There. I said it.
No, I do not hate people with a different skin colour to me, nor do I believe they are inferior. I am a strong believer in equality -- equal opportunity to live the life we want free of discrimination or societal expectations of what is or isn't 'normal'. I believe in the power of choice and my experience of tradition is that it's an excuse to hold onto damaging ideas that limit opportunities for others.
I want to get married to a woman and I am a woman. I want to earn as much as a man does for doing the same job. I want to live in a world where, as I age and my abilities diminish, I am not limited in what I can do and the level of independence I have. And I want to live in a world where the colour of someone else's skin doesn't cause so much fear, hatred and justified scape-goating that a young man can take the lives of nine people.
But I am caucasian and I'm a product of a society in which such young men do exist.
They are not crazy.
They are not 'troglodytes'.
They are not evil.
They are a product of a society that, as John Stewart put so beautifully, has a 'gaping wound' they're unwilling to look at.
(I'm not talking about just America here. I'm Canadian. I'm talking about humans. All human society.)
I am not excusing Dylan Roof's actions. I am not saying that what he did was okay or acceptable. A culture of fear and historical racism offers a reason for his actions, not an excuse.
It is tragic, it is awful and it is heartbreaking.
What is also tragic is how quickly we create a sense of 'other'.
He did that thing over there. Crazy person. Individual. Acted alone.
All these statements add up to: He's nothing like me.
And what this means is we are entirely unwilling to look at our own prejudices.
If he is that single crazy over there, totally unrelated to me in every possible way, then what responsibility do I have for my own insidious thoughts of racism? Or sexism? Or homophobia? Or whatever 'ism' that has wormed its way into our psyche by virtue of the society we were born into.
In Australia a video was released that pointedly asks us to examine our own internal prejudices in this very way.
And it stings.
It stings to admit that I'm racist. It stings because like I said, I'm passionate about creating a society where human beings are valued for the content of their character.
I'm a Buddhist practitioner. In my Buddhist studies I repeatedly hear teachings that tell me:
You cannot work with that which you refuse to see.
We cannot create a world in which individuals like Dylann Roof are not radicalised if we do not examine our own state of mind, our own ingrained beliefs, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us or how light they appear to be. Friendly racism is still racism.
I present the argument that the reason we label Dylann as crazy or sub-human is because we don't want to share our humanity with someone who can wage a race war so blatantly.
Well -- we do.
And the thing is, this shouldn't be news to anyone, not if we're truly honest and spend any time examining our thoughts.
Every time something like this happens, every single time I see a report of a hate crime of any nature, I think of the wounded society that can foster and grow a mind-set that allows any human being to see another human being as less than themselves. My first reaction is to tell myself: "I would never do that. I could never do that."
I'm lucky enough to have been raised by parents who exposed me to other cultures and taught me to value the differences in others. Had I been raised the same way as Dylann there is no way of knowing that I wouldn't have had the same level of hatred that motivated him to open fire on people simply because of the colour of their skin.
No, I'm not harbouring a kind of hate the likes of Dylann Roof has, but by denying the fact that I have discriminatory thoughts, I'm denying myself of the ability to change them.
Hate is not something we're born with. It's something we learn. It's something we can unlearn. But first we have to admit that it's there, however light.
We cannot change that which we refuse to see.