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OpinionColumnistsChristopher Leelum

Futility of Dylann Roof's call for a race war

Flowers and notes of hope and support from

Flowers and notes of hope and support from the community line the sidewalk, Friday, June 19, 2015 in front of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. Dylann Storm Roof, 21, is accused of killing nine people during a Wednesday night Bible study at the church. Photo Credit: AP / Stephen B. Morton

Dylann Roof wants to declare a race war, but there's been a war about race going on in my head for years. Long Island can't pull me behind the racial curtain anymore, held back by scientific ignorance and social seclusion.

Charleston has made me understand how ridiculous my situation is. I now realize that not only is race not scientifically based, but it is simply a construct. However, my upbringing has hidden that truth from me.

The fact that Roof prayed with the victims at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church before gunning them down forced me to take a closer look.

I've learned of the racially motivated horrors during the times of slavery and the civil rights movement, but never have I witnessed such a pure demonstration of hatred of another race. In the wake of this tragedy, I set out to learn whether Roof's viewpoint made sense -- not about white supremacy, but about racial diversity. I wanted to know whether some people are just different in terms of intelligence, personality or behavior from others, and that's just the way it is.

According to UNESCO, race has been exposed as a biological myth since at least 1950. "Black" is just the name we give a group of people who share similar physical traits. After digging through multiple other articles proving the science that race is simply a construct, I began to wonder how I stayed on the wrong side of this intellectual wall for so long.

I'm pretty sure that if I had been taught the rudiments of race when I was in grade school, I would've understood the science pretty easily. Humans haven't been around that long, and humanity as we know it originated in Africa. Genetic diversity, including skin color, came about through migration, cultural diversity and cultural interbreeding. Instead, rather than the theory of natural selection, I was incorrectly taught that evolution is the equivalent of assembling an airplane from a random bunch of parts. With that tidbit of "knowledge" as a starting point, it was hard to tackle the concept of genetic diversity.

Growing up on Long Island in a majority-white neighborhood and attending two overwhelmingly white schools before college, I developed an underlying feeling of, "This is us, they are them. We are like this, they are like that."

Other people's opinions, media portrayals and American and Eurocentric history courses at school provided the extent of my racial knowledge. My childhood was an interminable white swell from which I'm finally coming down.

With violent incidents like that in Charleston rekindling the race debate, I can't be the only one coming to this realization. There is no racial hierarchy, there are only physical and cultural differences. A smart Asian man is not smart because he is Asian, and certainly not because he's a man.

I've never lived with the belief that any one race is inferior to another, but I've been confused for a long time about whether some people are just racially different. With his bewildering anger, born from ignorance and misunderstanding, Roof wanted to start a race war in a church. But a race war can't be started, because race wars can't exist.

Many people have already crossed this minor barrier of ignorance, but if so, then why is there still so much hate in this country? And that leads me back to my upbringing. I grew up knowing of other types of people, but did not grow up with them.

Christopher Leelum, a student at Stony Brook University, is an intern with Newsday Opinion.