Friday, June 19, 2015

The virulence of racism

Dylann Roof murdered nine black people at a South Carolina church Wednesday.

He wore his white-supremacist, racist heart on his sleeve, or rather, his chest: his now infamous Facebook profile photo shows him sporting the flags of white-ruled Rhodesia and apartheid-era South Africa on his jacket. As yet, no one has stepped forward to paint him in a sympathetic light. Perhaps no one will.

So yeah, Roof seems like an irredeemably bad guy.

But how did he get that way?

No child is born with the views Dylann Roof holds. He had to be taught those views.

Maybe his parents instilled the ideas. Maybe his parents didn't do anything to combat racist ideas he clearly was getting from somewhere else. Any way you look at it, though, the people who raised this murderer bear a measure of responsibility for what he did.

They almost certainly don't want to hear this, but their son murdered in the cause of a sick, irrational, just flat-out wrong idea of how the world works. And they're at least partially to blame for letting him be infected by this nihilistic creed. They let it happen.

To be clear, he's not a victim. I'm not at all saying he's a victim. He's a murderer and a terrorist who is no better than the butchers of the Islamic State.

But he didn't start out that way. He was made that way by people who are just as wrong and sick in the head as he is.

There has been a minor fuss raised by some comedians of late, railing against so-called "political correctness" and its supposedly deleterious effects on their standup routines. I almost blogged about it, but I thought Jerry Seinfeld's idiotic whining didn't deserve any more attention than it had already gotten. My feeling was and is, if you as a comedian can't figure out how to make people laugh without visiting tired stereotypes, maybe it's time to find a new job.

The impulse that keeps an audience from laughing when a comic makes an easy joke based on a dumb stereotype is the same impulse that keeps us from succumbing to the mindless contempt for somebody else based on irrelevant characteristics like race. It's a sense that tells us, "This ain't right". It's a moral compass. It's a conscience.

A good comedian can find ways to subvert our expectations and make us think about our reflex reactions. Audiences embrace a comedian who can do that. If Seinfeld and Chris Rock and others are finding that audiences simply aren't laughing, I suggest that the fault isn't in the audiences — it's in the comedians.

It's too damned bad that some measure of political correctness — or rather, appreciation of the value of other human beings — didn't find its way into Dylann Roof's hate-filled head.

Racism and other forms of mindless bigotry are particularly insidious and damaging mental virii (damaging to both the host and others). We may not be able to cure those currently infected, but we damned well ought to keep everybody else from getting sick. If that's what you want to call "political correctness", then I embrace political correctness.

Better political correctness than homicide.

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