Monday, February 17, 2020
Feb. 17, 2020

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Jayne: Stewart sums up nation’s shameful racial atmosphere

By , Columbian Opinion Editor
Published:

There is a certain arrogance necessary for being a writer, a confidence in your superior ability to string together words that illuminate a particular thought.

But for anybody who tries to paint portraits with words and thinks they’re pretty good at it, Jon Stewart’s monologue about the South Carolina shootings was humbling.

On Wednesday, a madman murdered nine black people holding a prayer meeting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. A 21-year-old white man was arrested the following day, and authorities have painted the crime as racially motivated. So, on Thursday, Stewart eschewed comedy on “The Daily Show” in favor of poignant commentary.

“I honestly have nothing other than just sadness once again that we have to peer into the abyss of the depraved violence that we do to each other and the nexus of a just gaping racial wound that will not heal, yet we pretend doesn’t exist,” he said. “And I’m confident, though, that by acknowledging it, by staring into that and seeing it for what it is, we still won’t do jack s#!*. Yeah, that’s us. …

“What blows my mind is the disparity of response between when we think people that are foreign are going to kill us, and us killing ourselves. If this had been what we thought was Islamic terrorism, it would fit into our (narrative) — we invaded two countries and spent trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives and now fly unmanned death machines over five or six countries, all to keep Americans safe. We’ve got to do whatever we can. We’ll torture people. We’ve gotta do whatever we can to keep Americans safe. Nine people shot in a church. What about that? …

“I heard someone on the news say, ‘Tragedy has visited this church.’ This wasn’t a tornado. This was a racist. This was a guy with a Rhodesia badge on his sweater. You know, so the idea that — you know, I hate to even use this pun, but this one is black and white. There’s no nuance here. And we’re going to keep pretending like, ‘I don’t get it. What happened? This one guy lost his mind.’ But we are steeped in that culture in this country and we refuse to recognize it, and I cannot believe how hard people are working to discount it.”

At this point — even without delving into the nation’s gun culture — Stewart had delivered a virtuoso performance and could have left it at that. He had expressed appropriate and insightful outrage while shining a spotlight into America’s blind spots. But instead of allowing the music to fade out, he brought it to a crescendo — like any great artist.

“In South Carolina, the roads that black people drive on are named for Confederate generals who fought to keep black people from being able to drive freely on that road. …,” he said. “The Confederate flag flies over South Carolina, and the roads are named for Confederate generals, and the white guy’s the one who feels like his country is being taken away from him.

“We’re bringing it on ourselves. And that’s the thing. Al-Qaida, all those guys, ISIS, they’re not s#!* compared to the damage that we can apparently do to ourselves on a regular basis.”

Here in Clark County

Think about that. The Confederate battle flag still flies, 150 years after the end of the Civil War, on the grounds of the South Carolina state capital. And Confederate generals are honored for their brave fight to preserve the right to enslave other human beings. And we wonder whether this tacit approval of a despicable history has anything to do with the racial divide in this country.

Then think about this — Clark County has a highway marker along Highway 99 commemorating Jefferson Davis Highway, in honor of the president of the Confederacy.

Through it all, the nexus of Stewart’s commentary rings true: It is shameful that we allow this to happen in our country.

But I can’t say it as eloquently as he did.

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