With funerals scheduled in the coming days for many of the nine Black people murdered at the Emanuel African American Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, it is necessary to reflect on the possibilities that led to such a massacre.
Confessed shooter Dylann Roof is reported to have said that he was killing the worshippers in attendance because, “You are raping our women and taking over the country.” As the background of this young man continues to come out, revealing his affinity with white supremacist ideologies, it is easy to write off these words as the reactions of a deranged extremist. But the findings of recent social science research suggest such a dismissal would be a mistake.
Similar findings have emerged in research examining the reactions of White Canadians to comparable national demographic changes and, as in our studies, this research suggests that concerns about white Americans potentially losing status in society predicted the extent to which the research participants expressed greater racial bias.
Interestingly, one of the demonstrated ways to reduce these threat reactions is by reflecting on one’s purpose in life. Ironically, this is the very type of reflection that often takes place in houses of worship.
No, these folks are not likely to enact this type of violent terror, but they are likely to engage in small, yet meaningful, acts—including patterns of voting— that maintain racially segregated neighborhoods, schools, and places of employment. All of these acts serve to sustain racial disparities in health, wealth and overall well-being.