In search of the best route to progress: Chris Hayes asked a very basic question last night.
He spoke with Judith Brown Dianis, a specialist in civil rights law. He asked her an important question—a question about the best way to seek further advances in the area of race.
The question was very basic. Under the circumstances, we also thought it was perhaps a bit revealing and perhaps a tiny bit strange:
HAYES (6/23/15): We think of unity as a good thing and division as a bad thing. But there’s also the fact that part of the job of activists, and part of the job of people who are trying to create social change, is to create friction and—Martin Luther King talked a lot about this.On Monday afternoon, South Carolina leaders—black and white, red and blue—stood together in the public square, making a statement about the flying of the Confederate flag. It was one of the most striking examples of unity on a racial issue the country has seen in a very long time.
How do you understand the sort of relative value of those two things? Like, we think of polarization, particularly along racial lines, as a bad thing. But maybe it’s sometimes productive?
One night later, Hayes posed his question. We think of unity as a good thing, he said. But is it possible that polarization is more productive?
Everything is possible! That said, this strikes us as a slightly strange time to be asking that question, which is very basic and very important and can’t really be answered.
In our view, the sight of black and white together—and red and blue—is a welcome, encouraging sight. In our view, if we the liberals were slightly more wise, we’d give credit where credit is due and use the occasion as a chance to suggest something else that would be productive.
All in all, our tribe doesn’t work that way. We’re constantly struck by the way our own liberal tribe resists giving credit where credit is due, especially in matters of race. Increasingly, major parts of out tribe only seem happy with a state of wedge-based division.
What’s the best way to move ahead? In our view, it isn’t best to crash about making claims which make little sense—claims which will seem highly implausible to the bulk of the public.
No, Virginia! “The media” really haven’t been trying to “humanize” Dylann Roof. It says something bad about us when we start gulping this ludicrous claim—or when we start making claims like the ones we heard on Reliable Sources.
Brian Stelter spoke with Deray McKesson, a highly visible, plainly decent “social media activist.” In our view, McKesson took an emerging narrative to a puzzling place:
STELTER (6/21/15): Let me put up a tweet on screen that you wrote in the past couple of days. You wrote that “whiteness will work to preserve its innocence at all costs.”Question: How many baby pictures of Dylann Roof have you seen in the past week?
This got me thinking about the issue and I wonder if you say white journalists are protecting a killer in this case.
MCKESSON: You know, it’s just interesting the way that whiteness always humanizes white people, right? So I have seen many pictures at this point of Dylann Roof and really calm spaces [sic].
I have seen pictures of him opening presents around Christmas as a child and humanizing photos of someone who killed people as a terrorist. And I’ve not seen any of those similar pictures of any of the victims. And that is a humanizing function of whiteness in this America. And that’s what I was referencing in that moment.
STELTER: Your argument is that minorities who are committing violence are not humanized in the same way?
MCKESSON: I’m saying that even the victims, right? So the victims of this crime have not been humanized. We have not heard all of their stories in the same way that we have seen these photos that sort of—that encourage sympathy with the killer.
So I haven't seen any baby pictures or any childhood photos of any victim. And I monitor news outlets. But I just stumbled across these photos of Dylann Roof, just haphazardly, right? They are just present in ways that like humanized him. They encouraged us to believe that, you know, he was a troubled teen as opposed to like a cold-hearted killer who is racist.
If you go to Google images, you will find many photos of Roof. A few of these photos match the description McKesson gave here.
That said, it seems to us that we have most frequently seen visuals of Roof in his prison suit as he was being lectured by relatives of his victims, and now at the point of his arrest and as he was later being transported. The idea that Roof is being “humanized” in some inappropriate way strikes us as delusional. Meanwhile, the victims have been widely lauded as pillars of the community, which they plainly were.
Are we liberals just talking to ourselves, or are we trying to talk to the public? In the end, it’s hard to get the bulk of voters to believe claims which are plainly absurd.
When liberals start making implausible claims, liberals can drive the public away. That said, this was the answer Dianis gave to Hayes:
DIANIS (continuing directly from Hayes, above): That’s right. Division is often important because that’s where you get the breakthrough. Because at some point we have to take a stand and we have to say, “Are you with us? Are you on freedom’s side or are you against freedom?”“We have to underscore the division first?”
And it’s when we start to change hearts and minds around these issues of race is where we start to get the unity. But we have to underscore the division first in order for people to come along and say, “You know what, I don’t want to be on the wrong side of history. I want to be an inclusive America.”
Everyone deserves the right to breathe in America and so I think that we’re going—that’s the retrenchment part and that’s why I was saying we’re going to have retrenchment before we see some unity.
Really? Why not underscore the points on which the vast bulk of decent people agree, then try to proceed from there? More and more, it seems to us that we the liberals simply don’t want to go there.
Concerning the victims’ families: As he continued to speak with McKesson, Stelter said that he had been hearing many references to “terrorist” and “terror” in the discussion of Roof and his crime. He wondered if McKesson might perhaps be expecting the worst from the press and overlooking his own influence on the discussion.
Good grief! McKesson, who is decent and sincere, said this:
MCKESSON: You know, the thing about the language of “terrorist” is that some places have like hidden it in the text, right, as opposed to putting it front and center. So what we saw the other day was that every newspaper has these sensationalized messages about forgiveness and none about the terror of the victim, or the terror of the killer. And that's what we are talking about.With no examples being given, it’s hard to assess these complaints. That said:
So it’s one thing to hide “terrorist” in the 15th paragraph. It’s another thing to put it front and center on major newspapers. That’s not what we have seen.
“Every newspaper has these sensationalized messages about forgiveness?” We have one word for you:
Those “sensationalized messages about forgiveness” originated with the victim statements made by relatives of the people who were murdered! As with Roxane Gay’s column in the New York Times, our activists don’t necessarily seem to like the relatives of Roof’s victims.
That strikes us as a very familiar but very bad old choice.