Charleston terrorist attack was all about white “introspection” and white privilege

Blogger Abdullah Noorrudeen argues that the media’s failure to refer to the Charleston shootings as an act of terrorism boils down to the killer being white.

A white man, Dylann Roof, aged 21, on the 17th of June at 9.00pm rampaged into a historic African-American Church in Charleston, South Carolina and committed a terrorist attack, shooting dead nine congregants and leaving a woman behind to “tell his story”.

This does seem like a case of rinse and repeat on my part when it comes to writing about such horrific incidents. When one witnessed the reporting of the killing of three Muslims by a white atheist at Chapel Hill, and compares them to say, the Charlie Hebdo shooting, or the attempted shooting of UK-banned hate preacher Pamella Geller more recently, there is a consistent disparity in the categorisation and language of the assailants.  This disparity trend is an entrenched one in Western State structures and the complicit media.

There are determinate conclusions which can be derived from the above. The first is that when a Muslim commits a violent attack, the word “terrorism” is almost invariably used somewhere in the context of the reporting.  When a white, non-Muslim individual engages in a similar act, with ideological motivations, the crime is rapidly disseminated in a depoliticised construction. Most papers reported the shooting as a “hate crime” devoid of ideological motivations. Mayor Riley called it a “horrible act”, and Police Chief Mullen pronounced it a “hate crime” from the outset. A large spectrum of the media engaged in the same. The following papers in the UK, at the time of writing, had not a single reference to the terms “terrorism”, “terrorist”, or “radical” in them: Daily FailThe GuardianThe Telegraph and the BBC.

Continuing the whitewashing of white terrorism, the reports also overly contextualise the attacker with the usual “he suffers from Asperger’s syndrome”, “it was over a parking spot”, trivialisers thrown out. Sure enough as the day progressed, the spin doctors and media pundits began declaring the terrorist “mentally ill”.

Moreover, national debates discussing identity, integration, and radicalisation are notable only by their absence, as is the consideration of the possibility of “plots” to massacre black people.  I have covered this angle in detail in my piece on the Chapel Hill terrorist attack.

Of course, all this feeds into a broader narrative, which assists those in power to architect their desired enemy. Presenting far-right extremists as the dominant threat, as opposed to Muslims presents a policy dilemma – you cannot exactly bomb your own country in order to feed the military industrial complex and Western imperialist egos till the neocon heart is content. The following does not exactly sit comfortably with Western securocrats pushing “closed-society” policies:

“…main terrorist threat in the United States is not from violent Muslim extremists, but from right-wing extremists… An officer from a large metropolitan area said that “militias, neo-Nazis and sovereign citizens” are the biggest threat we face in regard to extremism.”

Despite this, for the white Western power structure, it follows that there is a need to maintain the status quo against the Muslim minority through semantic obfuscations with an aim of perpetuating normalcy of the “white” crime.

Do “White” People Need Introspection?

Muslims are called upon to apologise for the actions of their co-religionists, while members from the community known to undermine it call for community “introspections”, summoning the one-trick pony of “reformation”.

Perhaps an “introspection” of the White power structure, thoroughly propped by white privilege, is in order. The artificial, and biologically baseless modern social construction of “race” needs to be deconstructed. Associate Professor of American Studies and sociologist Michael P. Jeffries writes the following about white privilege:

“As a group, white people sit atop the unjust racial and economic hierarchy, and they collectively benefit when people of color are mistreated or denied opportunity… The other piece of McWhorter’s explanation deals with the things that are “taken for granted”. This is the idea at the core of white privilege: it is a collective, implicit acceptance of whiteness as virtuous, normal, unremarkable, and expected.”[1]

The notion of white privilege is prevalent in the power structures of the West, from the neocon fascist supremacists in the West who remould their discrimination behind the rhetoric of religion, ideology, values and culture, to police killing unarmed black people in American streets; from the use of “Rapid Dominance” doctrines in war against Arab/Muslim populations, to the more subtle initiations of white supremacy by highlighting “declining white populations”, from neoliberal fiscal policies promoting Western economic dominance, to spreading “peace” by imposingdemocracies, and installing Western-friendly leaders through subterfuge, killing and war. There is a certain sense of entitlement to administering discriminatory treatment and free killing of non-white, non-Muslims. When this is reciprocated, we experience this power structure jolting itself from such heresy, and the very same discourse of human rights and liberal values being used as a stick to assert primacy over whatever this power structure deems to be the motivating factor (in the case of Muslims, the religion of Islam itself).  Demonstrating the pervasiveness of structural discrimination are the champions of liberalism, who engage in this supremacy by switching the paradigmatic discourse from a human rights-based one, to one of security, War on Terror and “culturalism”. It is as the renowned professor of sociology Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, calls it “color blind racism”, where “contemporary racial inequality is reproduced through ‘new racism’ practices that are subtle, institutional, and apparently non-racial.” Bonilla-Silva elucidates:

“…whites enunciate positions to safeguard their racial interests without sounding “racist”. Shielded by color blindness, whites can express their resentment toward minorities; criticize their morality, and work ethic, even claim to be victims of “reverse racism”.[2]

There are many factors which help mask discriminatory treatment of minorities.  But could liberalism itself be one of those reasons? The likes of Maajid Nawaz, a self-styled liberal, was fast to obscenely attack noted author and scholar Nathan Lean for highlighting the white privilege of Sam Harris in determining what is or isn’t Islam, calling him out as racist, completely ambivalent to his ownconnections with neocons and white supremacists, and oblivious to his owncontribution to the “color blind racism” or, more accurately, invisible religious profiling coursing the arms of the British State. The same State in turns churns out such Muslims to prove its non-discrimination through what Bonilla-Silva isolates as “semantic moves”.[3]

This invisible white privilege can be entrenched by slogans of liberalism.  As Stephanie M. Wildman, an American professor of law writes in her book:

“Legal liberalism teaches us that all people should be treated equally, fairly, and the same… This is our ideal, and it is attractive… The reality is that when we say race plays no part, then the invisible system of white privilege will inevitably continue.” [4]

There are some pointed questions which needed to be raised, discussed and resolved. When white police officers profile black youth from a crowd, pin teenage black girls to the ground despite presenting no threat; when white police officers murder unarmed black people, and are then left without recompense, then the underpinning currents need to be deconstructed.

Why is it that a young white man felt he needed to put to death nine black religiously observant individuals? Why is there so much white violence? And why is it that “white people won’t be asked to apologise, FBI spies wont visit Whole Foods and no one will ask how he was radicalised”, as acutely Tweeted by journalist Ben White? Why is it that here in Britain, the media is virtually silent on the more latent police-state actions of the government against the Muslim minority, disguised beneath the rhetoric of human rights, rule of law and democracy? It is time for the West to start looking deeply at its own crimes before passing the buck to minorities.


[1] Jeffries, M.P., Paint the White House Black: Barack Obama and the Meaning of Race in America, Stanford University Press, California, 2013, p.1-2

[2] Bonilla-Silva, E., Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., Maryland, 2014, p.3-4

[3] Ibid. p.10

[4] Wilman, S.M., Privilege Revealed: How Invisible Preference Undermines America, New York University Press, New York, 1996, p.170

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