DYLANN ROOF AS A TROUBLED YOUNG MAN
A SHORT PERSONAL HISTORY
I ask for your indulgence if I sound too strident over the media treatment of Dylann Roof or if I have offended you. Although I suppose one of my purposes in sounding off about this issue is to precisely offend. Maybe that’s the only way that we Americans can have an honest conversation about guns and race today.
By way of backdrop (mine) to my strident stance on all issues racial, a brief personal history of how I wound up the with such strong views. (Rush would call me “delusional,” or an “American-hating liberal” but you all know my view about this idiot-pundit-bag-of-sleaze.)
Back in 1960 my paternal grandparents retired to Florida. I was 13 years old at the time. For the next four years the Famille Sorg spent four to six weeks on vacation down south (Yes, my father, high school drop-out that he was, got four weeks of Kodak paid vacation every year, something unimaginable in today’s America) visiting my Grandparents. Well, that’s a slight exaggeration. My paternal Grandmother was not your stereotypical, warm, huggable, kind and loving grandma you see so often in Hollywood films. No, in fact, she could be very mean, domineering and you did not cross her. Ever. So we spent what my father thought was a defensible two weeks at their place in Palm Harbor, Florida and spent the rest of the time travelling around the South – Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana for the most part.
As a result I developed what I think was a real world picture of Black life in the South at least as real as a young, naïve and ignorant-of-all-things-Black White kid could. I saw the ramshackle, tar-papered “houses” sitting out in the middle of cotton fields that served as “homes” for Black folks. I saw – and tested – the “For Colored Only” bathrooms and drinking fountains. I walked around to the back of restaurants with signs that said “Colored People Served At The Back” to see the small windows exposed to the elements where Black folks ordered and received their meals. The “Colored Waiting Room” signs with the direction arrows. The “No Colored Allowed” signs that proliferated across the landscape. The KKK’s and the Citizens Council’s “Impeach Earl Warren” billboards along the highways.
I didn’t know any Black people at the time. The only Black people in my high school were two foreign exchange students from Nigeria whom we all (me included) ignored. There was one of my girlfriend’s maids but my interaction with her was limited to polite “Hellos.” I don’t think I ever knew her name.
Then along came 1963 when, having just left Washington, D.C. early in the morning on our way home, came an announcement on the radio that there had been a riot the night before in my hometown of Rochester, New York. I was stunned. I did not understand why this had happened. And I wanted to know.
So, in 1965 I hiked myself down to Howard University, then the most prestigious of the nation’s Historically African Institutions of Higher Learning and spent the next five years discovering the “why’s” and “how’s.” When a dozen cities exploded in flames – including Washington – after the assassination of Martin Luther, King, Jr., it was no surprise to me. At Howard I gathered a bevy of young, ambitious, and delightful African American men and women as friends. I got to know the grandparents of one of my friends whose parents had been slaves. I also got to know the great granddaughter of the first African American Recorder of Deeds in the District of Columbia who was appointed just after the end of the Civil War. One of my roommates pursued one of the now famous Allen Sisters (Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen). She – whichever one it was – was having none of his low class Back Bay, Boston upbringing.
Most importantly, during those five truly wonderful, insightful years, I came away with an education that most of my peers could never have gained. I got to know Black folks as people who were just like me in so many ways. I also learned our differences of culture, personal and collective histories (I know what the phrase “Arrested For Being Black” means) encountered racism and racist acts against so many of my friends (DC back then was a southern town with predominantly southern mores), understood the racial barriers Black folks had to overcome to be successful, and all manner of characteristics that I never could have learned had I not decided as a seventeen year old upon this rash, scary act of what I guess one could call “cultural immersion.”
So when I rant and rave about racism – and why Dylann Roof is called “troubled” and “disturbed” rather than the racial terrorist he should be called - I do so based on my personal experiences and not on what I see on television, read in the newspapers or on blogs. How my personal and admittedly biased history plays out today is easily illustrated.
Many times I respond to the blood boiling (for me), outrageous, ignorant and bigoted comments I see on Politico and Yahoo about race and race relations. Often my final exchange closes with: “So you don’t know any Black people do you?” I do the same with all the hate-filled anti-Muslim screeds as well, since in my adult life I have had the great privilege of having several close friends who are Muslim.
And I cannot recall a single instance – and there must be hundreds – that a poster has replied to my final question. Absolute silence.
And this, folks, is why I have no sympathy for racist, terrorist Dylann Roof. When Black people demonstrate – whether peaceably or with violence - over the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown and God knows how many other unjustifiable violent acts against Black folks, I understand their rage. I don’t claim to be Black like Rachel Dolezai because I’m not. But because of my personal history, my college classmates, my professional workmates, my employees and my friends, I can and do emphasize with African Americans and understand what they are angry about.
As I read Roof’s manifesto, I couldn’t help wondering what he would have thought about “Black people taking over the country” had he been around back in 1968 when the nation’s capital erupted in flames along with a dozen other cities after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. If he thinks that the demonstrations over the death of Trayvon Martin were such a threat to his way life and that of White America, I can only think that his response in 1968 would not have been with a 45 caliber pistol but with bazookas, bombs and machine guns. This, folks, is what happens when people do not know the reality of our American history and form their views from racist propaganda from the likes of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. From what I’ve seen and read, Dylann did have Black friends while he was in school. Why, I have to ask, at the age of twenty-one with scant knowledge of life, did he not use his own personal, real world experience to expand upon the nature of African Americans rather than crazy, right wing screeds?
Have a good day.