You Have to Go: Dylann Roof in Historical Perspective

Of all the things Dylann Roof said, that “you have to go” is the most chilling. It’s so historically resonant.

It makes me think of Jefferson:

…convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race….

When freed, he is to be removed beyond the reach of mixture.


If our slaves are ever to be sent away in any systematic manner, humanity demands that they should be carried in families.

And Harper:

…one race must be driven out by the other, or exterminated, or again enslaved.


  1. foppejan2 June 20, 2015 at 2:53 am | #

    Might I recommend Sven Lindqvist’s Saharan Journey/Exterminate all the Brutes? It contains a lengthy discussion (that I, at least, found quite illuminating) of the way the extermination of non-whites by whites was made scientific, via the positing of theories that suggested that their “extinction” (note the lack of agency) was inevitable (and that it was therefore fine to actively seek to bring it about, because ‘you’d be doing nature’s work’)
    To quote at some length from p.124/25

    Prejudice against alien peoples has always existed. But in the middle of the nineteenth century, these prejudices were given organized form and apparent scientific motivation. In the Anglo-Saxon world, the pioneer was Robert Knox. His book, The Races of Man: A fragment (1850) reveals racism at the actual moment of birth, just as it takes the leap from popular prejudice via Knox’s conceded ignorance to “scientific” conviction.
    Knox had studied comparative anatomy with Cuvier in Paris. Cuvier’s great feat was to prove that innumerable animal species had ceased to exist. But how they died out and why, he did not explain, Knox says.
    We know equally little about why the dark races go under. “Did we know the law of their origin we should know the law of their extinction; but this we do not know. All is conjecture, uncertainty.”
    All we know is that since the beginning of history, the dark races have been the slaves of those lighter skinned. What is that due to? “I feel disposed to think that there must be a physical and consequently, a psychological inferiority in the dark races generally.” This is perhaps not due to lack of size in the brain but rather a lack of quality in it. “The texture of the brain is, I think, generally darker, and the white part more strongly fibrous; but I speak from extremely limited experience.”
    How limited this experience was is clear in another part of the book, where Knox says that he had done an autopsy on only one colored person. He maintains he found in this corpse a third fewer nerves in arms and legs than in a white man of corresponding size. The soul, instinct, and reason of both races must therefore, it is obvious, he maintains, be different to a corresponding degree.
    From total ignorance, via this autopsy, Knox takes a giant stride directly to statements such as: “To me, race, or hereditary descent, is everything; it stamps the man:’ and “Race is everything: literature, science, art, in a word, civilization, depend on it.”
    There is something almost touching about the childish openness with which Knox exposes the lack of empirical basis for his statements. The sixth chapter of The Races of Man, which deals with the dark races, goes on like this: “But now, having considered the physical constitution thus briefly of some of these dark races, and shown you that we really know but little of them; that we have no data whereon to base a physical history of mankind; let me now consider . . .”
    Consider what?
    Well, on the basis of this established lack of facts, Knox unhesitatingly delivers categorical statements on the inferiority and inevitable destruction of the dark races.


    He saw himself as a voice crying in the wilderness. He and he alone had discovered a great truth, the truth of race, which only numskulls and hypocrites could deny.
    Origin of Species meant a turning point for Knox’s ideas. Darwin neither confirmed nor denied them, but his theory of evolution was clearly useful for the racists.
    Knox was restored to favor and shortly before his death he became a member of the Ethnographical Society, in which a new group of “racially conscious” anthropologists were now setting the tone.
    In 1863, Knox’s followers broke away and formed the Anthropological Society, which was more markedly racist. The first lecture — “On the Negro’s Place in Nature” — emphasized the negro’s close relationship to the ape. When a rebellion of rural blacks was ruthlessly crushed in Jamaica, the society held a public meeting. Captain Gordon Pim stated in his speech that it was a philanthropic principle to kill natives; there was, he said, “mercy in a massacre.”
    Time had begun to catch up with Robert Knox. Previously, race had been seen as one of several factors influencing human culture. After Darwin, race became the wholly decisive explanation in far wider circles. Racism was accepted and became a central element in British imperial ideology.

    After Darwin, it became accepted to shrug your shoulders at genocide. If you were upset, you were just showing your lack of education. Only some old codgers who had not been able to keep up with progress in natural history protested. The Tasmanian became the paradigm, to which one part of the world after another yielded. W. Winwood Reade, a member of both the Geographical Society and the Anthropological Society in London, and a correspondent member of the Geological Society in Paris, ends his book Savage Africa (1864) with a prediction on the future of the black race.
    Africa will be shared between England and France, he prophesies. Under European rule, the Africans will dig the ditches and water the deserts. It will be hard work, and the Africans themselves will probably become extinct. “We must learn to look at this result with composure. It illustrates the beneficent law of nature, that the weak must be devoured by the strong.”
    A grateful posterity will honor the memory of the blacks. One day, young ladies will sit tearfully beneath the palm trees and read The Last Negro. And the Niger will be as romantic a river as the Rhine.

  2. Junius June 20, 2015 at 10:18 am | #

    Two big issues: imperialism and positivism.
    We know, as progressives, that they are deeply linked.
    Racial prejudice, is generally a cultural issue: and *must* be accepted and understood, not hide by “political correctness”.
    Racism is a *political* issue: it’s a part of imperialist “social engineering”, and, above all, a structural part of “class struggle”. (Marx and Engels learned this historical concept studying the “race struggle”).

    Briefly: racism is related to sovereignty. Sovereignty is related to democracy.

  3. Thomas L. Hanchett June 20, 2015 at 11:03 am | #

    I want to have an equal opportunity to succeed and find meaning in life and not limited by someones or some race or class groups perceived characteristic of mine. I wonder if the middle class and the poor are the new slaves based on the same irrational, absurd, incompetant, self righteous thinking.

  4. Critical Reading (@CriticalReading) June 20, 2015 at 11:11 am | #

    And Lincoln in 1857: “I have said that the separation of the races is the only perfect preventive of amalgamation… Such separation, if ever effected at all, must be effected by colonization… The enterprise is a difficult one; but ‘when there is a will there is a way;’ and what colonization needs most is a hearty will. Will springs from the two elements of moral sense and self-interest. Let us be brought to believe it is morally right, and, at the same time, favorable to, or, at least, not against, our interest, to transfer the African to his native clime, and we shall find a way to do it, however great the task may be.”

    Lincoln later dropped this idea, not because he thought the goal was undesirable, but because he came to regard it as impractical.

  5. Jon Keller June 20, 2015 at 4:14 pm | #

    By 1865, though, I think it’s fair to say that he no longer thought it a good idea either.

  6. gstally July 14, 2015 at 4:48 pm | #

    First off, Dylan Roof is just stupid. This kid is slow, he just… slow. I’m not saying it because “durr hurr racists don’t think” but SERIOSULY his thoughts are just stupid. Not schizophrenic or bipolar weird but less Hans Gunther and more Lennie Small. I find that surprising because apparently he self-radicalized.

    Passages from the Last Rhodesian:

    “Growing up, in school, the White and black kids would make racial jokes toward each other, but all they were were jokes. Me and White friends would sometimes would watch things that would make us think that “blacks were the real racists” and other elementary thoughts like this, but there was no real understanding behind it.“


    “I have great respent for the East Asian races. Even if we were to go extinct they could carry something on. They are by nature very racist and could be great allies of the White race. I am not opposed at all to allies with the Northeast Asian races.”

    And this

    “Unfortunately at the time of writing I am in a great hurry and some of my best thoughts, actually many of them have been to be left out and lost forever. But I believe enough great White minds are out there already.”

    This isn’t typical There’s not even a sense of resentment or bitterness about his personal situation that you have with Seung-Hui Cho or Elliot Rodger. That’s surprising considering he’s an unemployed highschool dropout and he seems totally cool with that. He himself says he lost his marbles obsessing over the Zimmerman trial, and for the record that sort of 24 media trial blitzes has never been linked in any way shape or form to any sort of race based violence.

    As for Jefferson I’ve always thought his whole “send the blacks back to Africa” is, in my opinion, is his harebrained idea to set up an American colony to cut out the middlemen and allow America direct access to the African Slave markets with a foothold in the East Indies trade. In contrast, I think Lincoln wanted to do it as a possible humane solution for the American racial question. Really Jefferson isn’t exactly a grand political thinker, he listed Bacon, Newton and Locke as his trinity which such a grouping leads me to believe he only understood one of them. Given his commitments I’d wager he’s combined Montesquieu’s “empire of climate” (the founding fathers quoted M almost as much as holy scripture and debated his meaning in much the like manner) with a sort of racial determinism that has him thinking this idea is just gold! He thinks that the blacks from Africa are by nature suited for their place of origin, not some proto-evolutionary stance but one typical in the pre-darwinian enlightenment; something similar to what Kant expressed:

    “That great artist, natura daedala rerum… in her mechanical course we see… that in the cold wastes by the Arctic Ocean the moss grows which the reindeer digs from the snow in order to make itself the prey or the conveyance of the Ostyak or Samoyed; or that the saline sandy deserts are inhabited by the camel which appears created as it were in order that they might not go unused — that is already wonderful. Still clearer is the end when we see how besides the furry animals of the Arctic there are also the seal, the walrus, and the whale which afford the inhabitants food from their flesh and warmth from their blubber. But the care of nature excites the greatest wonder when we see how she brings wood (though the inhabitants do not know whence it comes) to these barren climates, without which they would have neither canoes, weapons, nor huts, and when we see how these natives are so occupied with their war against the animals that they live in peace with each other.”

    This never would have worked.

    On the subject of Jefferson is the recent controversy over a novel that someone hasn’t even written.


    “DEAR SIR,

    — Your favor of the 6th instant is just received, and I shall with equal willingness and truth, state the degree of agency you had, respecting the copy of M. de Becourt’s book, which came to my hands. That gentleman informed me, by letter, that he was about to publish a volume in French, “Sur la Creation du Monde, un Systeme d’Organisation Primitive,” which, its title promised to be, either a geological or astronomical work. I subscribed; and, when published, he sent me a copy; and as you were my correspondent in the book line in Philadelphia, I took the liberty of desiring him to call on you for the price, which, he afterwards informed me, you were so kind as to pay him for me, being, I believe, two dollars. But the sole copy which came to me was from himself directly, and, as far as I know, was never seen by you.

    I am really mortified to be told that, in the United States of America, a fact like this can become a subject of inquiry, and of criminal inquiry too, as an offence against religion; that a question about the sale of a book can be carried before the civil magistrate. Is this then our freedom of religion? and are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule for what we are to read, and what we must believe? It is an insult to our citizens to question whether they are rational beings or not, and blasphemy against religion to suppose it cannot stand the test of truth and reason. If M. de Becourt’s book be false in its facts, disprove them; if false in its reasoning, refute it. But, for God’s sake, let us freely hear both sides, if we choose. I know little of its contents, having barely glanced over here and there a passage, and over the table of contents. From this, the Newtonian philosophy seemed the chief object of attack, the issue of which might be trusted to the strength of the two combatants; Newton certainly not needing the auxiliary arm of the government, and still less the holy author of our religion, as to what in it concerns him. I thought the work would be very innocent, and one which might be confided to the reason of any man; not likely to be much read if let alone, but, if persecuted, it will be generally read. Every man in the United States will think it a duty to buy a copy, in vindication of his right to buy, and to read what he pleases. I have been just reading the new constitution of Spain. One of its fundamental basis is expressed in these words: “The Roman Catholic religion, the only true one, is, and always shall be, that of the Spanish nation. The government protects it by wise and just laws, and prohibits the exercise of any other whatever.” Now I wish this presented to those who question what you may sell, or we may buy, with a request to strike out the words, “Roman Catholic,” and to insert the denomination of their own religion. This would ascertain the code of dogmas which each wishes should domineer over the opinions of all others, and be taken, like the Spanish religion, under the “protection of wise and just laws.” It would shew to what they wish to reduce the liberty for which one generation has sacrificed life and happiness. It would present our boasted freedom of religion as a thing of theory only, and not of practice, as what would be a poor exchange for the theoretic thraldom, but practical freedom of Europe. But it is impossible that the laws of Pennsylvania, which set us the first example of the wholesome and happy effects of religious freedom, can permit the inquisitorial functions to be proposed to their courts. Under them you are surely safe.

    At the date of yours of the 6th, you had not received mine of the 3d inst., asking a copy of an edition of Newton’s Principia, which I had seen advertised. When the cost of that shall be known, it shall be added to the balance of $4.93, and incorporated with a larger remittance I have to make to Philadelphia.

    Accept the assurance of my great esteem and respect.

    Thomas Jefferson”

    Hey the guy’s not all bad. In most cases, people, even wicked people, are far more naive and simple-hearted than one generally assumes. And so are we.

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