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On Tolerating Dylann Roof

Like so many of you, I’ve been following the Dylann Roof trial in South Carolina with a mix of horror and fear. The horror is self-evident. In his short life, Roof has resurrected the worst images of white supremacist violence: Stalking and killing innocent people because of the color of their skin, secure in the knowledge that what he was doing was right.

Yesterday, prosecutors shared excerpts from his prison journal. This dispatch from the Washington Post captures the coldness of his hate:

Roof spared virtually no group from his ire, and he made clear he did not regret what he did. Jewish people, he wrote, were “undoubtedly our enemies,” as were Hispanic people, who he said “introduce crime and violence to our country.” He said that being homosexual was “nothing more than a sick fetish” and that he believed Hitler would be “inducted as a saint.”

He seemed to view his violent action as necessary, even brave. “I would rather live imprisoned knowing I took action for my race than to live with the torture of sitting idle,” Roof wrote.

Here’s the fear: That that there has been no serious, public examination of his radicalization online, of the systems which either validated his thinking or allowed him to devolve unchecked, all but guarantees that more Dylan Roofs are coming.

Consider the sad example of the A&E Network, which came under fire recently for a documentary series about modern-day family members of the Ku Klux Klan – and there are plenty of them – that had been slated for January. The series, called Escaping the KKK: A Documentary Series Exposing Hate in America, drew critique from some who argued that it would only serve to validate and normalize hateful views. Supporters believed that the show could have the opposite impact; by seeking to understand how bigotry was passed on through generations, the anti-hate activists who appeared in each episode could make a personalized case for tolerance.

We’ll never know. The documentary was abruptly canceled, not because of the backlash, but because of the embarrassing revelation that the producers had paid several of the Klan members and coached their “performances.” In the rush to have a conversation that we desperately need to have, entertainment values won out over human ones.

As I was searching for better ways to think about the Dylann Roofs of the world, I stumbled on this essay by Yonatan Zunger, a Google engineer who in his spare time writes about history, ethics, and politics.

He begins by saying something shocking: Tolerance is not a moral absolute and religious maxims like “love your neighbor as yourself” or “do unto others” can do more harm than good:

[I]f you have ever tried to live your life this way, you will have seen it fail: “Why won’t you tolerate my intolerance?” This comes in all sorts of forms: accepting a person’s actively antisocial behavior because it’s just part of being an accepting group of friends; being told that prejudice against Nazis is the same as prejudice against Black people; watching people try to give “equal time” to a religious (or irreligious) group whose guiding principle is that everyone must join them or else. Every one of these examples should raise your suspicions that something isn’t right; that tolerance be damned, one of these things is not like the other.

Instead, he argues that tolerance is a peace treaty, one to be considered and negotiated. And that changes things.

[T]he model of a peace treaty differs from the model of a moral precept in one simple way: the protection of a peace treaty only extends to those willing to abide by its terms. It is an agreement to live in peace, not an agreement to be peaceful no matter the conduct of others.

That makes the conversation about tolerance less about the actions of an individual person, but about the contours of a society in which we all must live. In this case, one that has overlooked bigotries large and small for so long that they have been rendered invisible.

Which is what makes the deafening silence around the life and hate of Dylann Roof so terrifying. He is not a confused boy, a one-off monster, an aberration. He is the collective child of generations who have failed to negotiate even the most basic peace with each other.

But it’s also what makes your work—negotiating the tough conversations of tolerance and inclusion on time, under budget, and at scale—so vital now, the blessed peacemakers that nobody saw coming.

On Point

Reverend Jesse Jackson asks Uber to release their diversity numbersAnd his demand comes with a deadline: He’s given the company until Feb. 15 to release a public plan to increase diversity in their hiring practices. The $60 billion tech company is a clear laggard in the inclusion conversation, as Google, Apple, Facebook have all released annual workforce reports since 2014. Snap Inc, and Square are among other major tech firms who have failed to do so. “We urge Uber to ‘lean in’ and join the ranks of technology companies that are reporting your diversity and inclusion data,” Jackson said in an open letter to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.Inc

Colin Kaepernick is given an award for courage by his teammates
The award doesn’t get a lot of play, but it means a lot to the San Francisco 49er community. Called the Len Eshmont Award, it’s a prize given to the player who “best exemplifies the inspirational and courageous play of Len Eshmont—a Navy vet—an original member of the 1946 49ers team.” It’s voted on by the players themselves and offers a sharp counter to the idea that Kaepernick was dividing the team with his civil rights activism. “What makes this extra delicious is that so much of the media tried to brand Kaepernick as “anti-military” for his anthem protests even though his actions had nothing to do with the military,” says Nation sports editor Dave Zirin.
The Nation

Please hold space for the person who runs Yahoo Finance’s twitter
What they meant to say last night was simply, “Trump wants a much bigger navy: Here’s how much it’ll cost.” But thanks to an extremely unfortunate typo, Black Twitter roared to life to explore the comedic possibilities of #NiggerNavy, and any serious discussion of military budgets quickly took a backseat. “We deleted an earlier tweet due to a spelling error. We apologize for the mistake,” tweeted a poor communications specialist from under their desk, as the flood of jokes and screenshots continued unabated.
Twitter

Actor Mahershala Ali is having a moment
Soraya Nadia McDonald has a thoughtful profile of Mahershala Ali, an actor who seems to be having a well-deserved moment. “I’ve seen a real market shift in the projects that have come my way,” he told her earlier this year. His 23-year career as second-tier characters in Hollywood has prepared him to bring a trademark shine to recent roles: lobbyist Remy Danton on House of Cards, Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes in Luke Cage, and the love-interest in Hidden Figures. But it’s his performance as Juan in Moonlight that seems to have cemented his place in the hearts of viewers, and established him as a major Oscar contender. (In a must view video clip, Ali is moved to tears talking about who Juan is.) “Hopefully this next wave will be me doing parts that I just want to do, when before it was about me making a living.”
The Undefeated

The Woke Leader

By erasing Islam from Rumi’s poetry, we all miss his point
Rumi’s love poetry has been a revelation for wisdom seekers for centuries. But the New Yorker’s Rozina Ali argues that his popularity, particularly within high tone circles—Madonna, Tilda Swinton, and Coldplay’s Chris Martin are among his current fans—have allowed publishers to erase Rumi’s Muslim essence from his work to our detriment. But don’t blame rock and roll. “It was in the Victorian period that readers in the West began to uncouple mystical poetry from its Islamic roots.” It was Rumi’s unique experience at the intersection of Sufism, Sunni Islam and Koranic debate that informed his voice, and animated his desire for oneness with God. A committed contempt for Islam persuaded scholars over the years that Rumi was “mystical not because of Islam but in spite of it.”
New Yorker

An interview with Roxane Gay, a difficult woman
Vogue sat down with novelist, memoirist, essayist, opinion and now comics writer Roxane Gay, who talked about her recent collection of stories Difficult Women. The collection was deemed too dark to sell when it was finished back in 2012. But for fans, the stories of female pain interwoven with threads of magical realism—many of the stories are set in rust belt America—will seem both familiar and prescient. In addition to talking about her work, she looked ahead to 2017, and admits she didn’t see it coming. “I was so confident about Hillary Clinton, and I was so wrong. I have lost some confidence about prognosticating,” she says. “But I genuinely believed that the country was not as racist as it turns out it is. And I don’t know why I thought that. I live in rural Indiana where it’s extraordinarily racist.”
Vogue

President Obama publishes a presidential guide to criminal justice reform in the Harvard Law Review
In a 56-page article, Obama outlines the state of U.S. criminal justice, a system that he says is in urgent need of reform. He explores the tools that presidents—he doesn’t identify which ones—can use to effect meaningful change at the state and local level, including steps to reduce gun violence and address addiction. He specifically cites a “legacy of racism that continues to drive inequality” in the system. “It takes young people who made mistakes no worse than my own and traps them in an endless cycle of marginalization and punishment,” he says. 
Harvard Law Review

 

Quote

Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.
—Jalaluddin Rumi