggle, from the isometric pressure of opposing forces pushing against each other with all their strength until weakness of mind, body, idea, institution, and company are rubbed away through the heat generated by life forces exposed in conflict.

We could associate many names, schools of thought, life philosophies, or corporate policies with this confession, but its origins are irrelevant at this point. What is crucial is its embodiment, because it is poison. Europeans coming to this country began drinking this poison as they joined their bodies to a civilizing machine operating on two sites. The machine worked on the land and at the bodies of indigenous peoples clearing and killing away all that it deemed counterproductive. It also worked on immigrant bodies killing and clearing away all that could not be turned completely into whiteness.

Whiteness—that form of life that is also a way of seeing life—emerged not as a fixed identity but as a striving, a goal to be accomplished, and for many an achievement to be celebrated.

But not everyone has achieved their whiteness. Some cannot achieve it. Others do not want to attain it, and some live in constant frustration in their failure to secure it. Whiteness depends on possession and the possibilities of increasing possession. Enter Dylann Roof. Many have tried to narrate his assassinations inside a story of psychosis and terrrorism sprinkled with racism, so that we will see his actions as extraordinary evil.

But Dylann Roof’s act was not extraordinary evil, it was quite ordinary evil, the evil deeply embedded in the racial architecture of America. This young man yielded to the mind bending incoherent frustration born of whiteness, a frustration that has always misdirected its anger at black people first, and then other people of color and Jewish people, all of whom are imagined as thwarting the full achievement of the possession of whiteness and the whiteness of possession. This is a possession that runs from land, to money, to women, and finally to respect.

Whiteness creates a state of war. It is a mental state with abiding consequences. This may come as a surprise but many people of color, especially black folks, deeply sense this condition of war. And now that state of war is on the verge of increased visibility as the demographic wave moves across this country eroding a white-washed America and transforming a white majority to a historical fact discovered only in archives. This may help explain Dylann Roof’s actions but it does not explain away the horror he enacted.

I will forever be haunted by two things. First, by his presence in the intimate space of that bible study, sitting there at a table with these saints of God who were seeking to hear a holy word just for them, just for this moment. I would feel less pain if he would have simply walked into the church and started shooting; then I could live with the fact that this young man did not hear the word, did not hear the sound of grace and communion, did not give God’s voice the chance to penetrate his contorted heart.

But that was not the case. He did hear the sound of grace and communion. God’s voice was sounding in Emmanuel. He simply resisted it. He showed us the deaf ear of those seeking whiteness, a deafness that reaches deep into the soul and thwarts the power of God’s love. I am a theologian who struggles to grasp how anyone could thwart the power of God’s love. This is what we theologians call the mystery of iniquity, a mystery that resides in us and not in God.

I am also haunted by the forgiveness that the families of the victims offered this man. One by one—representatives of several of the families forgave Dylann Roof. They spoke words ancient and living, sharper than any two edged sword. In the name of the God they serve, they forgave this man. As Alana Simmons, granddaughter of the slain Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons was reported to have said, “We are here to combat hate-filled actions with love-filled actions.”

I am a theologian who struggles to grasp how black folks, century after century, can forgive, how we are called on in torturous repetition to forgive those who kill us, and we do it. The only way I can fathom this grace of forgiveness offered is if the very life of God flows through people like these black families. It does.

But I also struggle with the way this word of forgiveness is interpreted in America. It’s used to avoid dealing with the problem of whiteness and the poison-filled faith in competition embedded in it. Christian forgiveness when processed on the American social and political landscape emerges as a kind of rhetorical narcotic, homemade and constantly offered to dull the pain of our racial violence.

This soothing high does not help. We need to end this war by unmasking whiteness, challenging our religious faith in competition, and dealing with the long painful history of white (especially male) frustration in a system which awards a very limited number of medals for achieving whiteness. We are all afraid of the copycats—unstable people who may, in the weeks and months ahead, follow Roof’s murderous pattern. But the pattern is already in place, so the real question is: are we willing to dismantle it?

  • Jim Reed

    How much has to be dismantled? Why are black people part of Christianity in the first place? I think it is because when the slaves were brought here, the masters took their lives away, and gave them what they were to be, including the religion. I think they are Christian because everything else was taken away, and the masters decided. Why are the blacks in Africa Christian? It seems Christians came with guns and armies and missions and converted them. There was no reason, other than the people with more advanced weapons and stuff made the decisions. Are we beyond the point where this can be asked? I don’t think the question can be dealt with by white or black communities, and I have been and am a part of both.

  • cmbennett01

    So we are to take the current set of beliefs that perpetuate injustice and the idea that some are gods chosen people and others are by nature or by gods will degenerate, and we are to replace it with a new theology that has it’s own chosen people and still embraces the idea of original sin. In the new theology like the old, evil is not something men do. In the new theology it’s whiteness.

  • lsomers

    This ongoing race war, beginning with the genocide against the indigenous people of these lands, is more than about race – and always has been – it is a class war. The kind of war that Capitalism demands wherever it rears its ugly face – and the USA has been the leader in this ugliness from its founding. The genocidal destruction of the Native Americans was in order to seize the land and resources by a more powerful ruling class; the enslavement of the African was about the expansion of the power to control manufacturing and farming by the few; Capitalism itself is a disease of the heart and mind that is utterly incompatible with genuine followers of Jesus. Pope Francis has been very gently reminding people that Capitalism and the economic, political, social and religious culture it creates is INCOMPATIBLE with following Jesus, the Jesus of history not the creation of the Empire of Rome under Constantine and the church leadership that tossed Jesus of history under the bus to create the Christian perversion that 99.99% of churches teach today.

  • GregWhitenerel

    Why is there a need to have a chosen people? IT sounds like what you’re saying is that white people must either be the chosen people or the devil with no in-between. That sounds like the old saying” Better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven.”

  • GregWhitenerel

    That’s an excellent point. Christianity has been a slave religion since Paul returned Onesimus to Philemon with the promise of freedom after death. I guess it makes you feel better about having your life energy slowly squeezed out for the enrichment of one who doesn’t even believe the stuff he’s peddling. It’s the oldest form of mass hypnosis on record.

  • seashell

    The only way I can fathom this grace of forgiveness offered is if the very life of God flows through people like these black families. It does.

    I agree. (And I’m an atheist!)

    But I also struggle with the way this word of forgiveness is interpreted in America. It’s used to avoid dealing with the problem of whiteness and the poison-filled faith in competition embedded in it.

    Yes. The competition between states on which state can execute it’s offenders the fastest and cheapest is proof of the poison. It seems almost a uniquely American poison of whiteness. We are blind and do not see.

    Great essay.

  • cmbennett01

    I ws saying the old theology should not be replaced with a new theology. Theology always had a chosen people.

  • Dana Stone

    I too struggled to understand how the relatives of those slain in Charleston could forgive the murderer. And so soon after the tragedy. I turned to a book by Desmond and Mpho Tutu called “The Act of Forgiving: the fourfold path for healing ourselves and our world” (Harper, 2014). This book introduced me to the profound truths to be found in the act of forgiveness. As Tutu puts it, without forgiveness, South Africa would have had no future. He goes on the say that “rage and revenge would have been our destruction.” (p3).

    The Tutus tell us that “forgiveness is not for the faint of heart.” They tell the story of Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, who endured torture by the South African police. In the midst of his suffering, he experienced an insight: “that these were God’s children and are losing their humanity. We must help them recover it.”

    Not forgiving holds us in bondage. Feelings of resentment and rage keep us tied to the situation or person who hurt us. We want to retaliate and may seek revenge, keeping the resentment cycle going.

    Forgiveness allows us to accept our grief and to heal ourselves. It is not necessary to forgive in person. We can write a letter, and not send it. We forgive, not to excuse another’s behavior. but to step out of fear and bitterness, so
    that we can open ourselves to love. Forgiveness allows us to move forward.

    The eyes of the world are on Charleston. By offering forgiveness, the relatives of those murdered my have prevented a race war.

  • GregWhitenerel

    You’re right. there always has to be an “in” crowd and an “out” crowd to make the innies feel good about their own subjugation to the whims of the guy that talks to god.

  • GregWhitenerel

    The Charleston nine are victims of a race war. About a million black men are incarcerated or in the criminal justice system. A good portion of them are prisoners of war. The War on drugs and the war on poverty are just new names for paramilitary ops with the same goals as the old plantation patrols and all that one sided christianity and forgiveness of the unrepentant is going to get us killed. Everybody loves a martyr from a distance. do we love them enough to seek justice or to prevent the sacrifice of more martyrs? Do we all have to die to make white folks feel love for us. The way we loved those Indians?

  • forgiven

    He returned him, under guidance of the Holy Spirit, because Paul, himself a willing ‘slave’ to the gospel, knew well that Onesimus must die to self in order to witness to Philemon. It is the example of Christ to suffer willingly, without personal gain and on the contrary unimaginable loss, for the undeserving such as the likes of me/Philmon/you.

  • forgiven

    Many black/white/non-black-or-white are Christian because they have acknowledged their need for jesus as Saviour & Lord.

    Just because there are many who were coerced as per your post does not negate the true faith of those that freely choose.

  • GregWhitenerel

    Paul wasn’t a slave. He was a free man and bragged about his roman citizenship and being a pharisee. Don’t try to conflate the figurative servitude of Paul with the literal physical slavery of Onesimus. That’s why Christianity is a slave religion. It’s goal is to maintain the status quo for an unprovable promise of a better life after death. There is no salvation in christianity. Jesus said , in paraphrasing Isaiah

    “”The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free”
    That is Jesus-Paul is the author of christianity, not Jesus.

  • forgiven

    “… linguistically, the name Yehoshua/Yeshua/Jesus conveys the idea that God (YHVH) delivers (his people).”

    even the name Jesus connotes salvation.

    prove that ‘things’ are provable . get the point?

    just because you cannot see, you assume others blind also, worse yet why are you trying to poke out others’ eyes?

  • Jim Reed

    I think the thing that negates the faith is the more deeply people believe, the more screwed up their religion gets.

  • Jim Reed

    From the Christian point of view it doesn’t seem like that much of a sacrifice because they see Christ as God, and if you kill Him He just pops back to life again.

  • GregWhitenerel

    Stop playing games. That’s the magic of white supremacy…excuse me christianity. One man holds a whip and beats another man until he spends his life energy making the whip holder rich and you say they’re equal in the sight of god. You’re insulting my intelligence.

    “either you are a slave to God or sin. you seem to have chosen.” Wrong. Onesimus was a slave to philemon. Doesn’t that make Philemon the God of Onesimus by your logic?

    5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people,8 because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. Ephesians 6

    There it is. A slave must treat his master as if the master was god. And that is the essence of the religion of Paul. Yeshua represents freedom here on earth and earthly obedience to the laws of god. Paul promises pie in the sky and violation of the first commandment “Thou shall have no other gods before me.” When he requires a slave to put his master on the same level as god.

    What you call blindness is god given common sense. That’s not blindness. That’s not pretending to see what isn’t there.

  • http://twitter.com/cpmondello Corey Mondello

    I like what some civilians in India did or may even still do when white folk tell them about a god named Jesus, they add him to the list of gods incarnate. This of course pisses off the white evangelicals because they had hoped their Jesus would trump these Hindus belief that their God was the wrong God. Little do most Christians know, but like all religion, Hinduism has many sects/denominations, and with most religions, they have been around far longer than Christianity!

  • http://twitter.com/cpmondello Corey Mondello

    I doubt this highly, someone had to “show” them their God wasn’t as good as the Christian God, through lies and deception. I doubt their is even one non-Christian community throughout history, that has become Christian without being threatened in some way or another. Basically, those who don’t conver get killed.

  • http://twitter.com/cpmondello Corey Mondello

    If this Christ was so willing to die why was he trying to tell his father that those killing him did not know what they were doing? Wouldn’t dad already know this? What was the point of saying this, unless for show, or to make himself feel a certain way, to show his dad he forgave them.

  • forgiven

    they also had to ADD Buddha since he was not previously included in the ‘certified’, previously complete, list of incarnations of Vishnu

    apparently you have no issue with such blatant nullifying revisionism

    i am not pissed off but it must be because i am an Indian, non-white evangelical

    9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name

    10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

    11and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

    when that day comes you cannot say you were not told

  • forgiven

    i am a living example of one who found Christ willingly

    i may face death because of it

    in fact the early church were promised persecution, suffering and even death, yet accepted Christ. perhaps the best of example of what you seek.

  • forgiven

    this may be explained, though not understood, because Jesus was both fully human and divine

    5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
    6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
    7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men
    8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

  • forgiven

    your own quote refutes you:

    7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people

    so NO they are not serving their master/owner but God

    ergo 1st commandment not violated

    etc..

  • forgiven

    Jesus put it as “..the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the sabbath..”

    ‘fundamentalists’ too often strain gnats and swallow camels, conversely ‘liberals’ too often throw the baby out with the bath water

    keep you eyes on Jesus only

  • forgiven

    perhaps an examination of the term ‘chosen people’ is warranted

    a tiny non-expansionist nation, the Jews were ‘chosen’ to demonstrate God’s nature, both blessing and judgement

    they constantly backslid, suffered, were extended grace

    are they any less chosen millennia later?

    a witness of God’s faithfulness and grace to the undeserving

    available free, through Christ, until the last day

  • Jim Reed

    It might not be a baby. It might be a turd.

  • forgiven

    there is indeed a war

    “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

    this spiritual conflict is manifested in race, class, genocide, etc.. but first in us individually

    Jesus had to fight the ‘church’ of his day and the beat goes on

  • Jim Reed

    Are you fighting the church?

  • forgiven

    yes at times

  • Jim Reed

    We need to find our way forward as a society. The scriptures aren’t going to help us.

  • cmbennett01

    Provided they accept that man is inherently depraved and accept your particular version of the the universe they can go to heaven when they die. Everyone else is tortured for eternity.
    No thanks. I’d prefer not to be part of the problem.

  • GregWhitenerel

    You need a grammar lesson Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.

    OBEY YOUR MASTERS JUST AS YOU WOULD OBEY CHRIST

    Let me guess. You were forgiven for lying.

  • forgiven

    this two-party (tea party?) system leaves little option

    do you suggest they vote for the pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage etc… party?

    unfortunately it is a least-of-evils situation

  • forgiven

    one cannot partially quote but must provide full context, which in this case clearly indicates serving God not man

  • Jim Reed

    The abortion issue is a problem in our two party system. We could fix that, but there are powers that wouldn’t want the problem fixed. Republicans are anti-abortion, but they benefit from having a high unwanted pregnancy rate and high abortion rate. They want to kill family planning, prevent sex education, and prevent contraception. Their policies in fact raise the abortion rate, then they can be against abortion and use the issue for votes.

    The solution would be a multi-party system. All we have to do is change to a popular vote election for president with a runoff. If no candidate gets 50% of the vote then have a runoff election maybe two weeks later between the top two candiates. This would allow a third or forth party to get going, maybe win lesser elections, and build toward a bigger party because you could vote for this presidential candidate, and your vote wouldn’t be wasted because you could still vote in the runoff. This is the minimum change that gets us to multiple parties and actually solves a lot of other political problems that we have. Current powers would never want to go that direction because solving so many problems is just not what they want. They use these problems to keep power.