Finding Meaning In Dylann Roof

“I have to do it. You’re raping our women and taking over the country. You have to go.”

What did Dylann Roof, the twenty-one year old racist terrorist, mean?

When I say that, I’m not talking about the motives behind his racist murder-spree that left nine parishioners dead. I’m not talking about the violent legacy of white supremacy he proudly carried into the twenty-first century. I’m not even talking about how that legacy is the same legacy carried out by police departments and private citizens all over the country. These things are a given. They just are. And if we are honest with ourselves, it’s been like this too long to recall. Honestly, when has it not been like this?

No, when I’m asking what does he mean, I’m being a bit more literal, outside of the metaphorical, or even political, but his words themselves:

“You’re raping our women…”

Roof walked into a church and killed a pastor, two Black men and six black women. Of all the people and places to level this accusation, in a church, to these particular people, is the last place on Earth to find the rapists of White women. Did Roof believe he understood their motives better than they did? As if there had been an epidemic of Black on White rape that had reached as far as a Charleston, South Carolina church? The pastor was a rapist. The six Black women were rapists. The two, praying, Black men were rapists. Each of them longing to violate the White woman. Had, by some unseen system, the raping of White women by both Black men and women been chronicled enough to Roof’s racist satisfaction to make it a real thing? Something that was actually happening?

“And taking over the country…”

So many racists — both overt and covert — point to Obama’s presidency as the beginning of racism. Jelanie Cobb’s June 29th piece in The New Yorker is one of the first since the murder-spree to publicly point out what so many have noticed since 2009: A large swath of the American public believe that Obama’s presidency — and not over 50% of voting American’s reaction to it — is cause of the racial animus we see today.

As Black, Brown, and White people take to the street and social media to the fight the injustices of grand jury decisions, obvious double-standards in the treatment Black and White “suspects”, and the general American bullshit that is racism, there has been a counter-narrative that says, “Niggers got it too good”.

This is the “welfare narrative”, which states that Black people are overwhelmingly on general (or public) assistance- which has been proven time and again to be false — and that Black people are “getting over” with things like Affirmative Action. Even Obama’s Affordable Care Act was considered a form of welfare by some until is was actually enacted to the contrary.

This is also “The Hip-Hop Narrative”, where pop culture points to the “bling” and opulence of Black celebrity life as the norm for Black people all over the country. Culturally speaking, Black people “took over” the country almost as soon as it was formed (More on that later.), but every generation of racist thinks they are the first to make that discovery.

Now, I know that even in light of these facts, Roof would have done what he did anyway. This is not something a “rational” person would do (Though many think it.), but it helps in parsing out the meaning of his statement. It points not to the “why”, because we already know why. It doesn’t point to the “how” either because we already know how: With a gun, and the support of his state and his “nation” (Whomever that as yet unnamed source may turn out to be). It’s the “where” and the “when” that I’m seeking meaning in his words, and for some reason, a solace (Of sorts.) in that.

Where? A church. No rapists there. But Clementa Pinckney, pastor of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, was a Democratic State Senator, elected by the same state that Roof claimed as his own. The same state that still bears the Confederate flag he touted in numerous pictures found on his website “The Last Rhodesian”.

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where nearly two hundred years ago, Freedman Denmark Vesey had planned a slave rebellion for June 16, 1822, resulting with him being hanged and the church being burned to the ground because of its association with Vesey. The church has been attacked by White supremacist ever since. Not just some church, but this church, a site of Black resistance since its inception.

“And taking over the country…”

The struggle, the resistance, the ever-going, ceaseless war for racial equality has been raging in this country for nearly three hundred years. Over the last three decades, those who oppose it have ramped-up their methods with “dog-whistle politics”, Police Officer’s Bills of Rights, mandatory minimums, and the prison industrial complex, to name a few among many, many, many more. But, honestly, it has been to no avail. Obama has been elected twice. Eric Holder was his Attorney General, and in Maryland, Black State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby charged six police officers with the death of Freddie Gray. In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke passionately of his Black wife and Black son, and how deeply invested he was to their safety and equality. The New York Police Department turned their backs on him at funeral as a result.

America, as a country, is getting sick of the White Supremacist bullshit. Fewer and fewer racists are being listened to as a result. Social media has exposed so many of them. Regular people with camera-phones have captured such egregious racial violence that the perpetrator loses their job as a result. Or, as in the case of George Zimmerman, must live the rest of their lives in a violent, hyper-public hell, as a result.

“And taking over the country…”

The South Carolina judge who was supposed to hear the case asked for sympathy for Roof’s family with no mention of the victims or their families. It was discovered — through court documents — that he used the word “nigger” on the bench and was censured for it. He was “unofficially” asked to step down.

The Governor of South Carolina defends the use of the Confederate flag in the state flag citing “heritage”, though South Carolina only re-instated “the rugged cross” in 1962 at the height of the early Civil Rights movement. The “heritage” of which she speaks is one of segregation, white supremacy, and terror. A petition is going around for its removal, and the people of South Carolina will have to review themselves. Even if the flag is not removed, the racists among them will be exposed in a climate where that kind of thing is slowly becoming “unfashionable”.

Clementa Carlos “Clem” Pinckney was a Democratic member of the South Carolina Senate, representing the 45th District since 2000.

Where? A church. Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church: A site of victory. Roof did not kill a pastor, he sought and assassinated an elected official in a state that had implicitly vowed to never allow that to happen, in a site of retribution that has been unmoved in face of ceaseless violence. In a state that just this April charged a North Charleston White police officer with the murder of Walter Scott while taunting his last breath. South Carolina’s system of racist oppression is having a more difficult time with democracy than it used to.

“And taking over the country…”

You’re goddamned right.


Now, we must go back. Today’s date is June 20th, 2015. Yesterday was the much-lauded, but often-over-looked Black holiday “Juneteenth”. It’s a problematic holiday. Some Black people celebrate the day that Texas slaves got the late (I mean, late.) news that the United States government “gave us free”, as if we should glory in the day that the country we were born and raised in changed their minds on us not being chattel. Yeah, it’s a problematic holiday. Like celebrating the day the bully stopped punching you in the face and focused more on your mid-section.

When I say “when”, I’m referring to a temporal site in history much like Juneteenth. A “place” that extends back to this nebulous in-between “teenth”, found somewhere between twelve and twenty, less than 150 years ago.

In what the media have already begun to call his “manifesto”, Roof says he chose Charleston, “because it is the most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country.”

“You’re raping our women…”
“At one time the greatest ratio…”
“You’re raping our women…”
“At one time…”

I was listening to D’Angelos’ Black Messiah last night. On it he has a song called “Back To The Future”, and I remembered having to locate a familiar phrasing in it. I recalled looking up this song-hook so familiar that seemed ingrained in my electric impulses. The song sampled? The Charleston, named for the port city of Charleston, South Carolina, with highest ratio of Blacks to Whites in the country “at one time”.

The Charleston: Ishmael Reed’s model for the miscegenating dancing disease “Jes Grew” in his prophetic novel Mumbo Jumbo.

The Charleston: The first time that American mass media in its — even now — contemporary fullness had to deal with the influence of “nigger music” on their “sheik” sons and “flapper” daughters.

Charleston: The Charleston, a temporal site of miscegenation yesterday but today because of the remaining sinister, manipulative and seductive musics of D’Angelo and his lineage.

“You’re raping our women.”

When? If to believe in the seductive power of black music and culture to make White women (And everyone else.) be attracted to it (In spite of themselves and against their will, as its implied.), then all the time, at one time, simultaneously.

All the time: That’s the “when”. In a site of victory: That’s the “where”.

Charleston, South Carolina, the town besieged by the pirate Black Beard for a time, was primarily settled by England, Barbados, and Bermuda, “Free people of color born in the West Indies of alliances and marriages between Africans and English, when color lines were looser among the working class in the early colonial years and some wealthy Whites took Black consorts and concubines.”

Charleston, South Carolina, where Post-Bellum freedmen established the AME and AME Zion churches, “acquired dogs, guns and liquor (All barred to them under slavery.) and refused to yield the sidewalk to whites.”

“Dogs. Guns. Liquor. Refusal to yield to whites.”
“Dogs. Guns. Liquor. Refusal to yield to whites.”

When? Charleston, all the time and always.

“In 1875 blacks made up 57% of the city’s population, and 73% of the county. With leadership by leaders from the Ante-Bellum free black community, Historian Melinda Meeks Hennessy described the community as ‘unique in being able to defend themselves without provoking massive white retaliation, as occurred in numerous other areas during Reconstruction’…The Cainhoy incident being one of many where more whites were killed than blacks.”

When? Charleston, at all times. Everywhere.

This is why the “why” and the “what” and even the “who” are not as telling. These, we already know. But The Charleston, we do not know and cannot feel due to history (And thus context.) being hidden from us. This is what is at stake. This is the bugaboo that crawls into our grief and dismay and transforms it into despair and resignation. This is what brings about the compliance they crave. The compliance, despair, and silence they need and cannot have under any circumstances.

“I have to do it. You have to go.”

“You’re raping our women…” (You’ve taken our women.)
“And taking over the country…” (You have bested us in the political arena.)
“I have to do it. You have to go.” (There is no other way to stop or slow down your victory.)

Charleston, South Carolina, founded and settled by a multi-racial coalition. The site of Gullah language and Geechi dance meeting Irish, Latin American, African, French and cosmopolitan influence culminating in jazz to create The Charleston, an unintended declaration of the coming waves of miscegenation and a century of Black resistance from a city built on Black resistance and miscegenation.

Charleston, South Carolina, a temporary pirate utopia. A “where” and a “when” that serves as a border, in some odd sense, to a view on history that created the terrorist Dylann Roof and at the same time exposes him as a murderous little pea-shooter in a centuries’ -long cannon battle. A loser, emblazoned with the emblems of loser nations, losing before he even began.

This is what Dylann Roof means.

You’re goddamned right.