Racism is like a disease or virus. Hatred festers quietly, incubating in some obscure corner. And like measles or Ebola we think we have the monster controlled, perhaps even vanquished, until another outbreak reminds us that the sickness is still in our midst and always has been.
The senseless murder of nine worshipers in an African Methodist Episcopal Church by a young, white supremacist ideologue, Dylan Roof, is a searing reminder that America’s history of racial violence is with us still. The passing of time, the turning of generations, has not been sufficient to contain the illness. Racial hate has not been quarantined to the past – to the bad old days of Bull Connor or the KKK – but continues to infect the minds and hearts of even the youngest.
Signs of progress, hopes that the sickness is abating (like the election of an African American president seven years ago) are countered by the clear evidence that microbes of malice continue to multiply. Indeed, when President Obama opened his White House twitter account for the first time last month and sent a message of goodwill to his countrymen and women, the response was a flood of race-baiting vitriol. Not only is the disease still active. It threatens to reach epidemic proportions.
In these plague times, indifference is not enough. Pretending to be “color-blind” or insensitive to racial disparities is not sufficient. Treating Dylan Roof’s act of savagery as the isolated blunder of a misguided young man will not do, any more than treating a single viral specimen of rabies as an isolated organism will do. It is a symptom and harbinger of a malady that will linger until its moment comes to manifest in fevers of madness and destruction.
Like doctors without borders or the CDC, decent-minded people must not only look inward to purge and protect themselves from this illness. They must travel to the front lines to combat the virus where it exists. We must become vigilant in our pro-active resistance to racism to build resistance in others. We must name and turn the microscopes of media examination on this animal, exposing it as the malevolent beast that it is. We must join in public outcry. For exposure to the light is like a powerful antiseptic.
Why did the KKK ride at night? Why do the authors of malicious tweets cloak themselves in anonymity? The germs cannot breed, except in darkness.