“Behold, human beings living in an underground den…here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move…and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave…To them, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.”
Republic, Book VII
The great Greek philosopher Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” describes a group of people who have lived in a deep cave since birth, never seeing the light of day. The shadows of puppets being manipulated are all they can see. These shadows become their truth and in essence their reality, until finally one of the prisoners escapes and is exposed to a world he never knew existed. Scholars and intellectuals have interpreted the meaning of the allegory in many different ways. The interpretation most inviting to me, is that the allegory is about human ignorance and a people who are not capable or willing to seek the truth. That is most intriguing, because it is applicable to a specific segment of the population in the United States.
Throughout this country’s history, the most difficult struggle has been between the races. The problem stems from the fact that for a very long time, white America was much like Plato’s prisoners living in an underground cave. Trapped in a two to three century lie, they were taught that there was something very special about them; and that they were the cream of the earth. Their white skin made them superior to all other people. And they were ecstatic about their status. Just like no one could have gone down into Plato’s cave, and convinced the caged people that what they saw were only mere shadows until they actually experienced the reality themselves, no one could even suggest to white America that what they were taught was not the truth. They were the superior race and all others must always remain subservient to them. And that was especially true of the black race. After all, one of the first lessons they were taught imbued them with the belief that black was and always would be inferior to white.
On June 17, a very sick captive in Plato’s cave walked into a church and destroyed the lives on nine beautiful souls. They were black and therefore a danger to his existence. He had an obligation to destroy those lives, even though momentarily he experienced the light that comes to one when they escape the cave. He has admitted that he considered calling off his plan of destruction, but in the final analysis the influences of the shadows won out. After the same kind of vicious and violent attack that killed four innocent little girls in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in September 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke for those beautiful victims when he said, “They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.” The same can be said 52 years later on behalf of Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Reverend DePayne Middleton, Reverend Clementa Pinkney, Reverend Daniel L. Simmons, Tywanza Sanders and Myra Thompson.
We all can get some consolation knowing that in the year 2015, the killer will receive the ultimate punishment and probably be put to death. That represents a radical change for a state like South Carolina, and for that matter anywhere in the South. Just one hundred years ago, he would have received a pat on the back, simply because most of the South were still captives in that cave and all they could see were the shadows.