Republicans Are Running for President and Running From Race

Lauren Victoria Burke
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Presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) addresses the Baltimore County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln/Reagan Dinner at Martin’s West on June 9, 2015, in Baltimore.  
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A white gunman with Confederate plates who liked telling racist jokes in high school and is now telling cops of a desire to trigger a race war kills nine black people at a church that is the living definition of black liberation, but the slayings weren’t about race?

Apparently Dylann Roof needed to have written the words “I'm racist” on his forehead during the shooting to convince some people his crime was racially motivated. There are witnesses saying that as he shot people, Roof said, “You rape our women and are taking over our country.” NBC reported that Roof said something racist to a survivor of his rampage. Even with that, people who say they want to lead the free world, along with South Carolina’s governor, have embarked on a grand tour of denial regarding race and the killings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Wednesday in Charleston, S.C.  

You’d think that even the most airheaded of racism deniers would concede this one. Nope. Fox News is in full spin on the theory that the killings were not about race but were an attack on religion. For all you Republicans out there wondering why you can’t get the the support of minority voters who consistently vote Democratic, the quotes below are for you.

“I don't know. Looks like to me it was, but we’ll find out all the information,” and “I don't know what was on the mind or the heart of the man who committed these atrocious crimes,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said when asked about racism and the attack at Emanuel AME.

“We don’t know the rationale, but what other rationale could there be? You’re sort of lost that somebody could walk into a Bible study in a church and indiscriminately kill people,” said former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

“I think it was completely shameful. … Within 24 hours, we’ve got the president trying to score cheap political points,” said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. He was upset that President Barack Obama dared to mention guns in a country whose citizens possess more than 300 million firearms. How dare someone mention that?

“It’s people not understanding where salvation comes from. And I think that if we understand that, we’ll understand and have better expectations of what we get from our government,” said Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul in one of the most confusing statements on the Emanuel AME killings.

“We do know that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another,” South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said in a statement Thursday.  

Actually, we do understand. We understood after the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963. We understood after civil rights activists Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner were slain in Mississippi in 1964. We understood after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in 1968. Sadly, we’ve seen Dylann Roof before in American life. We saw him in Lawrence Brewer and James Earl Ray and Thomas Blanton and Byron De La Beckwith.  

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker didn’t even bother to comment on the issue. New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie said that guns aren’t the problem.  Imagine that. Politicians who are asking voters to give them the keys to the kingdom can’t even speak on issues that have been a part of American life for over 300 years.

America’s failure to look racism in the eye and acknowledge it full bore is heard in all their answers and their silence. One has to ask whom, exactly, these candidates are appealing to by not answering. Didn’t Mitt Romney verify in 2012 that the Southern strategy’s window of victory is closing?

Although one need go no further than Twitter or a comment section on any website about Obama to find racism in America, there’s still denial of racism. What the deniers of today do increasingly well is seen in their attempts to delete history in real time with an anti-historical, anti-fact-based effort. The only way that succeeds is if no one resists.

This would be just another day in American politics if not for the fact that there’s a direct link between hatred, denial and violence. Part of the dodge in the Roof case is the idea that “he's crazy” or “nuts” or “pure evil.” Roof may be all of those things. He may also turn out to be what we’ve seen already over and over again in American life: a clear-eyed, deliberate racist. The fact that so many won’t recognize that is telling. As Dr. Phil always says, “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.”

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Lauren Victoria Burke is a Washington, D.C.-based political reporter who writes the Crew of 42 blog. She appears regularly on NewsOne Now with Roland Martin on TV One. Follow her on Twitter

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