In the wake of the horrific white-supremacist terrorist attack in Charleston, a disturbing number of people — including the governor of South Carolina — seem dedicated to downplaying, ignoring, or even denying the obvious racist motivations of the attacker. Arguably the only thing he could have done to make his intentions more clear would be to tattoo “I am a racist” on his forehead. Why deny it?
This is especially strange to me because the usual reactionary strategy would be to seize upon this extreme and exceptional instance of racism in order to imply that only such extreme and exceptional cases are properly racist. Probably the best-known example of this dynamic is the treatment of rape, where the exceptional case of a stranger using extreme violence is taken as the normative case. In both instances, the intent is to take advantage of the existence of extreme cases in order to downplay more common, everyday cases.
This rhetorical strategy is deplorable, yet clearly effective. What’s more, the Charleston massacre seems like an absolutely classic occasion for its deployment. So why are so many people opting for the seemingly much less convincing strategy of outright obfuscation and denial?
This is a serious question. I discussed it briefly on Twitter, but my hope is that blog comments will provide a better forum.