By Steve Hansen
I wonder how many people have paused to reflect on how much has gone right after the horror of the June 17 slaying of nine parishioners of the Emanuel African Methodist-Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
It started with the congregation responding with prayer, not anger. The white police chief of Charleston then said exactly what he should have said. He called the slayings a “tragedy” and said it was “unfathomable” how an individual could walk into a church with people in prayer and commit murder. He also marshaled state and federal police agencies to find the killer.
The strongest overreaction came from the media. They called in the national NAACP and every national African American leader they could find to respond to a local tragedy. It seems they alone were trying to escalate the racial response to this incident.
The black leaders did not rise to the bait. They seemed to recognize that the apparent shooter, Dylann Roof, an avowed racist, does not represent a movement collectively bent on disenfranchising African Americans.
The media were also trying to compare the Emanuel AME incident to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, that killed four young African American girls. That bombing was indeed carried out by white supremacists whose thinking echoed a large portion of the South’s white population at the time. Leaders failed to rise to this false comparison, as well.
The only controversy now seems to hinge on South Carolina’s continued use of the Confederate flag.
Blacks associate it with slavery and racism. To many southerners, however, the Confederate flag is about freedom, independence and states’ rights.
That is an issue that will be and should be worked out between South Carolinians.
The fight against racism will be a struggle for a long time to come, but we seem to have gotten better at recognizing it when it is a factor and, equally important, when it is not.
In the meantime, I hope South Carolina’s residents, black and white, take some pride in how well they have represented themselves in the post-racial U.S.
Steve Hansen writes about our life and times from his perspective of a retired Tucumcari journalist. Contact him at: