The Nation's Continuing Tragedy
The tragic event at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, has become a focal point for a wide variety of issues confronting not just Charleston and the Palmetto State, but more likely the entire nation.
As the funerals begin for the nine black victims, slain at the hands and gun of a white-supremacist terrorist, the echo of an all-too-familiar question abounds yet again: how and why could this have happened?
How could someone walk into a Wednesday night Bible study, a fixture of both black and white Christian traditions, be welcomed there to hear the religious word for an hour, and end the sanctity of that study by killing the unsuspecting people who simply shared their religious beliefs with him?
As more information and background comes out about the deranged individual, who had hopes of starting a new racial war, the compassion that he failed to show his victims was expressed by some of the families at his bond hearing.
Unfortunately, new battles have been rekindled by this tragedy, ones that trace their lineage back before the nation’s founding and still predominate today. The legacy of race is inextricably tied into the nation’s fabric. It’s one that has become more and more connected through a series of recent events.
The events leading up to the Charleston massacre—Ferguson, Baltimore, and North Charleston—should have been enough of a platform for this crucial dialogue.
But with each one, the calls for a greater dialogue about race and our nation have increased and, yet, no such conversation ensues.
But what if both sides are only willing to hear their side of the conversation?
In the last presidential election, when history witnessed the re-election of the first black president, an accompanying survey of nearly 5,500 Americans asked two questions that give some insight into the willingness to discuss the question of race in the nation.
The 2012 American National Election Study asked respondents about how much discrimination there is against African Americans in the United States. Nationally, 31 percent of respondents said there was either “a great deal” or “a lot” of discrimination against blacks in the country.
But when broken down by the respondents’ racial categories, the difference in perceptions is all-too-familiar.
Black respondents were two-and-a-half times more likely to say there is “a great deal” or “a lot” of discrimination in the United States against African Americans, compared to white respondents. Interestingly, while black respondents in the former Confederate southern states were less likely to say “a great deal” or “a lot” in comparison to non-southern blacks, barely a quarter of southern whites, comparable to non-southern whites, said there was a great deal or a lot of discrimination against blacks.
Beyond discrimination, even with four years of a black chief executive, the perception of how much political influence—or political power—that blacks have in the nation portrays another sharp division between the races.
Nationally, a significant majority of white respondents (62 percent) said that blacks have “just about the right amount of influence” when it comes to politics, yet a significant majority (65 percent) of black national respondents said they had “too little influence” when it comes to politics.
Before the perpetrator of the desecration of “Mother Emanuel” was caught, the focus began to shift towards the continuing divisive symbol in the South Carolina capital: the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. And while some claim the flag as ‘heritage,’ the flag’s significance centered on the core belief of what Southerners fought the Civil War over.
Americans need to have this conversation, as difficult as it will be to hear from all. In order to start this dialogue, there needs to be a sense of understanding from both sides as to what the other side sees and understands. From what we see in these numbers, the opening of the dialogue may be harder than understanding the motives of one deranged individual.