Individuals and groups have evidently seen an opportunity to promote their agendas by blowing the usual dog whistles to call forth the faithful. I've identified a few of them and am calling them out for being selfishly divisive, which continues the underlying problems of hatred and distrust that triggered this appalling incident, instead of working to break down the barriers and unite our communities.
The way the incident is being described by the various media outlets and on social media are creating a patchwork narrative in which the Left or the Right are ultimately responsible for it, and the words they use are providing the framework on which people are already forming their opinions. This is what actually happened:
Dylann Roof, 21, of Lexington, South Carolina, said he was there "to shoot black people," according to witness reports to the authorities, who are trying to find out if he was involved in hate groups. The flags on his jacket certainly indicate racist beliefs. Nine people died in the attack.Suspect in #Charleston shooting identified as 21 yr old Dylann Roof. If you know his whereabouts, call 1-800-CALL-FBI pic.twitter.com/EmFL5gLMCL— Berkeley County SC (@BerkeleySCGov) June 18, 2015
How the Right reacted
To all intents and purposes, this is a hate crime against black people, but have you noticed what the right wing press is saying? Go on, take a look at how they describe the victims. I read the takes from Fox, the Wall St. Journal, the Daily Mail, The Sun, and The Telegraph.
- WSJ alone calls him Mr. Roof, but talks about the spate of killings of black people.
- Fox talks up the respectability of the people, characterising them as decent, upstanding members of the community by listing their professional status
- The Telegraph also talks up the respectability of the people, characterising them as decent, upstanding members of the community by listing their professional status
- The Sun describes Roof as "a crazed gunman"
Hate crime or terrorism?
Right wing blogs including the Conservative Treehouse, Breitbart, and Infowars are already worrying about gun control and while their commenters are conspiracy theorising on false flag attacks. Oh, and the local paper put a sticky note advert for guns on the front page of today's issue. Insensitive, much? But gun sales shoot up (sorry!) in the aftermath of a massacre because right-wingers are irrationally attached to their guns and fear that if gun control laws are brought in they will lose the right to bear arms.
What the trendy lefties, who insist this was a terrorist attack, are missing, is that this was an attack on black Christians. That's why the right wing dead tree press are bashing Roof. Killing black men while wearing a badge is Not Very Nice And Possibly Justifiable as far as they are concerned, but killing Respectable People Saying Their Prayers? Hell, no. And the trendy left-liberal types I'm friendly with do not appear to have noticed that. To dismiss the victims' faith is to dismiss the most important part of their personal identities. It does as much to denigrate their value as human beings and strip them of their dignity as citizens as the calls to resist gun control if it should be enacted.
Will the real terrorists please stand up?
Dylann Roof wanted to attack an easy target group at their most vulnerable so he went for people at prayer in a church. The media reports have made it clear that none of the victims were anything but perfectly respectable, gainfully employed people who were committed Christians active in their local communities, which undermines his claims that they "rape our women and are taking over our country."
Special interest groups on both sides of the political chasm are working to widen the divide to increase paranoia and thereby herd people into joining them. The "terrorism," then, is created by those groups' attempts to exploit the murders for their own ends, by frightening people into giving them more power and authority. Dylann Roof, by contrast, shot nine innocents at prayer because he is a petty bigot with no friends and was possibly hoping that notoriety would make him a hero of some kind.
Words are our power
It's important to choose your words carefully when addressing or discussing issues, particularly sensitive ones. That racism exists is beyond doubt. I know, I was reared in a racist household and it's taken twenty five years of membership in a diverse church to knock the preconceived ideas, "common-sense" notions, and downright stupidity out of my social discourse. It's one of the reasons I bash political correctness: a friend who is white and married to a black lady told me that he was told off for describing their daughter as "mixed race" by one of the teachers at her school. "It's mixed heritage," he was told. They keep moving the goalposts and don't bother to consult the people they're allegedly protecting. And they use social shaming and word control in their attempts to control us. And some of us fall for this crap. Stop it!
The right-on perchild who cried wolf
Overtly authoritarian attempts to use words to control us tend to fail hilariously, mostly because we end up either refusing to get on the bandwagon or mentally translating the approved phrases provided. I mean, how many of us use "waitron" to describe food service staff? Do you say "sanitation technician" or "binman?" If someone announced that they'd been sexually assaulted, and when you asked what happened, they said, "One of the builders on a construction site wolf-whistled at me as I walked by, and shouted, 'Oi, sexy, gimme your number!'" would you recommend they report it to the police? Misusing words or flat out making them up can easily get you dismissed as a crank and your cause rejected as trivial — most likely by me. I won't stand for that nonsense so don't waste my time with it.
Copyright and IPR maximalists tend to be more subtle in the way they promote their cause, tying it to human rights, property ownership, and notions of decency, fair play, and standing up for the little guy. It's a powerful narrative that has reformers on the back foot using their words and phrases to argue back because whoever frames the argument owns the narrative. It's why I rail at Pirates who use the word "consume" to describe reading, listening to, or watching the news, etc. I prefer the word "experience" as a catch-all.
The way we experience news and culture is changing.
Doesn't that work better in your head? It removes that tickle at the back of your mind that suggests that the act of watching, reading, or listening to news or cultural items devalues them in some way, and this requires a remedy for the loss engendered by your interference. Techdirt calls this "artificial scarcity." What is so damn clever about the maximalists' neuro-linguistic programming is the way it gently references emotive tropes such as home, family, security, and appeals to our shared humanity and notions of common decency to get us on board. They are often less subtle by characterising infringers as thieves and blaming their woes on them, but for the most part they're running the show and pushing back is hard, but we've got to keep at it till we win. The alternative doesn't bear thinking about.
Breaking free of social control mechanisms
Thinking for yourself is hard; it means verifying what you're told and refusing to accept a version of events just because it appeals to your particular biases. Full disclosure: I'm basically conservative, a Christian, and a Pirate. This informs the way I think and influence what I will or won't accept as true.
Don't let identity politics take over your thinking
The trouble with identity politics is that you end up being forced to take sides sooner or later. Since I refuse to do that on principle, I sometimes get bashed from people on both sides of the aisle. It's easier to just pick a side and stick with it, isn't it? The trouble with that is that you risk ending up in an echo chamber because groupthink demands that you reject information and opinions that clash with group values. If you're unwilling to accept facts that contradict your chosen group's position, you don't think for yourself, you're a good little doggie. Don't do that, it's degrading.
Verify what you're told
Taking things at face value is easier and less time-consuming than checking them out. However, being unreasonably suspicious of someone just because you pride yourself on your skepticism or going along with a trope because the rest of your chosen group is simply makes you more susceptible to being manipulated as long as the right buzz words are used. Come on, it doesn't take that much effort to check things out. Search is your friend.
Use words according to their actual meaning
It's probably a result of all the time I spent on Google Plus resisting the efforts of gun-worshipping Libertarians to convince me that trickle-down economics works in practice, etc., but I've always been wary of people who either make up words or use them out of context.
Terrorism is commonly defined as violent acts (or the threat of violent acts) intended to create fear (terror), perpetrated for an economic, religious, political, or ideological goal, and which deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants - Wikipedia, Terrorism
Terrorists target civilians to advance a stated political goal. They justify their actions by claiming they are doing it for political reasons, which lends their squalid acts a dignity they don't deserve. Let's take a brief look at some actual terrorists, shall we? The IRA murdered people, committed robbery, and engaged in drug trafficking, but refused to accept being treated as ordinary criminals because they claimed that their actions were politically motivated and that they were prisoners of war.
In both crime and law, hate crime (also known as bias-motivated crime) is a usually violent, prejudice motivated crime that occurs when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her perceived membership in a certain social group. Examples of such groups include but are not limited to: ethnicity, gender identity, disability, language, nationality, physical appearance, religion, or sexual orientation. - Wikipedia, Hate Crime
Hate crime perpetrators target people because they hate them on principle, not because they believe they are freedom fighters for a glorious cause. They have to cast themselves as victims in order to justify the horrible things they do to their targets, indulging paranoia and irrational fear until they erupt in a violent rampage.
Say it and stand behind it
The difference between terrorism and hate crime is that terrorists tend to organise and have a stated agenda while hate criminals tend to lash out at people for reasons even they can't quite comprehend. There is no value in lending Dylann Roof's crimes any dignity by pretending he has a political agenda. He's not a special category prisoner of war, he's just a grubby common criminal who murdered people at prayer because he knew they wouldn't be able to fight back. That there are others who think the way he does doesn't make it a conspiracy, it means we need to do more to build trust and mutuality in our fractured society. And we're not going to do that if we're balkanising public opinion to further our political agendas.
What do you think?