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PETER WICKHAM: Intolerance – the root of hate

Peter Wickham, [email protected]

PETER WICKHAM: Intolerance – the root of hate

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THE MASS SHOOTING at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church caught us all by surprise for several reasons and while that incident occurred in Charleston, it is important that the lessons are properly understood by us here in the Caribbean as well.

The more superficial perspectives have been discussed widely as we focus on the dangers of white supremacy and ask how a 21-year-old man is able to acquire this philosophy and moreover equip himself with weapons to perform a mass murder.

Investigations into Dylann Roof’s background have revealed that he was not a mentally ill man, but someone who studied white supremacy and articulated a manifesto (of sorts).

There are, however, two components of this story which caught my attention and these are his alleged comment that blacks were “taking over” and his friendship with another black teen which seems odd.

The suggestion that “Blacks” were “taking over” is a surprising comment coming from a white supremacist, since there is ample evidence to support his claim. The most powerful man in the United States and perhaps the world today is black and his political power is often misunderstood by the simple-minded to translate into the more important economic power.

Roof was therefore haunted by images of black power in politics that complemented similar images of black power in social and entertainment circles.

The fact that he took offence to such images while sharing an apartment and an apparently cordial relationship with a black man speaks volumes. His black roommate was poor like him, so Roof was not threatened by his phenotypical characteristics.

This phenomena is familiar to those of us who studied the writings of the German philosopher Karl Marx who would have considered issues such as race a detail that obfuscated the more significant economic issue. Children are not instinctively racist, nor do they naturally manifest popular phobias but learn these things from adults who could be motivated by several factors, such as economics.

Roof’s concerns about blacks “taking over” struck a chord because I recently read a column penned by Al Gikes entitled “Gays taking over television”. Gilkes would no doubt argue that he is not homophobic since he does not hate gays and since he works in the entertainment industry he probably has several gay “friends”.

Moreover, he admitted to enjoying the performance of “Mr Humphries” in the British comedy “Are You being Served” which is unsurprising since Mr Humphries’ antics are entertaining and unthreatening.

The threat to Gilkes comes instead from the “White House Chief of Staff” Cyrus in the show “Scandal” since Cyrus is married to a man and like several other married couples on television, displays affection towards his partner as part of the television script. Similarly, the sports fraternity was threatened by footballer Michael Sam who embraced and kissed his boyfriend on national television as they celebrated his draft pick. 

People like Gilkes would probably argue that they should keep their business in the bedroom, while ignoring the glaring reality that we are all so familiar with the bedroom shenanigans of straight-couples. 

The obvious threat brought by Cyrus and Michael Sam therefore is that their public intimacy might some day become as ordinary as that of the Cosbys, which white supremacists now fully understand laid the groundwork for Obama’s bid for the White House.

It needs to be made clear that Gilkes is entirely within his right to find displays of gay intimacy or marriage “disgusting” and it is equally within his right to turn off his television when these shows are broadcast.

Similarly, Americans also understand that Dylan Roof’s thoughts and expressions were also within his right and constitutionally protected as free speech. The two sets of expressions are clearly not the same and it is not my intention here to suggest that Gilkes is even a mild version of Roof.

Instead, my intention is to use this tragic incident to draw reference to the roots of hate and demonstrate how innocent expressions of intolerance can ultimately nurture a culture of hate.

Peter W. Wickham ([email protected]) is a political consultant and director of the Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).