What is color blind racism
: Racism in the USA: "We are anything but a color-blind society"
As a historian, Robert Chase spent several years researching the history of Afro-Americans in Charleston. He now works at Stony Brook University in New York State. He considers the white Dylann R., who shot and killed nine people in a church in Charleston, to be an ideologically driven assassin.
As a historian, what is the Charleston massacre - an act of terrorism or a hate crime?
It would be a great mistake to speak of a hate crime alone. People then immediately think that the perpetrator is a paranoid and psychotic loner. Dylann R., on the other hand, goes back a long way to justify his act, as can be read in the manifesto that he posted on the Internet. He obviously has a fine, if completely perverted, sense of history. He apparently feels - like many white southerners after the end of the civil war 150 years ago - threatened by African Americans.
It is difficult to understand that such thought models are still relevant 150 years after the end of the civil war or 50 years after the official end of racial segregation.
Such ideologies come to the fore whenever African Americans in the US raise their voices and protest. They are currently doing this against police violence. Their motto is “Black lives count.” It was the same in the 1950s and 1960s during the civil rights movement. It was then that the Ku Klux Klan suddenly woke up from the twilight sleep it had fallen into in the 1920s. At that time, more than 300 churches were burning in the south, most of which were attended by African-Americans. The climax in 1963 was the bomb attack on a church in Birmingham, Alabama, in which four girls were killed.
Is the Charleston Massacre a repeat of that story?
I think we are in the middle of a new, Afro-American civil rights movement, to which Dylann R. is reacting in a perverted way: with brute force, as has always happened in the last few centuries. I think his motives are not only rooted in the civil war, which many people in the southern United States still glorify today as an honorable battle for a lost cause. Dylann R., who I consider an ideologically driven assassin, refers in his manifesto explicitly to massive violence by blacks against whites, which is allegedly hushed up. This argument cannot be substantiated, but for Dylann R. it seems to be real.
Is this the long shadow of slavery that President Barack Obama is talking about?
That's right. I will even go further: this is the long shadow that racism still casts in the USA to this day. We are anything but a color blind society. And that applies regardless of the fact that, with Barack Obama, we have elected an African American president for the first time.
You have to explain that now.
Racism is so deeply anchored in parts of US society that even the election of an African American for president couldn't change it.
What are people like Dylann R. afraid of?
Historically, there have always been three reasons for violence against black people: fear that the white and black races will mix; the fear that African Americans might take over the country and, finally, the conclusion drawn from the two points: African Americans should disappear and that is being attempted by force. Another word for it is genocide.
When he first appeared in court, Dylann R. looked like a distraught, insecure, haphazard teenager, less like an ice-cold murderer.
It may seem different, but I think R. actually feels like a standard bearer of the white, right-wing extremist movement and has internalized its ideological framework. He obviously sees himself in the tradition of the white lynchers. From the abolition of slavery to the 1960s, there were a variety of such crimes. The legacy of these lynchings still lingers when white citizens decided at their own discretion that someone had to die, knowing full well that they were not threatened by the state.
Why is Charleston something special for African Americans and apparently also for racists?
Charleston is important to African Americans because most of their ancestors were brought ashore and enslaved there after crossing from Africa. It's like a perverted Ellis Island for the blacks. But Charleston is just as important for white right-wing extremists who draw motives for their actions from the civil war between the northern and southern states. It's where the first shot in this war was fired. In addition: The Mother Emanuel Church, in which the massacre took place, is one of the oldest Afro-American churches in the southern states. She is a symbol of everything that right-wing extremists reject. Martin Luther King, for example, spoke in church.
Will the attack on a church in the very religious south lead to changes in the gun laws, or will it be like after the massacre in the Newtown elementary school: At first there is an excited debate, but a few weeks later the matter is forgotten again.
As a historian, it is better not to look to the future. But one thing can be said for sure: if there are changes, they will only come slowly. Always remember that we don't have one government, we have 50 governments. We have 50 states, after all. And each individual state can decide for itself what its gun laws look like. How difficult it is to bring about changes can be seen in the debate as to whether the old flag of the southern states should still fly on state buildings or on state land.
The coffin containing the remains of one of those murdered in Charleston will be laid out in the South Carolina Parliament on Wednesday. A few meters further on, the southern flag is still waving at a civil war memorial. How does it affect you?
It is completely bizarre. It says so much about how our present is influenced by our past. We urgently need a nationwide debate on this issue. Our constitution does not allow such symbols to be banned, but we have to create something like the Germans did after the Second World War. In Germany, it was finally possible to banish the swastika completely from public space. The Confederate flag is not just a symbol of the civil war that ended 150 years ago. The Ku Klux Klan wore them too. For African Americans, this flag is a symbol of hatred and intimidation.
The interview was conducted by Damir Fras.
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