I've been trying to rationalize how I feel about everything that has happened in Charleston as well as the surrounding issues and I think I've reached a point where I finally feel I am able to talk about things clearly.
I've heard a lot of different subtopics being tossed around in regards to the aftermath of the Charleston shooting such as gun control and mental health, and quite frankly, I find all of these to be distracting. At the very heart of the Charleston incident lies one issue, and that issue of racism.
First and foremost, this does not mean that I am not a supporter of stricter gun control as well as mental health. But on one hand, the stricter regulation of guns will not stop racially-motivated killings and assaults from taking place. There is a time and place to address every issue, and while gun control in America quite clearly needs to be taken on in the near future, it shouldn't be the first thing every politician rushes to fix after an incident like this happens, because it is not the core issue.
Raising awareness and education for mental health is a social issue that I am quite passionate about so I hope one doesn't misunderstand me when I say that it is not an issue that should be addressed in response to Charleston. This is because, once again, mental health is not the problem here, racism is. For those who say that Dylann Roof committed these terrible crimes because he was mentally unstable or mentally ill, this is problematic for two reasons.
The first is that it gives the illusion that Dylann Roof committed these acts when he was not in a clear state of mind, or that he was under some sort of troubling influences that caused him to "make a mistake". While this act of malice is not something that any rational person in their right mind would think to commit, it is wrong to attribute Roof's behaviour to mental illness. Roof knew quite clearly what he was doing. In fact, he went so far as to publish a manifesto about it on The Last Rhodesian, which contains his opinions on all different races, as well as his justification for acting the way he did. This attitude is also clear surrounding the circumstances of his arrest, where he peacefully turned himself in and confessed to his crimes. Roof had an agenda, a racist agenda, and to say that this was an act committed to due mental illness is a definite transgression. In fact, it demonstrates quite the opposite, showing that Roof was pretty clear in his mind about his stance on his act, and was able to rationalize his appalling beliefs in order to justify his actions.
The second problem with attributing Roof's behaviour to mental health issues is that falsely labeling racially-charged killings as a mental slip further contributes to the stigma that many people who actually suffer from mental illnesses have to bear and experience. While yes, in the past, there may have been incidences similar to this one that have had a connection to mental health and mental issues, the case with Charleston is not one of these issues and viewing it as such is, quite honestly, insulting to victims of racist behaviour as well as those who suffer from bona fide mental health issues.
Maybe the reason that issues such as these are being discussed and politicized quite a bit is because no one wants to talk about the reality of racism. I get it. It's an uncomfortable issue from all sides. But not having the courage to address this incident as it really is just adds to the problem. People think that now that slavery, and segregation, and other major racist institutional practises have been done away with, that we are now a racism-free society. But you are kidding yourself if you sincerely believe this is the case. Issues don't cease to become issues just because a piece of legislation says so. Racism is something that is still alive and well, and has been rearing its ugly head in society especially often in these past few months.
We are so quick to see people of other races as a threat to our society's freedom and prosperity yet fail to recognize terrorism in our own backyard. When I was in grade 11 and studying the subject of Terrorism in my World Issues class, our textbook presented us a list of different known terrorist organizations from around the world. The Ku Klux Klan was not one of them. There is a reason for that. That is the same reason why Dylann Roof, who is only a few years older than I am, was able to get his hands on so much influential material that he saw what he did as justified. That is the same reason why the Confederate flag is still flying over South Carolina today, and the same reason why it is still a part of the Mississippi state flag. That is the same reason why some politicians are blaming all nine deaths on the people who were present in the church that day for not doing more to defend themselves. We may have seemingly "fazed out" institutional racism, but that doesn't mean that racism doesn't exist. It only means that this type of racism will be even harder for us to address.
Interestingly enough, the Charleston tragedy comes only a week or so after Rachel Dolezal's reveal that she had chosen to identify as black. But if this is the kind of thing that you will be subjected to if you are anything but white, why on earth would you willingly involve yourself in it?
Dylann Roof may consider himself to be "the last Rhodesian", however this is far from the truth. And as a society, we ensure this reality by distancing ourselves from the issue of race, and even more so by calling this incident something that it is not. Racism, unlike gun control for example, is an issue that isn't readily politicized because it is an issue that affects us all. Fortunately, the opposite is also true. We are all able to affect it, and the first step to this is confronting the idea that we are, in fact, still a racist society.
Actually, that is the second step. The first step is to show solidarity with the families and friends of those affected by this terrible tragedy and give them the space and respect they deserve to heal. But, once again, I reiterate that this healing will never be fully realized if we as a society fail to take that next step.