news of charleston from back home
Of all the people in all the world that I could have run into in a bar in Malaga last weekend, who do I end up meeting? A friendly white American guy... from Charleston, SC.
'Surely this is divine intervention,' I think to myself. Perhaps, and hopefully, a chance to have a small bit of reconciliation. Obligatory small talk dispensed with, I ask the obvious. 'So, what do you think about what happened there?'
He tells me that Charleston isn't like that. The people of Charleston aren't like that. This killer was trying to start a civil war. He (the killer) chose Charleston because Charleston was where the American Civil War began - they were the first to secede. He tells me that that act of secession, and the Civil War itself was a very American act, rooted in the principles of rebellion on which the country was founded (i.e., the colonies rebelling against Britain). When the people have a problem with the way things are, he says, they SHOULD rebel against the government so that things change. He tells me that the real problem is self-victimization by black people. He is amiable and calm as he whitesplains and mansplains all of this to me over several rounds at the bar. He never asks for my thoughts, and I volunteer them sparingly, because the more I listen, the more I realize that this is not a moment where I will have influence. This is a moment to increase my own understanding.
Here is a man who by the narrow definitions or neat little markers we like to use, isn't racist, not even to himself. As I sit wondering how he might explain how nine slaughtered people in a church self-victimized themselves to death, I realize that white people like him – racist or not – are willfully ignorant. They prefer to cling to fictitious histories instead of critically examine present realities because it soothes their consciences. These white people are used to being ‘the one who knows the most’. Even when it comes to blackness, these white people know what it is and how it should be done even better than black people. There’s no arguing with them. Generations of being the default right-answer person, the assumed standard that all others should naturally adopt, have left them unable to even consider that their perspective isn’t the correct one. So blinded he is by his own version of the truth, that he doesn’t even realizing he’s making a very strong case for black Americans who were forcefully colonized and have continually had their way of life threatened by the government for hundreds of years to end any possible self-victimization and actually prove their American-ness… by rebelling.
I’m glad I’m a good listener.