Outside symbolic gestures, what’s changed since the Charleston Massacre? Not a damn thing.
It seems like an ironic twist of fate, a perverted prophecy of tragedies to come when you think back on it. Two years ago, on June 16, 2015, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump announced his bid for the U. S. presidency. Trump would marshal hate rhetoric, such as half-baked litanies on the immorality of Mexican immigrants or encouraging his followers to initiate physical altercations with protesters, to accomplish his goal. Twenty-four hours later, in the Bible Study Room of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a historically black institution located in South Carolina, a 21-year-old, white supremacist named Dylann Roof killed nine parishioners in cold blood, sparing the life of just one, so she could tell his story.
Since then, Roof has been tried, convicted and sentenced (as reported here) and Donald Trump, as we know, won the presidency. The latter’s win, as we also know, has emboldened white nationalists — or, excuse me, the “alt-right”, as they prefer to refer to themselves now — to openly and unapologetically carry out their sick project of making America white again.
(And an alt-righter is just a few ideological steps and murdered black bodies away from being a full-blown Dylann Roof!)
With work, we’ve garnered a few symbolic victories. I’m thinking specifically of Bree Newsome scaling South Carolina’s state capitol flag pole and unclipping the stars and bars, the so-called neutral cultural artifact of the American South. Newsome’s actions eleven days to the day Roof went on his rampage, combined with the fresh wounds of what happened at Episcopal, would catalyze Governor Nikki Haley and South Carolina House of Representatives to dethrone the Confederate flag, which Roof had been photographed hoisting.
But bold crimes committed against blacks and other POCs continue to be a staple of everyday life in America. Not only do they persist, but, according to the data, since 2015, hate crimes against marginalized communities have spiked almost two-fold.
In 2015, when the FBI’s Union Crime Report released its observations, the number of listed hate crimes stood at 1, 314, with most of those crimes — over 48 percent — being carried out by whites. That’s important to note in an era that’s still dedicated to manufacturing the black pathology thesis.
At present, that number has ballooned to 2,213. These incidents include reported actions taken against Muslims.
Moreover, in the aftermath of these crimes, justice remains pathetically elusive, as the recent acquittal of Minnesota officer Jeronimo Yanez for the murder of Philando Castille illustrates. And he isn’t alone.
Considering the question of progress and possibility for change further, it also doesn’t help that the sitting president, egocentric through and through, flaunted his affiliation with, and sympathy toward, white supremacists during the campaign season; and, following his shocking victory (depending on who you talk to), staffed his cabinet with men loyal to the white cause and devoted to white supremacy.
This is why groups like Traditional Workers and the cult of Richard Spencer feel empowered to march the streets proclaiming in one distorted form or another the superiority of America’s white populace.
Don’t get me wrong. Symbolic victories are important. But, if you ask me, in terms of substance, what really has changed in the two years since an embittered, cowardly white supremacist strolled into a black sacred space and snuffed the life of nine devout, churchgoers in the name of white power? Not a damn thing.