Not everything is about race in this country. But when it is about race, then it just is. So when a guy who has been depicted wearing a shirt featuring an apartheid-era ‘Rhodesian’ flag walks into a historic black church and guns down nine African-American worshippers at a bible study meeting, common sense leads one to believe his motivations are based in racism. When the sole adult survivor of the ordeal reports that the killer shouted before opening fire, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”—well, that sounds to me a lot like racial hatred.
Let’s call this sickness what it is so we can get on with the healing. If this were a medical disease and all the doctors recognized the symptoms but refused to make the diagnosis for fear of offending the patient we could call it madness. But there are people who are claiming that they can lead this country, who dare not call this tragedy an act of racism, a hate crime, for fear of offending a particular segment of the electorate.
I understand the sensitivities. To some, calling the events in Charleston a hate crime reinforces a stigma from which they have fought hard to put behind them. But refusing to call it what it is—racism—is a far more dangerous proposition. It reminds me of the early response to Ebola. American health officials were alerted to an epidemic in West Africa, and yet when a patient who had recently visited one of the most affected regions showed up at a hospital displaying all of the symptoms, the doctors failed to diagnose his condition. This not only led to the eventual death of the patient due to inadequate care, but exposed dozens of others to the deadly virus as well. When you wait too long to identify the problem, you miss your best chance to stop it.
We know what’s at stake here, so let’s stop all of the interpretive dance around the obvious. Was it a depraved act of violence? Of course. Was it an act of unspeakable evil? Affirmative. Was it an attack on innocent Christians? Manifestly so. Is this killer a sick individual? In my professional opinion, yes, he is. What is his sickness? It’s the sickness of racism, a spiritual sickness that distorts the mind and heart and causes irrational and baseless fear and hatred in people of all colors. Racism was once epidemic in America, but, through struggle, sacrifice, soul-searching, and meaningful social change, we have made much progress. Clearly, the struggle is far from finished, and we must own up to that fact and that challenge.
Let’s not delude ourselves here. The stakes are too high. If we do not do something as a people to directly address the divisions caused by this sickness, we risk losing all of the ground we have made as a country over the past fifty years. And certainly the youth will take cues from their leaders. If we teach them it is ok to deny racism exists even when it’s plainly staring them in the face, then we will perpetuate this sickness onto the next generation and the next.
When an event of this magnitude occurs in the middle of an election cycle, politicians are often quick to try and score political points, look for scapegoats and easy answers. That’s the lowest common denominator of politics at a time when we need true leadership. Now is the time to abandon political expediency and seize this opportunity to demonstrate what we are really made of as a people, as a great country. We have come together in times of crises, and we have risen to the test, time and time again. We are a people whose courageousness has consistently triumphed over fear. We can come out stronger on the other end of this terrible tragedy and we can heal this sickness that is crippling our nation. I know we can. But first we have to face the facts.