I wrote about political violence being a losing a proposition for those who could not control the narrative (or "spin" to use a more contemporary phrase) of their violence. I had written this in the aftermath of the riots in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore where legitimate grievances over police brutality or local government using the poor as ATMs for their coffers would be obscured by burned-out stores and overturned police cars.
Well, if anyone had the phrase "Born to Lose" tattooed across his white face its Dylann Roof. He provided another example of political violence being a loser for those marked by history as losers with his terroristic massacre of nine black Christians in church in Charleston, S.C.
White Southerners, like the Irish and black Americans too, have suffered the bulk of defeats in U.S. history, often times because game is rigged against them but also sometimes through their own mistakes. The mistake Roof made was not to hide his tracks. Unlike another young, white mass killer Adam Lanza, Roof not only didn't destroy all his computer searches (and kill himself) to leave nothing behind but mystery for those wondering about his motives. Instead, he left behind a big fat manifesto and pictures of himself with a Confederate and other white-supremacist flags and burning a U.S flag to make sure his motives were quite clear. Had such things not existed, Roof could have copped a insanity plea given the evidence of his drug use. Instead he'll be remembered as a killer with cause and perhaps the one who drove old Dixie down.
For as we saw this past week, there was no way in the world Roof was going to be able to control his narrative and nor would those who still defend the Confederacy with something more than just remembrance. No, Roof smashed all that to itsy-bitsy pieces committing what he thought was an act of war. The church he targeted, how he planned the attack and the reasons he did so were all calculated for effect. The madness only lies in what he thought he could accomplish. But as Roof himself said, everyone else in white supremacy chat rooms and website just talk and fantasize. Roof actually did what they've always wanted to do but didn't have the guts to do it.
Still, he almost didn't either. He took almost an hour before he came to his moment of decision, It was probably an agonizing hour trying to decide who he really was. Was he a killer? Could he kill these "nice" people just attending a weekly Bible study that goes on at churches all over the country? What did they ever do to him as individual? Nothing. But it was at that point Roof lost his individuality, his own judgement, morality and conscience. Instead he became what he thought was a soldier in some mass army out there on Stormfront of the CCC. Maybe he thought he was one of those Confederates in uniform back in 1861 and this was his Ft. Sumter. Whatever he thought he was at that moment it was better than what he was: an unemployed, drug-addicted, transient with a rap sheet living in his car or a friend's trailer. Maybe he wanted to impress his new online friends and not punk out when the moment came to make the charge into history, who knows? Yet, like the loser he is, instead of Ft. Sumter what he got was Pickett's Charge, the gallant but doomed attack of a people trying to reject modernity.
Ta-Neshi Coates said of the Southern plantation class in recent article that they justified slavery as a means of creating white equality. That's what they wanted the outside world to believe. In reality such planters held the "hillbilles" and the "crackers" in as much contempt and perhaps more so than the slaves, which were after all their "investment". In reality the existence of such hard-scrabble farmers and backwoodsmen were an embarrassment to them and a lie to the notion of widespread regional prosperity and equality because of cotton and slavery. Their idea of the South were having themselves in charge and only themselves ruling over everyone, slave or free, and who would have to accept their rule because they were left uneducated and could not vote due to poll taxes or literacy tests or because they were slaves. Their's was a feudalistic society where classically educated men, like European nobles and knights, were at the top and everyone else was below them the farthest below being the serfs themselves. Southern society wasn't entirely this way but it came close enough to where those making the decisions favored secession when the time came to largely protect their status. Viewed from this perspective, the split between John C. Calhoun and Andrew Jackson becomes clear. Calhoun represented the planter class because that's where his career grew out of and Jackson the farmer because he was like them, a backwoodsman. It's also why there was little support and enthusiasm for the Confederate cause in places like Eastern Kentucky or Eastern Tennessee, West Virginia, the mountain and hill areas of South and in places outside of the cotton economy like southern Florida south and central Texas. It why many Confederate soldiers had to be conscripted to the and why many of them deserted near the end of the war.
The Roman and Greek societies to which such planters look towards as models had slavery too but it was not a slavery based completely on race (although many Irish, Scots-Irish came to the New World as indentured servants they could at least work for their freedom). Thus for poor whites the fact they weren't black as thus not a slave was the only thing they had going for them. "If you isn't better than a nigger what is you better than?" was the line from the movie Mississippi Burning that Gene Hackman gave which tried to explain the vicious racism of his father. Instead of blaming his poverty on the powers that be, he blamed it on the Negro. This is not just a Southern problem. Northern whites from Chicago Poles to Boston Irishmen to New York Italians to Milwaukee Germans have acted in the same manner towards blacks as poor white Southerner for same the reason: that life at the bottom is a zero-sum game and if you're losing, it's not because those above you are keeping you down, it's the fellow next to you keeping you from rising up. That must be it! And its from such misplaced enmity comes fear and then hate then ultimately exploitation from those seeking your consent to maintain their power over you to make sure you don't look in their direction.
Thus the context of the life of one Dylann Roof. It can be asked, as Jon Stewart recently did, what Roof has to complain about since the Republicans i.e. the White Party runs almost everything in South Carolina. But that means nothing to him anymore than President Obama or the black police chief or the black mayor meant to the rioters of Baltimore. So what? Roof has no inherited wealth of generations of planters. He's not retired military living in a low tax state off his government benefits. He's not a businessman. It doesn't seem at all that he's religious or that "culture wars" matter to him. The only connection Roof has to the GOP is his race, just as black are tied to the Democrats. And in that way and others Roof was no different than many of the rioters at Mondawin mall: unemployed or unemployable due to a lengthy rap sheet, struggles with substance abuse inadequately educated and quite angry. But Roof's anger was not directed at a power structure which has acted abusively in many cases to cause such grievance. Instead it's directed to a whole group of people he's been told again and again by the ignorant and the hateful they are the cause of his misery. Was it the loss of girl to a black man which finally brought his rage from inside the out? Does it matter? The fact that it was there and misdirected at the wrong people and for the wrong reasons is what matters.
A warning to those think persons like Roof have some sort "white privileges". You'll never convince unemployed people living rusting trailers of this. In fact, more than likely, you'll convince them they're being denied such "privileges" by blacks. As I've stated, the Dylann Roofs of the world have more in common with those dispossessed of West Baltimore and Ferguson than those who make up the power structure. Only their race separates them, which unfortunately has been used to keep them separate figuring out what truly ails them for hundreds of years. People who have nothing and never had anything to begin with have no "privileges" to share nor would know how to take advantage of them even if they did exist. Just giving people the opportunity just to dream of something better, if nothing else and the very least, will do more to "spread the wealth" than hectoring a powerless people. The First and Second Reconstructions failed or were of limited success because poor and lower middle class whites were never convinced or shown how they would or could benefit from a more equitable society and free for all people. If what we're going through right now is a Third Reconstruction, then it better include all races and classes and regions otherwise those left behind will simply produce more Dylann Roofs to continue their struggle as they see it, not as reality has it.