THE BLOG

About the Flag on Dylann Roof's Jacket

06/21/2015 03:39 pm ET | Updated Jun 21, 2016
Facebook

I know the top flag on Dylann Roof's jacket very well. I remember drawing it as a child, the orange at the top and the blue at the bottom (to represent the sun and the sea) in crayons of the same colours. I remember all of us, in my whites-only school, hanging the flags across the classroom.

I can't remember the specific occasion that called for children to draw the flag but I remember there was an occasion and we judged each other's flags in terms of accuracy and vibrancy of color. It was tough because it's a flag that contains three other flags.

I remember the flag flying over the playground and I remember watching military parades and I remember soldiers carefully raising, lowering and folding the flag. I remember watching rugby matches and the all-white spectators cheering on the all-white teams and I remember the bright orange and blue flag painted on their faces. But when I see it now, today, on the killer's jacket, it looks and feels like a swastika.

It was just always there.

It was just there as much as the black gardener and the black maid were, and still are, just there. There like the townships, there like the boardrooms, there like the gold and the platinum in the mines and the mines themselves and the miners who live, work and die in them. There like the racist language and the racist ideas that are occasionally spoken of, jokingly, in the comfort of a car with only white people in it, in your home, late at night after a few drinks, when no one is listening. Or, paradoxically, there like the slurs and passive/aggressive language, the saying and not saying, one discovers a close friend from high school using on Facebook -- in front of everyone he's ever met or worked with.

Some part of me likes to imagine everyone was evil in Nazi Germany -- that it was an entire nation of evil people doing evil things. The rational, logical part of me knows that isn't true but the emotional part of me desperately needs to believe there were overt evil actions on the part of everyday Germans. So I must wonder what other people in other countries think of me when they think of a white South African child in the '80s. I know for a fact, unless someone has tampered with my memory, that I, personally, never ever signed the acts and laws that legalized a system of hatred and oppression. There was no comical evilness, my eyebrows never narrowed into a "V" and there was no raging fire behind me as I laughed at the misfortune of black people. Life was straight forward and everything that was happening was simply, there.

I think the reason Lord of the Rings is a popular story, at least one of them, is because of the invading Ork army. Look at them and how evil they are. They have no redeeming qualities and we can point at them and say: They are fundementally evil and can be cut down. We have no reason to even question what they feel.

The same can be said for the zombie craze of the last few years. They are emotionless chaff to be mowed down without a second thought. This doesn't exist in the real world. We consciously or unconsciously know on some level that all our enemies, those that we would kill and those that would kill us, are human and feel human things. For them, everything is normal and evil is the word reserved for the other guy.

What I'm trying to say, is that growing up in Apartheid South Africa, everything was normal and everything was just there. And here is the nature of things that are just there: They are never questioned.

What else is around us right now, in our cars, in our homes and on facebook, that is simply, there?

What else is around us that would tacitly or implicitly give permission to someone to pick up a gun and kill nine people? What else is in our language, in our behavior, in our dealings with each other that would allow someone to believe that he could start a war and that when it began, there would be an entire army behind him of people who thought like him, acted like him and agreed with him?

All the signs, all the permission he ever needed was in a flag, in a sentence, in a supposedly harmless joke, in the privacy of a car, in a home late at night, in a status update.

All of it, was always just there.