Only a person with self-contempt can contemplate murder. Self-esteem and self-respect can’t co-exist with hatred. But organized hatred helps give new meaning to the lives of those who feel marginalized. That’s how one learns to hate.
In 1915, D.W. Griffith used the technology of motion pictures to make Birth of a Nation. This film portrayed African-Americans as being stupid, lazy and inferior, and glorified the Ku Klux Klan for standing up for the rights of the white supremacy majority. It was so effective in fostering hate against African-Americans that even Griffith himself was said to have been shocked.
One hundred years later, in Charleston, South Carolina, Dylann Roof, a Caucasian male, walked into a Bible study on Wednesday evening, June 17th with a mindset of hate. His reason for attending was to shoot and kill everyone there—all African-American’s. For an hour, Roof sat with the group and participated in their discussions about Scripture. Later, Roof told police he almost aborted his plan to kill the group because they were so welcoming and kind to him.
But that would have meant giving up the hate that filled the hollowness of being born of a fleeting reunion between his parents three years after their divorce and of getting no further in high school than the ninth grade, but wearing a jacket with an “Academic All Stars” patch rightfully worn only by seniors in the top 10 percent.
He had compensated for that false claim by sewing two other patches on the jacket, flags of apartheid-era Rhodesia and South Africa, symbols for those seeking another kind of supposed supremacy.
And his older sister, Amber, was to be married on Sunday. To have just left the Emanuel A.M.E. Church on Wednesday night would have meant going to the wedding at the end of the week as a rank loser from a fractured family who could rightly declare himself supreme in nothing at all.
Even so, Roof seems to have understood in his moments of indecision that these warmly devout people of the Bible study group were putting the lie to his racism. He may have sensed that the faith filling their lives might also fill his own.
After an hour, just as he was apparently losing his resolve and his hate was slipping away, Roof seized it anew. He allegedly produced the Glock .45 automatic that he is reported to have purchased with birthday money from his father.
That was when Tywanza Sanders is said to have told him, “You don’t have to do this.”
Roof is said to have replied as if he were also trying to convince himself. He was not some loser. He was a champion of the white race about to start a race war.
“I have to do it,” he reportedly cried out.
His next words were the language of white supremacists. “You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”
Hate is a painful state of being because the mind is not ordained to hate. Everybody is born to love—to love our Creator, to love ourselves and to love others.
It is not only our hatred of others that is dangerous but also, and above all, our hatred of ourselves: particularly that hatred of ourselves which is too deep and too powerful to be consciously faced. For it is this which makes us see our own evil in others and unable to see it in ourselves, wrote Catholic Monk Thomas Merton in New Seeds of Contemplation.
A zero self-love is a developed misery. It’s miserable because it’s painful and unnatural to hate one’s self—it goes against our very nature. Our core disposition is to love, not despise; to include, not shut out; to embrace, not isolate.
When we, as a society reverse the hate, overturn the prejudice and embrace all human beings with dignity and respect they’re entitled to, then maybe the violence will rescind. When we encourage and support one another, then the inner flames of self-esteem and self-respect are not extinguished.
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