The Specter of White Rage
by Lt. Gen. Clarence E. McKnight, Jr.
The senseless cruelty of Dylann S. Roof, the young man who murdered nine people at the African American Methodist Church in Charleston, S.C., a year and a half ago, defies belief, as does his cynical refusal to express remorse. He says he would do it again and there is no reason to doubt him. His hatred of black people - all black people -- is visceral, not rational.
Roof does not cite any particular grievances against specific black people. No black person has beaten him, stolen his money or abused his ancestors. Roof's rage is born of some demonic force from the netherworld. Strangely he does not claim insanity as a defense and no one claims it on his behalf. He is not insane; he is quite simply evil.
Roof's blind racial animus is familiar to me. I grew up in the south where it was never very far from the surface. I never felt it myself - as a boy I had many black friends and co-workers in my first boyhood jobs - but I was not oblivious to it. It was not possible to be. The racial divide was always the elephant in the room.
Roof's outrage revived my memories of that racial animosity as do the all too frequent reports of police shooting unarmed blacks for no apparent reason. You scratch your head and wonder why well-trained, civilized police would commit such cruel and senseless acts. The reports are so far beyond what we consider the normal range of human behavior that we find them hard to believe. But these days we have videos of these brutal encounters that do not permit denial of the facts. You would think that the ubiquity of cameras would deter police from such acts, but when that nameless rage surges to the fore it tramples reason underfoot.
Of course, racism is by no means confined to the south, and the greatest cruelty white society has imposed on blacks is the enlightened liberal welfare state that has undermined the black family and fostered generations of rootless young black men without positive male role models. The chaos in the streets of our major cities - endless crime and gang violence - is the result. Far more blacks are murdered by black thugs than white racists.
Over the past eight years, I have heard many white people say that the election of Barack Obama has laid racism to rest. But while there can be no question that Obama's election and re-election denote progress in race relations, it does not by a long shot rescind that latent racial hatred that infects the minds of people like Roof, the rogue cops who use black people for target practice or the rampage of black thugs in the inner cities.
There is not nor can there ever be a magic potion to free the human heart of hatred or uproot racial distrust. In fact, the blinder the hatred and distrust, the more deeply seated it is. We are making progress, but it is two feet forward and one foot back. Logically, it should be the African Americans afflicted with hatred of whites, but life is not logical. The Roman historian Tacitus observed that it is human nature to despise those who we have wronged, perhaps because their presence reminds us of the evil we have done and continue to do.
Lt. Gen. Clarence E. "Mac" McKnight, Jr., (USA-Ret) is the author of "From Pigeons to Tweets: A General Who Led Dramatic Change in Military Communications," published by The History Publishing Company.