The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

You can’t say that in public

I‘m a bit mixed about banning speech, but I lean mostly toward don’t do it. Sure, there are things I wish people wouldn’t say, but banning speech really doesn’t accomplish anything, other than to drive the sentiments underground.[pullquote]“Those pictures were not selfies. Someone took those pictures.” – NPR reporter Gwen Ifill [/pullquote]

We all learn to disguise what we think other people do not want to hear us say. I used to visit a certain home and listen to “goldurn” this and “goshdarn” that. Did they really think the god they claimed was all seeing didn’t get that they’d merely disguised the word they really meant.

“Racism, we are not cured of it. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say nigger in public,” President Obama said. CBS carried him saying it. ABC and NBC bleeped it. All made the point it was a word only the president dare mention.

In the context of this week’s events, the word has a specific and powerful meaning. Violent racism is not dead; it has merely become impolite to mention in mixed company, like some of those words of my parents’ generation.

Dylann Roof may not have shouted “the n-word” on the streets of Charleston, but he was using the sentiment everywhere else. He presented photographs in which he held a gun and a Confederate flag, or sat on the hood of his car with a Confederate flag-emblazoned plate between his legs.

Many people were aware, and clearly held similar sympathies.

“Those pictures were not selfies,” NPR reporter Gwen Ifill said Sunday on “Face the Nation.” “Someone took those pictures.”

But no one, apparently, tried to stop Roof from killing nine people in church.

Finally, it appears, the State of South Carolina is about to remove the Confederate battle flag from its capital grounds. The state hung the flag as an anti-desegregation statement in the 1960s, as civil rights legislation was becoming the law of the land. A few years ago, the flag was moved away from the national banner, thus mollifying those who thought it should be removed altogether while keeping the votes coming from those who favored flying it prominently over the capital.

Sen. Lindsey Graham recently said the flag was held high because “that’s who (South Carolinians) are.”

This week, the governor of the Palmetto State has called for its removal to a museum. It is indeed part of Southern history, but it no longer has a place representing a state dedicated to equal treatment and respect for all its citizens.

There are people who will call for gun control. I understand their point, but I submit their efforts are misdirected. Dylann Roof used a pistol to kill nine black people. The gun did not use him. He published a manifesto, displayed his gun and a Confederate flag, and no one stopped him. Almost nightly we are treated to reports of police or FBI stopping terrorist attacks; where were the calls to police when Roof planned his deadly action?

News reports over the past year illustrate that had a .45-calibre Glock not been available, a West Bend pressure cooker would have done as well.

Five years ago almost to the day, thirteen members of Aryan Nations NE – including a woman and a pre-teen boy – stood behind a barrier on the Gettysburg battlefield and yelled racial epithets at an assembly gathered in opposition.

Several of the demonstrators wore masks to hide their identities.

“I am a justice of the peace,” said one of the disguised participants.

Apparently, he did not want any potential customers seeing him self-portrayed as a bigot.

Five years ago, Dylann Roof, then 16, could have been standing with such a group, calling for white supremacy and for death, or at least expulsion, for any African-Americans who got in the way.

Somehow, those who oppose such teaching must find a better way to mark a path than merely refusing to say certain words in public.


  1. Stu Bykofsky

    June 27, 2015 at 16:54

    I’d ban wearing masks, not guns.

    • John

      July 10, 2015 at 10:24

      There is something to be said for that. I’ve always wondered why warriors so convinced of the rightness of their endeavors had to hide their faces.

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