Racism in America: Trickle-Down Guilt?

In the days since the horrific events in Charleston, in which a racist, terrorist thug murdered nine people, the national conversation has taken a turn away from the dear souls lost to other things. Namely, the usage of the Confederate flag in South Carolina (and elsewhere), and America’s bloodstained past filled with slavery. This piece is not about the innocent lives lost on the night of June 17. They deserve the praise and remembrance given them by those who have detailed their beautiful, loving, vibrant spirits in pieces such as this one. The families of the victims, mourning such terrible losses, have demonstrated strength and faith beyond what I can imagine. The forgiveness they’ve already extended to their loved ones’ killer is nothing short of incredible. They are better people than most.

I understand the strong emotions present at a time like this. It is only a natural response to the devastating reality of racist-fueled violence that filled that church last week. What I do not understand is the guilt which is thrust upon white Americans for the crime of a deranged individual. The one responsible, and the one to blame, is Dylann Roof himself. White America didn’t encourage him to pull the trigger and end nine innocent lives. Dylann Roof did that. White America didn’t fill his heart with a sick hatred for individuals whose skin color differs from his own. Dylann Roof was swept away by his own concocted desire for relevancy. While I have sorrow in my heart for those lost last week, I can do nothing to contribute to the healing that must take place within the families or that community. My hope is that they will heal, and that justice will be served by way of a death sentence for Roof.

Salon quickly connected Roof’s actions to “White America” as a whole, though, in “White America is complicit: Charleston, Dylann Roof and the country’s real race war”

As long as they are unwilling to admit to our past’s stranglehold on our present, Roof and others like him will continue to draw truth, and strength, from the legacy and reality of white terror and supremacy. The lies white America tells itself cost actual black lives.


I wholly reject the idea of trickle-down guilt.
Responsibility seems to be a foreign word in America today. We’re reluctant to place full blame on an individual for whatever reason, and in times such as these, blame something inanimate, such as a gun or flag, or blame something larger, like an entire people group. Accusing an enormous swath of the population, who just possess a similar skin tone as the accused, is proof we’ve made no progress in combating race-related stereotypes. Why not say the same of the black looters in places such as Ferguson and Baltimore? Surely the entire black population is to blame for the actions of a bored few, right? Wrong. We want to find a group to place the blame on, because in times of despair at the reality of racial hatred, it appears to be a nice stand-in for progress. If we can identify the supposed root cause or breeding ground, we’re getting somewhere. “Them! They are responsible for such a horrific act! Their influence made him do it!” Although it comes across as progress to some, it is anything but that.

Just like Salon did, Sally Kohn connected the actions of the murderous individual, Roof, to the whole of white America.

These are not accidents. These are not aberrations. The superstructures of Black oppression and white supremacy are the standard operating procedure of America’s past and its present.

We are all aware of our country’s history and the slavery that for too long soiled our land. Claiming ownership of another human being is an absolute abomination, and it’s with disgust – but open eyes – that we see that historical reality. But it is not the present reality, and hasn’t been for quite some time. That is not an effort to water down our history, but to keep it where it is; in the past. Trying to interject the guilt of long ago into the lives of those currently living is a cheap attempt at social justice.

America cannot erase its history, but only work to create a present and future that is opposite of previous discrimination. That is only accomplished by precise placement of guilt upon the guilty. White America is not to blame for what happened in Charleston. The guilt is Dylann Roof’s alone.