Now, it helps to be a believer who understands God did not create us all to be alike, but does expect all of us to love our neighbors. It also helps if you are not afraid of the word “diversity” and that, when using the word “diversity,” you don’t use it in some derogatory fashion, like putting quote fingers around it, for example.
I showed up to the Leflore County Mission Mississippi Prayer Breakfast new and relatively unknown. I was not met with any distrust, nor did my presence seem to inspire any fear among the attendees. The group was comprised of a contingent of both whites and blacks, church and local leaders, and they all made me feel very welcome. Now any one of us could have been carrying a concealed weapon. This is Mississippi, after all.
In Charleston, South Carolina, Dylann Roof walked into a Wednesday night prayer group at Emmanuel A.M.E. Church with a concealed weapon. He then murdered nine people, all black, hoping to start a “Race War.”
Initially, conservative leaders and media seemed determined to downplay this racially-motivated mass murder. They can’t anymore. We have read the young man’s Manifesto. He details a litany of arguments for white superiority and supremacy inspired by text he pulled directly from the Conservative Citizens Council website. He then acted on it.
Public opinion is turning. Pretending racism is not a problem or does not exist will no longer cut it. The real moral majority in our country has had enough of these weak-minded people taking innocent lives based on fear and hatred.
Dylann Roof is clearly infected with a disease, the dis-ease of fear. His fear was no doubt exacerbated, created even, by the rage and fear he found online. He could well be a foot soldier for a much larger hate group. We will find out. Such groups exist recruiting fearful people like Dylann Roof every day.
Fear, distrust, and hatred associated with racism is a very real in America. We constantly pick at the tiny scab trying to form around the open wound that is our history of racial tension and conflict. Too many of our state and national leaders wish only to use that wound for political advantage. They must do better before our nation rots from the infection.
All professing Christians in Mississippi and America should pray that the tragedy in Charleston becomes a tipping point in our ongoing battle against racism. Other faiths are joining in. The thoughts and meditations of few atheists couldn’t hurt much either. After all, some of our country’s more genuine moralists have been and are non-believers.
The families of the murdered victims who publicly forgave Dylann Roof claimed the high ground. It is the ground we all must seek if we want to make our world inhospitable for the kind of hate that enslaved the weak mind of 21-year-old Dylann Roof.
Many will use this tragedy to push political agendas. The N.R.A. will call for the arming our deacons, preachers, and the church secretary. Some will push for outlawing guns and Confederate flags. That may only serve to further agitate the fearful.
Guns are tools; dangerous tools, but still tools. There has to be a better way to have a discussion about guns in this country, but that is for another day. Today is about the insidious and false ideological divides that allow lies like “they are taking over our country” to take root.
The Confederate Flag is a symbol, one used by white supremacists, but still a symbol. Hang it in a museum to remember those that took the time to wave it in a losing battle or brandish it with a hate and selfish pride. It is part of our shared history.
Our task is more difficult than outlawing guns and symbols. Instead, we must make the world inhospitable for the kind of fear and hate that destroyed Dylann Roof, the kind of fear and hate that took the lives of Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, DePayne Middleton, Clementa Pickney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sr., Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson.
We can take action. Social integration is the last racial frontier for America and our state. We have, to a considerable degree, successfully integrated the public and professional arenas. But we can integrate our social circles in more comprehensive ways.
Visit a place of worship. It will be filled with hypocrites, undesirables, and people you may find kind of weird, but everyone is there seeking something, whether purpose, hope, meaning, solace, or simply community. Go to a church filled with doubt and disbelief, but where the people still seek to do good for one another and the community around them. Get to know these people as you work with them. Make your community better. That’s where the real love is. That’s where the joy is found.
Get involved with groups like Mission Mississippi. If you can’t bring yourself to darken the doors of a church or religious organization, then join some other community or service group. There are community bands and choirs, book clubs, bridge clubs, sports leagues. Again, look to build connections with those who are different. You are not going to like everyone. You’re just not. But you can learn to love them.
Yes, Dylann Roof has made it more difficult for a white man to attend a black worship service. Mission Mississippi groups throughout the state may view their next new visitor more cautiously, particularly if he is a young man, white or black. Roof wanted a “Race War,” but my hope is that he has, in fact, done just the opposite.
Let’s make it our responsibility to reach out and protect those fearful young men like Dylann Roof, before they are enslaved by the purveyors of hate. Let’s demonstrate genuine love and compassion for each other. Let’s share of ourselves and try to learn more about and from one another, no matter how seemingly dissimilar we may initially appear.
» David Dallas is a political writer for the Mississippi Business Journal. He worked for former U.S. Sen. John Stennis and authored Barking Dawgs and A Gentleman from Mississippi.