What South Carolina Isn’t

22 06 2015

The news is full of this latest hate crime. “Emanuel AME shooting may be most deadly hate crime in South Carolina history, historian says” –Charleston’s Courier and Post. “Jeb Bush, Romney call for removal of Dixie flag from S.C. Capitol” –USA Today. “Charleston Church Shooting: KKK, White Supremacists Operate in South Carolina”—NBC News. Here’s the real news: South Carolina isn’t the Confederate flag. South Carolina isn’t the KKK. And South Carolina isn’t the Evil* that invaded the sanctity of a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last Wednesday evening.

The Confederate flag has no place on the grounds of the State House in Columbia. This has not always been my stance. I used to feel that it was a part of South Carolina’s heritage and the state should not kowtow to the demands of a few who took offense to it. However, a symbol is what we make it. It has become obvious to me that this flag has taken on the meaning of hatred, of divisiveness, of racism and inequality. Blacks see the flag as a sign of oppression. White extremists salute it and pledge their continued support of its racist ideals. Matthew 5:30 in the King James version of the Bible says, “And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee.” So take it down. Put it in the State Museum with a label that accurately states the principles that led our state and others to fly it. The state of South Carolina should not be sanctioning, by allowing it a place of honor on the grounds of the State House, a battle flag from the Confederacy. That shameful part of our heritage is done. It is over.

But South Carolina is not the Confederate flag. Our real state flag is one of the most recognizable flags in America: its crescent harkens back to the Revolutionary War, as does the palmetto tree. The cabbage palmetto, for those who may not know the beloved story, allowed Fort Moultrie to stand as the British cannonballs were absorbed in its spongy stalks. (On a side note, I find it slightly amusing that South Carolina’s state tree is actually a grass.) South Carolinians not only fly this flag with pride, they emblazon it on tee-shirts, flip flops, car decals, jewelry, key chains, and countless other accessories. If you sit still for long enough, you will find yourself decorated with images from our flag. These icons, infinitely more than the Confederate flag, stand for the love of our state and all that is good and brave in our state. That is the heritage that South Carolinians look for and find in our state flag. The Confederate flag is not the flag of our state.

Since this massacre, the news media has been reporting on the number of hate groups in South Carolina: 19, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, including the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and other white supremacist groups. The implication, of course, is that South Carolina, once a hotbed of racism, remains so. I just got back from a Sunday evening trip to Walmart. This being the Bible belt, if I have to grocery shop on the weekend, I choose to do so on Sunday evening. The stores are less crowded, what with a large proportion of the population being at Sunday evening church services. Many look at Walmart in disgust, laughing at the photos posted on websites that ridicule how some people dress or look as they shop. I view Walmart as a microcosm of society, the one place where people from all walks of life can be found. And tonight, in Aiken, South Carolina, it was no different. A black man and a white woman, with a mixed race child in their buggy, checked out the cartons of eggs. An Hispanic woman and a black man perused the frozen foods. Folks greeted each other and chatted over the cereal display. Usually the colors or cultures don’t even register with me. It’s not that I’m color blind. I usually just get tunnel vision as I speed down the aisles, checking off the items on my list. Tonight I was looking, searching for signs of racial animosity, trying to find evidence that old racial tensions still governed our lives here in the deep South. Try as I might, all I saw were people shopping. Peacefully. Getting along. Not just co-existing, but lives intertwining.

Which is not to say that there is not racism in South Carolina. Or that “apartheid,” that ugly word that brings back images of angry South Africans clashing against white government policies, does not still exist here. It does. Not de jure, but de facto, a more insidious form of segregation in that it is harder to combat. Perhaps apartheid is too harsh a word, but since the school districts are governed by the state, and the state allows this segregation to continue, I believe the word fits. Here in my city, my hometown, there is a school with a population that is mostly black. More importantly, its population is mostly low income. Not surprisingly, it has historically been a low-achieving school. Not at all because of race, but because of socio-economic status. Let me repeat: it is not the race, but the fact that these students are coming from poverty that is important here. Although the school district has pooled resources to bring “best practices” and model teachers to this school, they haven’t done the one thing that just might even the playing field: rezone so that the population is a mix of students from different socio-economic levels. It has been my experience, borne of 25 years in the classroom, that when classes have a good mix of students, the stronger students raise the bar, both for the instructional level as well as the learning of the lower achievers. Rezoning is not a politic thing to do. Were my children still in public school and they were rezoned to this school, my dander would be up. Rezoning is not easy, but it is the right thing to do for our schools and our children. We must ensure that there is “liberty and justice for all” both in the classroom and on the streets.

The demon that entered Mother Emanuel on June 17 has failed. He sought to incite hatred and bring about segregation. But the people of this church, of this historic city, of this good state aren’t letting this happen. Victim’s families have reached out to this murderer, forgiving him and showing him the way of love. And blacks and whites and Hispanics and people all over the state have joined hands in solidarity, protesting the violence and the evil behind it, doing so peacefully but with purpose. Yes, there is hatred flying over South Carolina just as it does in every state in this United States. But that hatred and evil does not define our state. South Carolina is not the Confederate flag or the KKK. Rather, the love and caring for our fellow humans, whatever the race, whatever the culture: this is the true color of South Carolina. The war is over. Let the fight continue.


*I refuse to give this person any further notoriety by mentioning his name. We all know what his name is. We do not need to give him any more press that might only perpetrate future crimes fueled by hatred and evil.

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One response

23 06 2015
Patsy Davis

Bravo, Beth! Beautiful words. Thank you!

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