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Charleston Shooting Through the Prism of Cultural Bias

An individual’s cultural background has a significant impact on the ways the world is perceived and how one acts in it – this orientating role of culture could be essential to function adequately in society. Nevertheless, in some cases, it may surpass a particular culture’s boundaries and be applied to members belonging to other ones. As a result, cultural bias can emerge when norms and traditions peculiar to one social unit are overextended. This phenomenon is tangent to “us” versus “them” mentality and pushes an individual to believe overgeneralizations and heightened dissimilarity of an out-group contributing to chauvinism and supremacism. The events of Charleston, South Carolina that occurred five years ago to a certain degree can be viewed through the prism of these phenomena.

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The Charleston church shooting provoked a surge in discussions and contradictory public opinions regarding the underlying issues that led to the case. When Dylann Roof murdered nine parishioners, a number of identities that were meant to explain the tragedy were invoked and applied to him (Newman 11). Considering that the victims were of African-American ethnicity and the church under the attack was Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Roof’s crime was attributed to still persistent supremacist tendencies and racial hatred. On the other hand, conservative newspapers tried to dissociate from the murderer searching for proof that Roof could be considered a liberal and calling him “a drug‑abusing national socialist” (Newman 10). Since hate crime constituted a part of accusations that resulted in a death sentence, the nature of Roof’s motivation could be connected to his beliefs apropos of culture and race. One of the indicators that the shooting under consideration can be viewed as a hate crime is the history of attacks against African‑American church-goers.

Even though the right to practice one’s religion or refrain from it all together is affirmed in the First Amendment, the Charleston church shooting is among numerous others that complicate exercising this freedom for specific ethnic minorities. For instance, it is stated that the Charleston massacre represents “a pattern of random rationalized violence against religious institutions” (Banks 13). The list of churches that are predominantly attended by the African-American population and were attacked also includes the 16th Street Baptist Church, Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, and Macedonia Church of God in Christ. Furthermore, several black religious facilities were burned in the South in the 1990s (Banks 13). The pattern could be attributed to the fear of difference that is a fraction in a more considerable fear of unknown. As one of the forms of cultural bias leads to the conviction that cultures are inherently dissimilar, a hazardous need to determine the better may emerge (Venkatesh 14). Roof’s supremacist beliefs are potentially rooted in the cultural bias that eventually, in its grave form, results in stereotyping of African-Americans and viewing minority groups as inferior by nature.

The necessity to divide people into “us” and “them” is possibly one of the mechanisms that allowed humans to survive at earlier stages of development. Forming communities that helped individual people acquire nourishment, shelter, and comfort from social interactions was imperative, and thus the phenomenon became ingrained into the way the social life is constructed. However, once vital, this mentality in the contemporary cultural setting can lead to tragedies, as was the case with Charleston church shooting. “Us” versus “them” can also be a widely-used technique during wartime, helping incite patriotism and justify violence. This clear division supports supremacist systems of beliefs – Roof supposedly imagined a state structure entirely based on the notion of “race” and dominance of “Aryans” (Newman 12). This conviction could be considered an embodiment of satisfying the need to raise an in‑group above out-groups or establish them as a threat to its well-being.

Such issues as racism and supremacism seem to be strongly connected with numerous logical fallacies and biases. When a person is acquainted with other ethnicities only through media or stories, a risk that their thinking pattern can be flawed arises. Hasty generalizations, for instance, occur when insufficient information on the subject is available, but a conclusion is made on an individual’s experience with members of the same group or existing stereotypes. Appeal to tradition potentially also contributes to racist tendencies, establishing that the conventional order is the right one. Hence, flawed thinking patterns often result from insubstantial information and a lack of exposure to other ethnicities.

The motives behind the Charleston church shooting possibly cannot be reduced to cultural bias and several logical fallacies in Roof’s thinking. Nevertheless, these issues can form a part of the explication for human nature and inheritress of xenophobia in it, which leads to violence. Despite efforts of several media outlets, Roof is primarily recognized as a white supremacist and a Neo-Nazi. The committed crime is attributed to ethnical hatred, confirming that cultural bias potentially played a role in the events. Therefore, perceiving the world in binary format, where the safety and comfort of an in-group are elevated above out‑groups, is, to a degree, an expression of erroneous thinking.

Works Cited

Banks, Adelle M. “Attack Part of Pattern Against Black Churches.” National Catholic Reporter. 2015, p. 13.

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Newman, Alex. “Charleston Murderer a Drug-abusing National Socialist.” New American. 2015, pp. 10-13.

Venkatesh, Sujatha. “Forms of Social Asymmetry and Cultural Bias.” Transcience, vol. 6, no. 1, 2015, pp. 1–19.

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