Dear President Obama,
Allow me to first say that it was kind of you to attend and speak at the funeral of Clemente Pinkney. Your celebration of the Reverend’s life was inspiring, at least where you specifically spoke to the man, his work and his vision. I’ll also give a tip of the hat to your rendition of Amazing Grace. True, you may have missed a few notes, but it’s very difficult to start off an acapella rendition when you’re the only one with a microphone, competing with an echoing congregation and waiting for the organ to kick in. As I said on Twitter, you’ve got a decent set of pipes and I think most everyone there appreciated the moment.
In this same spirit of generosity I’m also willing to ignore, at least for the moment, the fact that you took what was supposed to be a celebration of the life of Mr. Pinkney and turned it into a political speech pushing your social reform agenda. If that had happened at the funeral for a member of my family I’d have given you an earful, but it seems as if the friends and family of the Reverend all approved, so no harm, no foul I suppose.
When a person delivers a eulogy for the deceased they should be left to their own devices, providing it’s at least respectful and honest. But since it was your own decision to use that eulogy as a springboard in to a political diatribe you don’t get a free pass on the rest of it, immune to any response. You chose to embed far too many half spoken accusations into your remarks and the message was clear: the “alleged killer” was raised up yesterday as an iconic figure of all that’s wrong with white people in the country you were twice elected to rule. You held up the actions of one evil man as a defining moment for everyone to reflect on the larger meaning he revealed. You could not be more wrong if you tried.
Perhaps it causes us to examine what we’re doing to cause some of our children to hate. Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal justice system and leads us to make sure that that system is not infected with bias; that we embrace changes in how we train and equip our police so that the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve make us all safer and more secure.
Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it, so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs, but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal. So that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote. By recognizing our common humanity by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin or the station into which they were born, and to do what’s necessary to make opportunity real for every American — by doing that, we express God’s grace.
In those five, run on sentences, you managed to wrap nearly every contested political debate of the day into a Confederate flag and shoved into the arms of Dylann Roof to carry for us all. Too many white parents must be raising hateful white children. Incarceration rates, voter ID laws, police shootings, racial animus in employment… it was all there. Of course none of that has a single thing to do with Dylann Roof and you should not be given a free pass to dishonestly jab an emotional spear into the ribs of the nation and declare it to be so while hiding behind the shield of a pulpit at a funeral service.
Dylann Roof is a monster. Where and when he went off the beam is unknown at this point and we may never truly learn the answer to that question. But regardless of the racial animus he clearly holds or any other twisted motivations lurking in his mind, his actions were his own. And he was walking that road by himself for the most part. As every analyst of terrorism will tell you, the lone wolf is the most dangerous type of antagonist. Organized groups tend to need to communicate, leaving breadcrumbs for law enforcement to follow. The solitary actor can sit and stew in his own juices while providing few, if any external indications of his plans. But in the case of Dylann Roof we may be able to take some solace in the fact that he went into that church alone and spawned no sympathetic uprising after he departed. As I previously attempted to point out, apparently without success, Roof was alone because he could find no allies to march off to the race wars with him.
“I have no choice. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country,” he wrote. “We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”
I wish, Mr. President, that this were something you could manage to keep in mind while making your lofty proclamations. The rest of society – across all demographic lines – runs into occasional bumps and warts as various groups jostle together. We all feel the nudge, to some degree, of countless generations of kin selection which is baked into the cake and won’t be erased by a couple hundred years in a melting pot. We don’t always get along and, to be truthful, the human race is something of a tribal bunch by nature. And this is hardly limited to the color of people’s skin. You could bring a set of marchers from Berkeley into rural Oklahoma and wind up with some fireworks even if the skin of every last participant were as white as the driven snow.
But the fact that we occasionally run into friction, disagreements or even raucous arguments has nothing to do with Dylann Roof and it is insulting for you to insinuate that it does. Roof was not the first dandelion flower popping up above the grass, indicating that the lawn is overrun with weeds below the surface. He is a ruthless killer, and black American’s do not hold exclusive license on wanting to see him punished. Dylann Roof is indicative of Dylann Roof… nothing more and nothing less. If you find more like him in the future, let’s lock them up and send them to the gallows as well. But standing at the pulpit and sending the message that he is somehow a talisman for all that’s wrong in white society is no more honest than if I were to hold up pictures of Ismaaiyl Brinsley and declare that he is the messenger of black society for which all African Americans should answer.
We may have more work to do as a society and there is always room for improvement, but Dylann Roof was not a catalyst for anything. And he most certainly does not represent white America. I don’t accept him as my representative and I resent any implication that he is.
It was a grand speech, Mr. President, and in terms of both literally and figuratively singing to the choir you brought the house down. Sadly, you lost much of the target audience you were hoping to reach. I, for one, heard your message loud and clear. And I reject it utterly.