TNC: Dylann Roof ‘correctly understood’ what the rebel flag ‘stood for’

Sometimes Ta-Nehisi Coates interviews provide as much satisfaction as his essays. For example:

Q: Your book is a lot about people who are victims of circumstance and history. Do you ever look at Dylann Roof like that, as a victim of history from the other side?

A: Sure I do. Dylann Roof is not the only person who bears responsibility. The Confederate flag represents an attempt to perpetrate a lie about American history, to bury the fact that half this country thought it was a good idea to raise an empire rooted in slavery. That is a part of our history. When you bury that history other people take control of it and use the flag for their purposes, and to ennoble their own hatred. Putting off the discussion allows the narrative of white supremacy. We really empowered that dude. It is very, very sad. But wait, I want to go back and make a point, it is a very important point and I want to make it as clear as I can.

Q: I am going to edit it out.

A: [Laughs]. OK, you see these black folks who are disproportionately poorer and prone to crime and suffering crime, live in neighborhoods where it doesn’t appear that folks are keeping stuff up, and there is a steady background white noise saying that these people kinda deserve it, that they are lazier than you are, not as intelligent as you are, and when you receive some history about how folks ended up in that state you get two things: first, you’re told that it happened a long time ago, and second, that it has no impact on what it does right now. That’s a lie. That’s poisonous. That myth about black people is deeply tied into the Lost Cause. Nikki Haley says Roof perverted the flag. No, he correctly understood what it stood for. It stood for the right to take people’s bodies. We have a responsibility for the perpetration of that lie.

Q: The history of the world is more powerful people repressing less powerful ones, whether it is men and women or colonialism. Do you think America is unique? Is slavery unique? Or is it our version of something every society does?

A: I don’t think it’s unique. I say that in the book. But pleading human error can’t really save America. We have no humility. We believe we are exceptional. That’s fine. But if that is the standard, then I have the right to hold you to that standard. We don’t go to Iraq saying we are doing what every country does. We are the deliverers of democracy. But this is a human problem.

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