The Elephant in the Room

According to the most recent census, South Carolina is 66% white, 27% African American, 5% Hispanic, 1.4% Asian and .6% other, but rarely do we hear anyone raise the issue of race absent some media-hyped incident. It’s time we did and I’d like to offer a simple idea of how we can start.

We all know the pattern: some  episode between blacks and whites, or occasionally Hispanics, occurs and it gets  outsized news attention.  Immediately, all the pundits and talking heads on cable TV – the usual suspects – are trotted out to give their predictable opinions and it’s all the talk around the water cooler at work. A few days later it fades and gets replaced by Kim Kardashian’s wedding or some such non-event.

In other words, nothing happens. There is no new information, rarely, if ever, is an opinion changed and everyone returns to the status quo.

Let me offer two observations about race from two very wise, life long Southerners that pretty much describe where we are in South Carolina today:

Elephant in the RoomFirst, race is the elephant in the living room – everyone steps around it, politely pretending it isn’t there, even as it dominates the thoughts, the habits and the lives of everyone in its presence.

Second, when race is an issue, it is usually the issue.

Think about these quotes; go back and read them again.

The central truth of these two quotes is that for South Carolina, we must deal with the issue of race. No one is going anywhere. We are all – black, white and Hispanic – South Carolinians and we must acknowledge our common situation and deal with this issue honestly.

We have many different views on race. Some of us think we have big problems.  Others think we have no problem at all. And many of us simply hope the subject doesn’t come up, as the whole thing makes us uncomfortable.

The truth is, the more that we all try and deal with this issue in an open and honest way – the less likely it is to explode into a big problem when some type of incident does happen. We cannot keep such incidents from happening, but we can affect how we deal with them once they do happen.

One last quote from another native Southerner and then an idea: Issues of race in the South are like a marriage where divorce is not an option – there are always ups and downs but you just have to keep working at it every day.

This simple concept makes a lot of sense to me. Simply by occasionally talking about race among ourselves, as individual South Carolinians, we are less likely to have problems. Things won’t change overnight but they do change – bit by bit, day by day, person by person. South Carolina today is not the South Carolina of 1955.

So  here is my idea: just take this column and give it to someone of a different race, get them to read it, and then ask, “What do you think?”

They will tell you, maybe hesitantly at first, but if they believe you are sincerely interested, they will tell you. Then, you tell them what you think. Talk about it a while.

Begin with the fact that we are all South Carolinians and what that means… and go from there.

You won’t change the world overnight but you will probably learn something. It will be interesting, the other person will respect you and it will be good for our state.

Editor’s Note: This story originally published Friday, November 4, 2011 at with the author’s permission.

Phil Noble

Phil Noble

Phil Noble is a businessman from Charleston and he currently serves as President of the South Carolina New Democrats, an independent reform group started by former Gov. Richard Riley. Noble is one of the leading experts in the US and internationally on the Internet and politics. Noble is the founder of PoliticsOnline and its affiliated company Phil Noble & Associates, an international public affairs consulting firm. Noble is a veteran of over 300 political campaigns and public affairs projects in 40 states and 30 countries. He has worked to elect the head of state in 15 countries.