Blacks are 'raping our women' and 'taking over': Decoding the myth that breeds white supremacists
Dylann Roof’s delusion that black people systematically “rape [white] women” and are “taking over [the] country” is a racist narrative loaded with history, rooted as deeply in the South as Emanuel AME Church. Predating the Civil War, now rekindled in a white supremacist community reeling from Obama-era defeatism, the two parts of this baseless accusation reflect an old tale increasingly forgotten amidst today’s comparatively tolerant race relations, and often whitewashed in the name of this very tolerance.
First, “You rape our women…”
In D.W. Griffith’s acclaimed 1915 silent film, The Birth of a Nation, the violent existence of the Ku Klux Klan was justified as a force necessary to protect white women from the supposedly ravenous sexual appetites and rapist intentions of the country’s recently-emancipated black males. This racist sentiment was rooted in the now-refuted social Darwinian theories fashionable at the time (but still espoused by white supremacists today), which hypothesized in part that black people (and others of non-European origin) are a sub-human species lacking the human capacity for self-control, sexual or otherwise, and thus require brutal suppression for the protection of the white (that is, “human”) community.
These social Darwinian concepts were codified into “anti-miscegenation laws” (some dating to the Colonial era), which included numerous statutes criminalizing even cohabitation between blacks and whites. This discriminatory legislation was judged constitutional throughout the Union until the Supreme Court, reversing a previous decision, ruled to the contrary in Loving v. Virginia. That was 1967.
Today, with growing acceptance of interracial marriage, especially among the younger generations, the white supremacist blogosphere bemoans what they see as the rapid contamination of their chimerical Aryan gene pool and disseminate groundless fantasies of an unchecked nationwide epidemic of black men raping white women.
The election and re-election, therefore, of Barack Obama as President of the United States, who is himself the biological son of a white mother and African father (and, thus, the symbol and offspring of the very “miscegenation” white supremacists believe an existential threat) compounds, and indeed reinforces, Roof and his racist lot’s second great fear: black citizens are “taking over our country.”
This, too, is an old white supremacist anxiety. The South’s antebellum ruling classes, especially in states where blacks outnumbered whites, knew the emancipation of slaves would inevitably result in the enfranchisement of black males, followed necessarily by popular elections of blacks to public office. The Reconstruction era proved those fears right, with both unprecedented black (male) voter turnout and offices won.
For a decade following the Civil War, both the ruined Southern elites as well as the poor and working-class white men who fought on the battlefields for the Confederacy, stewed in the defeatism and shame of occupation while their racist worldviews were daily offended by the newly-permitted self-actualization of their black co-citizens.
When federal troops withdrew from the South, a white supremacist backlash erupted, resulting in near-immediate erosion of black civil rights, the enshrinement Jim Crow laws and the mushrooming of myriad Ku Klux Klan chapters that waged a murderous (and successful) terror campaign to keep Southern black citizens away from the polls, elected office, and any attempts at intermarriage or cohabitation with whites.
For close to a century, white supremacist leaders, businessmen and citizens of the South had, in fact, re-established a separate country, a neo-Confederate States of America, wherein white citizens dominated all strata of society, and black citizens, stripped again of personal safety and civil rights, were relegated to states of unequal education, menial service, and segregated spaces.
Now, with a black family residing in the White House, with greater diversity across the American landscape, and with progressively welcoming and nonjudgmental attitudes toward interracial relationships among the younger white generations, the white supremacist community once more wallows in defeatism, and the old fears of black people “taking over” have resurfaced in the racist echo chambers of their paranoid, conspiratorial chat rooms and online sanctuaries.
Young Roof wanted a backlash he hoped would manifest in a “race war,” a new Civil War, to re-establish his beloved neo-Confederacy.
While there is today increasing representation (if inadequate) of black citizens in the United States, society and the media often forgets or whitewashes (whether willfully or out of naiveté) these darker aspects of our country’s past in the name of well-meaning attempts at racial harmony and diversity.
Case in point is a recent Pepsi commercial, entitled “There Since the First #Halftime” (YouTube), which purports to portray, tongue-in-cheek, how the soda is responsible for football’s first-ever halftime.
As should be expected from a lighthearted and facetious soft drink ad, there are playful and harmless historical inaccuracies, such as the couple taking a selfie with an old-fashioned camera.
Other details, like the presence of a black player on each of the otherwise all-white football teams, are less innocuous. The commercial’s well-intentioned effort at diversity makes this particular element excusable, but it nevertheless paints a rosy portrait of race relations and integration virtually nonexistent at the time, whether in the segregated South or the de facto segregated rest of the country (by 1933, black players were completely excluded from the NFL).
What borders on inadvertent whitewashing, however, is a shot of one of the black players clinking Pepsi bottles with one of the white women as they smile and gaze into each other’s eyes. This innocent detail discounts the very real threat black men and boys faced during this prewar period of being lynched at whim, and with impunity, by any white man for so much as looking at a white woman in a way deemed inappropriate.
While this is, of course, a minor detail in a meaningless corporate ad, much blood was spilled and great havoc wrought on this land so a black man and white woman could, in fact, clink Pepsis while smiling and looking into each other’s eyes.
Not until the highly-publicized murder of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till (for allegedly whistling at a white woman) did any true national outcry and debate in the white community even take place about the routine, riskless lynching of black men and boys. That was 1955.
The more distant in time the past becomes, the more susceptible it is to revisionism and whitewashing. This is especially true for new generations to whom the black-and-white images of the Jim Crow era seem an incomprehensible, bygone age; for whom Dylann Roof’s depraved actions and deranged justification seem shockingly anachronistic. In reality, Roof’s misguided worldview stubbornly haunts this land, flourishing among a dwindling, but potentially dangerous, white supremacist community mourning and yearning for the past.
The sad irony, of course, is the flags Dylann Roof surrounds himself with – the Confederacy, Rhodesia, and apartheid-South Africa – were themselves emblems of societies virtually defined by the systematic, condoned “rape of [black] women” and girls by white men and boys and the ruthless enslavement of black populations by white leaders who had “taken over” African lands.
To simplify Dylann Roof as the “devil” is to dehumanize him as he dehumanized the nine black parishioners he murdered and avoid confronting the reality that he is an ignorant young human being misinformed by a racist community obsessed with a false, paranoid history and the rebirth of a defunct societal order. That Roof had the capacity to kill is a matter for psychology and constitutional law.
So long as the disgraceful chapters of our shared history are whitewashed and forgotten in place of our shared triumphs, so long as racist ideologies persist and are legitimized by Confederate battle flags flying in public places, this nation will continue to be pained by its living, darker past long into the future. William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
Alesh Bradac was a political refugee at the age of five when, in 1981, his family escaped communist Czechoslovakia to make a life for themselves in the United States. He has bachelor degrees in history and comparative literature from Skidmore College. He is a freelance writer living in New York City and has worked in publishing, e-commerce and real estate. Follow him on Twitter @aleshbradac