The left shares blame

Update, June 22, 2015: Rebecca Traister has written an article for New Republic illustrating how consistently racist violence has been a part of U.S. history that I wish I’d known about when I was writing this entry.[1]

"Confederate Rebel Flag" by William Porcher Miles (1822-1899) (Vector graphics image by Crotalus horridus)This vector image was created with Inkscape. - SVG adapted from this image. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Fig. 1. “Confederate Rebel Flag” by William Porcher Miles (1822-1899) (Vector graphics image by Crotalus horridus) Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Yes, I blame white supremacism for the killings of nine Blacks in a South Carolina church.[2] But I also blame folks on the left.

With rare exceptions,[3] people on the left have too often been silent or in denial about the depth of the divisions in this country that will never, ever be healed.[4] We have focused instead on electoral politics in an utterly corrupt government, as if voting could somehow resolve the differences between two factions of the population that, to put it entirely too mildly, demonize each other. We have been silent while some people in the South have denied that the Civil War was about preserving slavery,[5] and in effect denied that they are racist.

But this racism is staring us in the face. The Civil War resolved only that the Confederacy would not secede, not that it would die.[6] But still I hear my Democratic Party friends carrying on as if voting the other party out will solve the problem.

One friend, apparently oblivious to the fact that approximately half the electorate disagrees with him over which party is the “worser,” seeks to vote out that “worser” party and thus, in a two-party system, make room for a more progressive party on the left. Such people have been living in the San Francisco Bay Area bubble for much too long.

Seemingly, they quickly forget the political polarization and animus that has been directed at the president they love so much, an antipathy that is not entirely but unmistakeably partly about race.[7] They too quickly write off the existential threat that Blacks face in this country, purely for being black.[8]

But more importantly, they neglect how the divisions between not just Black and whites, but between left and right, and among any number of other polarities serve to preserve the power relations in this country, to protect the elite from challenge.[9] Which is to say that while a white supremacist did the killing, those nine human beings died for elite purposes. And as long as we keep focusing on symbols of division such as the Confederate flag, rather than on coming to some sort of amicable parting of the ways into separate countries, one for those of us on the left, and one for those of us on the right, we are—all of us—in fact complicit in the next genocidal attack.

Note, June 21, 2015: This post has been edited for clarity since it was first published.

  1. [1]Rebecca Traister, “Our Racist History Isn’t Back to Haunt Us. It Never Left Us,” New Republic, June 18, 2015,
  2. [2]Lenny Bernstein, Sari Horwitz, and Peter Holley, “Dylann Roof’s racist manifesto: ‘I have no choice’,” Washington Post, June 20, 2015,
  3. [3]Daily Take [pseud.], “Let the Dysfunctional Plantation-Based Red-states Secede,” Truthout, October 21, 2013,; Chuck Thompson, “Just secede already: The obstructionists aren’t going anywhere. Maybe we should,” Salon, October 20, 2013,;
  4. [4]David W. Blight, “The Civil War Isn’t Over,” Atlantic, April 8, 2015,; Michael Kimmel, “America’s angriest white men: Up close with racism, rage and Southern supremacy,” Salon, November 17, 2013,; Stephan Richter, “Shutdown shows the Civil War never ended,” Salon, October 7, 2013,; Paul Rosenberg, “Christian right secession fantasy: Spooky neo-Confederate talk grows louder at the fringes,” Salon, July 1, 2014,
  5. [5]Jonathan Terbush, “Lynyrd Skynyrd calls Confederate Flag racist, prompts fan revolt,” Raw Story, September 22, 2012,; Tracy Thompson, The New Mind of the South (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2013).
  6. [6]Glenn W. LaFantasie, “How the South rationalizes secession,” Salon, December 19, 2010,; Andrew O’Hehir, “Welcome to the new Civil War,” Salon, January 5, 2013,; Chris Willman, “Lynyrd Skynyrd Backtracks On Comments, Proudly Lets Confederate Flag Fly,” Yahoo!, September 24, 2012,; G. Pascal Zachary, “The Will to Secede,” In These Times, December 17, 2012,
  7. [7]Zack Beauchamp, “How Racism Caused The Shutdown,” Center for American Progress, October 9, 2013,; Julie Hirschfeld Davis, “Obama’s Twitter Debut, @POTUS, Attracts Hate-Filled Posts,” New York Times, May 21, 2015,; Morris Dees, “Attorney General Holder is right: Racial animus plays role in Obama opposition,” Southern Poverty Law Center, July 16, 2014,; Ginger Gibson, “Powell: GOP has ‘a dark vein of intolerance’,” Politico, January 13, 2013,; Alex Koppelman, “Now Bill Cosby weighs in on Carter’s side of race issue,” Salon, September 16, 2009,; Ewen MacAskill, “Jimmy Carter: Animosity towards Barack Obama is due to racism,” Guardian, September 16, 2009,; David Maraniss, “What drives the Obama doubters and haters?” Washington Post, July 27, 2012,; Tony Pugh, “There’s no denying Obama’s race plays a role in protests,” McClatchy, January 12, 2012,; Joan Walsh, “The real story of the shutdown: 50 years of GOP race-baiting,” Salon, October 1, 2013,; Joan Walsh, “Angry right gets mad when you accuse it of race-baiting!” Salon, October 2, 2013,; Gary Younge, “Obama and the Decline of White America,” Nation 289, no. 13 (October 26, 2009): 10.
  8. [8]David Benfell, “The entirely too convenient conversation about race,” Not Housebroken, January 19, 2015,
  9. [9]David Benfell, “We ‘need to know how it works’,” March 15, 2012,

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