How South Carolina Created Dylann Roof

By now, we know the details. A nondescript, Timberland-clad Dylann Roof sat through an hour and a half of Bible study at the church before allegedly opening fire on members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Nine people were killed, including state senator Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney, social justice advocate and mentor to many, and 87-year-old Susie Jackson, who surely never thought her life would end this way, gunned down amidst a Bible study. Roof was captured in Shelby, North Carolina, and reportedly gave himself up peacefully after he was stopped at a traffic stop.

Pictures of Dylann Roof show him wearing the emblems of the former Rhodesia, the white-controlled Zimbabwe. He pouts under Confederate flags. His chilling alleged manifesto claims that “N*ggers are stupid and violent.” He cites the school system as a prime example, where "Anyone who thinks that White and black people look as different as we do on the outside, but are somehow magically the same on the inside, is delusional."

South Carolina mourns the death of the nine men and women murdered in what Roof allegedly called "a hate-motivated crime" during the shooting. Republican governor Nikki Haley said Thursday, "We woke up today, and the heart and soul of South Carolina was broken. And so we have some grieving to do, and we've got some pain we have to go through. ... These nine families need us, the Emanuel AME church needs us, the AME church family needs us, and the people of South Carolina need us to come together and be strong for what has happened."

South Carolina has already come together, Nikki. We have come together to create Dylann Roof.

We created him on low and on high, in small ways and big ones. We taught Roof that 36 mostly-minority counties don't have to provide even a constitutionally-mandated "minimally adequate" education for its students. Our schools crumble; the test scores stagnate as some of the lowest in the nation — disproportionately for African-American students. We taught Roof about the corridor of shame. We taught him it was acceptable, because who cares about poor black kids?

We taught Dylann Roof that the emblems of hatred can still fly proud. We taught him to ignore history.

We taught Roof that it’s okay to have a capital city, Columbia, with a black infant mortality rate on par with Moldova's. Some counties, like mostly-black McCormick, record a nearly developing world 25 deaths per 1000 births infant mortality rate. The overall state infant mortality rate is 6.9 per 1000. We taught Roof that it is acceptable for black babies to die at higher rates than white ones, especially in all-black areas.

We taught Dylann Roof that the emblems of hatred can still fly proud. We taught him to ignore history.

We also taught him to love his barbecue, even if it comes with a side of segregation. Until his death, Maurice Bessinger, owner of the famous Piggie Park and Maurice's Barbecue, seeded his shops with pro-slavery, pro-segregationist literature. His shops all flew the Confederate flag. They were famous for their mustard-based barbecue. We taught Roof it’s okay to chow down on pulled pork with a side of good ol’ fashioned racism.


In 1999, some activists fought hard to take the Confederate flag off the top of the Statehouse. We reached the devil’s compromise: that banner of hatred flies in front of the Statehouse, enshrined, at the intersection of the capital city’s two major streets. Citizens continue to scream that it’s “heritage not hate,” and Confederate flag attire is not out of place on any pickup truck or t-shirt. You see it on belt buckles and bikinis. State senators celebrate it. Meanwhile, we taught Roof how to gerrymander the hell out of districts and disenfranchise the black vote.

If Roof hadn’t dropped out of the tenth grade, maybe he would have gone to the University of South Carolina. There he’d have seen the historical marker in front of the Horseshoe. It informs the reader that after Reconstruction, the university was under “radical control.” It doesn’t say that means that USC had a black trustee and admitted black students. We taught Roof to ignore the accomplishments of our black citizens.

He might have dropped out of tenth grade, but he spent an entire year — all of eighth grade — learning about South Carolina state history. Antebellum, the great men he would have studied, would have all owned slaves. These slaves would have built their houses, tended their children, cooked their food — the innumerable tasks of a servant. They’d have worked their fields. They constructed many buildings that still survive today. They dug the clay pits south of Columbia in hideous, hot, malarial conditions. Few, if any, historical markers commemorate them. Millions of lives elided over with “and there were slaves.” We taught Roof to ignore an American genocide.

Roof’s friends note that he allegedly made racist jokes pretty regularly — like many South Carolinians. Every time we let that pass, we taught him it’s okay to hold black people as inferior.

We know from his alleged manifesto that Dylann Roof got much of his information online. We know he wasn’t locally recruited; in fact, he says that “We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet.”

South Carolina didn’t hand Roof a rifle and tell him to go shooting. But we did grow him. We did nurture this poisonous plant. With our racist policies, with our ignorance of history, with our casual dismissal of everyday racism, we created Dylann Roof. We made him possible to become what he became. A monster. A terrorist. And in the end, a logical conclusion to the state’s attitude about its black citizenry.