The price of principles vs. rhetoric of empty platitudes


When white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine blacks inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopalian Church in Charleston in 2015 there was a gnashing of teeth among some about how white society was complicit in Roof’s actions.

One journalist, a South Carolinian writing in the Washington Post, pulled no punches when describing how whites, particularly Southern whites, were responsible:

So I and every other white South Carolinian who has let the racist jokes go unchecked, who has looked the other way at some sanctioned act of bigotry, who has not taken the time and effort to listen to what black people have to say about their experience, is, in some sense, responsible for Dylann Roof – even as he remains responsible for his own actions. Every white South Carolinian … is responsible for Dylann Roof. He is our child. We should have never let him fall into whatever hell he occupied when he decided to go into that church. Of course, 99 percent of southern whites will never go into a church, sit down with people and then massacre them. But that 99 percent is responsible for the one who does. We white southerners – those of us who left, the others who stayed, and even those millions who have migrated to the Sun Belt – are all Dylann Roof. We are all responsible. We cannot shirk it. We cannot go forward until we fix ourselves. We must organize ourselves, educate ourselves and come together to fight against white supremacy. If we don’t, there will always be another Dylann Roof around the corner. And in the mirror.

At the time I disagreed, and I continue to disagree with the idea that every white South Carolinian, or every white Southerner, or all whites – take your pick – is responsible for the heinous actions of one, or a handful, of extremist bigots.

I was reared by parents who actively pointed out the errors of racism and bigotry, and I have done the same with my children. I was told right from wrong, warned of the perils that would befall me were I to commit such idiotic acts as using racially charged terms and expected to live it. My children have been imbued with the same expectations.

I’ve instilled in my children the idea that while we can’t undo the past, we can make the present more tolerable by realizing that we’re no better or worse than anyone else just because of our background.

We need to listen to those different from us, recognize that their experiences and backgrounds give them different perspectives, but also understand that self-flagellation for sins we did not commit doesn’t move the ball forward in terms of reconciliation, either.

Our society has many flaws, including racism, but I am not going to bear the cross of hateful acts committed by the intolerant, even if others insist I do.

So where is this going? Last week one of my daughters got a glimpse of ugliness that I never witnessed in my many years of schooling.

She attends a magnet high school in a well-regarded school district in South Carolina. I will not name the school, for reasons that hopefully will be obvious.

The weekend before last she received a group text from a friend’s boyfriend. It said simply, “Join me and (his girlfriend) as we kill all blacks with the KKK.” It was followed with a second text, an attachment that was an application for the Ku Klux Klan.

My daughter was upset by the texts and told the boy that it wasn’t funny and that he was to stop.

She showed it to me later and we contacted the school. The school took the matter seriously and took action against the boy, though it would not disclose what action.

However, my daughter is now being harassed by the kids who were part of the group text, and others, being called out in particular for being a “snitch.” Already shy, she now dreads going to school.

I can tell her all day long she did the right thing, but it’s not much consolation when she walks into class and kids are talking about her, or are sending her text messages about how she’s ruined someone’s life because she went to school officials about something she knew was wrong.

I can tell her that we don’t get many chances in life to do the right thing in truly difficult situations, and that most people take the path of least resistance when those few opportunities present themselves, but it doesn’t make it any easier to handle the glares, the whispers or being blocked on social media when you’re 16 years old.

I don’t know how this happens, that a 16-year-old boy, whether simply showing off in an utterly misguided fashion or displaying some very serious problems, thinks it’s OK to voice such views, never mind send them to others via technology.

Where does someone at the age of 16 even get such ideas? I don’t know.

But I do know that if anyone ever tries to pin the blame for the racially motivated actions of others, past of present, on any of my children, especially my 16-year-old daughter, who is currently dealing with being ostracized for speaking up when everyone else failed to so much as utter a peep of protest, they’re going to get a stern word or three from a certain father.

Bottom line: if we’re ever to reach any sort of understanding regarding the past, it will be through compassion, empathy and standing up for right, not by ladling out, or taking on, heaping doses of collective white guilt.


23 thoughts on “The price of principles vs. rhetoric of empty platitudes

    • Thanks, Paul. It’s unfortunate that this sort of stuff is still going on, but perhaps not surprising. I’ve lived in every region of the US and see bigotry in all forms, as I’m sure you have, too. It’s never pretty, but always a little surprising to see it up close and personal.

  1. Whatever action the school took it was clearly not effective as this filth appears to have infected a whole group and they feel free to victimise your daughter. A great deal less pusillanimity on the part of head and governors is required….if they don’t tackle it, they permit it.

    I hope your daughter gets through this without feeling crushed by doing the right thing.

    I too will not bear guilt for past injustices for which I am not responsible. I have not enslaved anyone, nor have I sent anyone to concentration camps so the emotional blackmail passes me by.

    I am, however, opposed to injustice in my time and within my reach and will do what I can to oppose it.

    • We share the same philosophy. I can’t change the past, but I speak up when I see injustice today.

      I went to the school last week and talked with them about how my daughter was being treated. We’ll see if things change. If I were a hothead, I would have cracked some teenage skulls, but in the long run that would only satisfy me, not make her life any easier.

      • Ah, the temptation to follow the example of Cnut King from ‘1066 and All That’…
        ‘Fain wold he brake frith and cracke heads….’

        I imagine the school will be hearing from you again if things do not look up.

      • Just to give you more ideas….

        Beoleopard or The Whitan’s Whail

        Whan Cnut Cyng the Witan wold enfeoff
        Of infangthief and outfangthief
        Wonderlich were they enwraged
        And wordwar waged
        Sware Cnut great scot and lot
        Swinge wold ich this illbegotten lot.

        Wroth was Cnut and wrothword spake.
        Well wold he win at wopantake.
        Fain wold he brake frith and cracke heads
        And than they shold worshippe his redes.

        Swinged Cnut Cyng with swung sword
        Howled Witane helle but hearkened his word
        Murie sang Quit Cyng
        Outfangthief is Damgudthyng.

  2. If your daughter had dealt with the problem peer-to-peer, it may have gone better for her. I don’t trust outside (adult) authority to handle the situation compassionately. To text the guy that his hateful message made her uncomfortable might have inspired others to speak up too. Telling the adults could come later, if the easy way doesn’t embarrass him into behaving.

    School authorities are way too jumpy these days, and too quick on the punishment trigger.

    Yes, I’m a Monday morning quarterback, but I’ve lived through being ostracized for speaking up. Since I don’t enjoy suffering, I prefer to try to reason with the offender before stirring up the hornet’s nest of OCD administrators.

    • I agree, but she did text him to say that he was wrong and was to stop, but he didn’t respond, and no one else responded to back her up.

      I realize that the chances of this dolt following through on his threat are (hopefully) slim, but if he were to do so, or something less sinister but still malicious, I wouldn’t want my daughter to second guess herself for not having done something.

      On top of that, the day after we reported this occurrence, a 20-something in another part of the state was arrested for plotting a massacre similar to that which occurred in Charleston in 2015.

      I would have thought that being called out that something was wrong, as my daughter did, would have been enough to make the boy sit up and take notice that what he did wasn’t OK. Unfortunately not.

      • I’m sure lots of kids suffer from your daughter’s dilemma. Presumably what helps her will help them, too. What if she were to ask friends how to handle it next time? Peer pressure against the bad dude can do a lot when individuals can’t. A lot of these kids will do anything for attention. Negative attention may be preventative.

  3. Kevin – Very good post. I am sorry, though, your daughter has had to experience the sometimes ugly repercussions for standing up and doing the right thing. It has likely stripped some of her innocence. But, she had the guts to do it and should stand tall. We need more in this world like your daughter and I’m proud of her. And you, Kevin, are a good father as evidenced by the fruits of your labor.

    • Kim, Thank you for the kind words. But, as we all know, there are many good parents whose progeny end up going down the wrong path.

      I give the credit to my daughter for have the guts to do the right thing. She’s a little naïve in many respects, but in other ways understands the world has many perils and certainly knows that by doing right she can make a difference.

  4. That is truly shocking. I feel for you as a parent, I feel for your lovely daughter. She should be proud of herself for having the courage to stand up for what she knew to be the correct course of action. She has proved that she is an independent individual who will go far in life. I’m really sad that she is experiencing such a horrible time with classmates who are lacking any sort of free thinking, moral backbone or human decency. However, she has already shown strength- she’ll get through this. Meanwhile, the school needs to monitor the situation very closely and keep you informed. I wish you well.

    • Thank you, Jenny. I’m very proud of my daughter and believe that in time she will come to realize not only how important this event has been, but also that when people show their true colors, and I’m referring to those who have given her a hard time for speaking up, it can be blessing in learning what a real friend is.

  5. I came across your blog and had to comment on the bravery of your daughter for standing up. The KKK is no joking matter. Neither is the imminent threat of “killing blacks” as mentioned in the text. Had your daughter laughed it off and done nothing, and then if something had happened, she would be blamed as well for failing to be proactive. As it stands, she WAS proactive, and so were you, and now she is facing social backlash from it. The school does not seem to be acting in the best interests of your daughter by not offering her more protection from these bullies and junior extremists. Of course you know this already, but please monitor her very closely and if she shows signs of stress like vomiting or wanting to hurt herself, please, please take her out of the school.

    Now I just want to make one more comment. And that is, I am a dog. As a dog, I do not understand how people can hate each other so much. I love everyone, unless they are mean to me and hit me. Even then, I am very forgiving. I really think you humans should sniff first, growl later, and only bite if it is a very last resort. I think your species has it backwards in that everyone bites first and then sniffs later. I want to send out a special doggie kiss to your daughter and a proud tail wag to her as well. It’s not easy to do the right thing. Woof! Love, Maggie

  6. “..if we’re ever to reach any sort of understanding regarding the past, it will be through compassion, empathy and standing up for right, not by ladling out, or taking on, heaping doses of collective white guilt.”
    Very profound, succinct, and above all else True. Prayers to your family and you, esp your daughter as she deals with the often unspoken manifestations and effects of ostracism.

    • Thank you for your kind words. Prayers are always appreciated, and I believe this will make my daughter a better person. Better to see and know the snake in the grass than not be able to recognize it.

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