The more we learn about the young white man arrested in the killings of nine people Wednesday at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, the more people will want to sift through his background for some bit of personal information that makes him different from everyone else.

But Dylann Storm Roof is actually just like the rest of us in many ways. He was born and raised in a nation that allowed slavery and has yet to achieve racial justice and parity. And the massacre he is accused of carrying out was not a random, isolated event. It was the latest in a long series of acts of racial violence in this country.

After Roof’s arrest Thursday, coverage shifted focus from speculation over his whereabouts to speculation about whether he has a mental illness. Even if he did, however, that wouldn’t explain the events at the Emanuel AME Church. What we know so far of the case supports a much darker and more widespread affliction: the belief that black people are inferior and that the wrongs done to them don’t matter.

Granted, Roof may be at the extreme end of a continuum. It’s rare to see someone in a jacket like the one Roof wore in a photo on his now-defunct Facebook page: It displayed the flags of two former white supremacist regimes (apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe).

But Roof grew up in a state where the idea of black people as second-class citizens is implicitly endorsed at an official level. The state has displayed the battle flag of the Confederacy – a symbol of the unwillingness of white Southerners to stop treating black men, women and children as their possessions – for over 50 years.

The Confederate flag was flown atop the Capitol dome from 1962 – when it was intended as a gesture of defiance toward federal civil rights efforts – until 2000, when protests forced its relocation to a less prominent location on the Capitol grounds.

Not that the South has a monopoly on race-based injustice. It’s in our national DNA. Historian Anne Farrow, who has studied connections to slavery in the pre-Civil War North, concluded that the “stolen, uncompensated labor” of enslaved Africans was “the key to America’s early success” – feeding systemic racial prejudice whose effects linger today in the form of poverty, illness and lack of access to education.

Emanuel AME Church has seen racist violence before. A co-founder, Denmark Vesey, was executed in 1822 and the church burned to the ground after white landowners discovered Vesey’s efforts to organize a slave revolt.

The men who razed the church and the man now accused of killing the church’s pastor, a member of his staff and seven congregants are linked by deeply rooted hatred, and it will continue to flourish until the rest of us recognize it, acknowledge it and refuse to tolerate it.

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