The racist flag at South Carolina State House is flying at full mast.
The racist flag at the South Carolina State House is flying at full mast. Jiri Flogel/Shutterstock

Dylann Storm Roof—the arrested 21-year-old who is suspected of killing nine people and terrorizing a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina—is captured in a Facebook photo wearing a jacket with flags of Apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia. If this young man is the killer, his level of racism is really, really deep.

Because I was born in Rhodesia, I was born in an African-only hospital. I was not allowed to be born in a regular hospital, which were for white people. That's the way it was in that country until 1980. Blacks were born here and lived in this and that part of town, and whites were born there and lived this and that part of town. Apparently, the Dylann Storm Roof represented on Facebook was down with a society being ordered in this way.

Then there is the matter of the Confederate flag flying at the South Carolina State House. We know who identifies strongly with this flag. We know its history and the society it represented, which had much in common with Rhodesia and pre-democratic South Africa. This flag is flying at full mast today—apparently, it observes nothing but white people. The state flag, which is on top of the state house, is flying half-mast.

These flags are not empty. They really do mean the oppression of black people.

All in all, what we might find when the smoke clears from the Charleston tragedy is this combination: A society with too many guns...

...meets a type not unlike Adam Lanza or James Holmes, but this time, the form of madness has been rationalized by the formal and informal institutions of racism. The rest is history.