This past week was a hard one for the nation, the state of South Carolina and the city of Charleston. It was filled with the pain and sorrow that results from one person insanely deciding to take the lives of those he valued as worthless. No one is suffering more than the loved ones of the nine victims left behind. Our prayers and thoughts remain with them. We admire their courage and are inspired to see the way the community has responded with love in the face of hate, joining together to begin the long process of healing if ever they truly can.
In the midst of this horrifically tragic event, there is another lesser tragedy.
We have begun to understand the twisted logic at the root of this atrocity. One of the clearest facts helping to explain this inexplicable event was Dylann Roof’s racist motivation. From his Facebook profile, it is apparent that his desire to kill innocent people was fueled by the stereotypes and deeply held prejudices he held about African Americans. He killed them simply because they were black and for no other reason. Such is the nonsensical and illogical nature of stereotypes. They are fueled by ignorance and emotion. Innocent people are victimized as a result.
Dylann Roof perpetrated his act, according to USA Today, at approximately 9 PM EST on Thursday, June 18th.
In the wake of the shooting, another stereotype was activated the next morning, on June 19th, 2015.
- At 3:16 AM EST, a reporter for the Guardian, Jessica Glenza, posted her story to the website, rawstory.com. The headline read: “Dylann Roof’s Family Says Charleston Shooting Suspect is ‘Introverted’.”
- At 5:41 AM EST, Glenza posted another article that appeared at theguardian.com. The headline now read: “Dylann Roof: The Cold Stare of a Killer with a History of Drug Abuse and Racism.”
This time she included the statement, “He is an introvert, but Roof also appears to have a history of racism and drug abuse.”
- That same morning, Edmund DeMarche posted an article at foxnews.com titled: “Suspect in deadly Charleston shooting apparently introverted with few friends.”
- At 7:12 AM EST, Geraldo Rivera reported from the scene in Charleston for Fox News. Here is what he said:
“We don’t want unbalanced, unhinged, dysfunctional, introverted children to have the means like Adam Lanza did in Newtown, Connecticut to perpetrate such awful violence.”
Instead of citing the emerging reality that Roof was a racist and a hate-filled murderer, or even that he had a history of drug use and crime, these news media figures decided to frame the story with the word “introvert.” When words are thrown around in such highly charged emotional situations, the stereotypes lodge even deeper in unthinking and undiscerning minds. As a result of their thoughtlessness, we now have one more example of the word introvert being used as synonymous with misanthrope, anti-social, withdrawn, or even psychopathic.
Interestingly, this stereotype and the ignorance that is under it cannot simply be identified as a problem of the right or the left. If it was only Fox News, the left could feel better. If only the Guardian, the right could. The truth is that from both extremes of American society, the gross mischaracterization and misunderstanding of introversion was proclaimed. If there were any truth to this mythological connection between introversion and terrorism, we ought to fear, knowing that over half of the U.S. population qualifies as introverted.
Bigotry is bigotry. Prejudice is prejudice. How can we condemn the racism that led to the murder of those nine wonderfully kind and innocent people in one breath and be guilty of similarly devaluing over half of the population around us in the next? An apology from Fox News or The Guardian would be a good start toward moving away from the damaging effects of stereotypes. Don’t hold your breath. It most likely will never come.
The key to societal change is found in the valuing of all people, regardless of race, temperament or the many other things that make us different from them. Until we identify and rid ourselves of these countless myths and stereotypes that dehumanize groups of people, this kind of violence will continue. We can talk about gun control. But the biggest problem seems to reside in a human heart that is quite capable of labeling and devaluing whole groups of people. There were more hearts reflecting this problem last week than just Dylann Roof.