time for action

Most South Carolinians don’t know a lot of out-of-the-closet, vociferous racists. They’re probably around, just like they have been since two people who didn’t look like each other first met. But in our society — here and in other states — they generally live on the fringes.

A hundred years ago, racism was institutionalized in the South with Jim Crow laws and separate but equal schools. That changed after World War II as people marched to embrace civil rights. And while governments deinstitutionalized racism in accommodations, schools and meeting places, people’s attitudes took longer. The overt racism of the past became a more hidden, covert prejudice found today across the nation in persnickety comments, sharp glances, rolled-up windows at stoplights.

But what I know, today, is that most people in the South get along, regardless of skin color. People might have different economic circumstances. They might go to different churches. They might live in different neighborhoods. They might have different cultural traditions. But they generally are accepting and not hung up on race. White, brown, black people attend the same schools, restaurants, football games, libraries, grocery stores, malls, beaches, airports and so on.

I also know that people from outside the South have a hard time believing any of this, particularly with the rebel flag flapping in the wind outside the Statehouse in Columbia. Or when they see news of a white gunman going into a place of worship and shooting nine people at a prayer meeting. Or when a white cop uses a stun gun and then a pistol on an unarmed black man stopped for a traffic violation.

CBS News anchor Scott Pelley prepares Thursday to broadcast from outside the church.
CBS News anchor Scott Pelley prepares
Thursday to broadcast from outside the church.

Folks, there is evil in the world. There’s no two ways about it. It’s in South Carolina. It’s in Oregon. Good people must do what they can to thwart it. Otherwise, we’ll have more shootings like the one in Charleston. Or Newtown. Or Littleton. Or Aurora.

There are things we can do to combat this evil. It would help, for example, if we stopped fueling hate with bitterness, acrimony, divisiveness and partisanship in our political and community talk.

Quite frankly, America — not just South Carolina — needs to blast the closed door of race off its hinges and confront it vigorously. We need active community discussions, involvement and engagement over a long period to heal and deal with the issue. We need, as Columbia strategist Charles Weathers says, to have “courageous conversations.” Let’s target hate and racism just as we target lung cancer or some other dreaded disease — with education and resources.

It also wouldn’t hurt if symbols of hate were not prominently displayed, such as the Confederate flag on the Statehouse grounds. Yes, the flag represents heritage to some. But a far greater number find it to be a symbol of hate. If you want your flag, fine. Put it on your wall. Find it in a museum. But don’t publicly display it on state-owned land.

We also could do more to control the pervasiveness of handguns. There are more than 50 million in the United States. As a state, do we really need to make it easier for people to carry concealed weapons — without a permit, as a current House bill proposes — or do we need to make it tougher? For the record, I am not suggesting that people give up the right to own handguns. What I’m suggesting is more controls — criminal background checks, mental stability checks, longer waiting periods, controls on gun shows.

I can already hear the gun lobby’s arguments: Guns don’t kill people; people kill people. But those who want guns controlled like in every other advanced country find this ludicrous. Easy access to guns makes it more likely someone who is upset or mentally ill will turn to one and use it. Just look at our state’s high rate of domestic violence. Our legislature made a good start this year to try curb guns in the hands of abusers, but it’s only a beginning.

What happened in Charleston Wednesday night does not reflect the core of South Carolina. But we’ve got to prove it by working diligently to confront hate and eradicate the roots of racism so this kind of senseless tragedy never happens again.

Editor's Note: This story originally appeared at the StateHouseReport.com. Image: Provided by the author, Andy Brack.
Andy Brack

Andy Brack

Andy Brack is a syndicated columnist in South Carolina and the publisher of Statehouse Report. Brack, who holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, also publishes a weekly newsletter about good news in the Charleston area, Charleston Currents. A former U.S. Senate press secretary, Brack has a national reputation as a communications strategist and Internet pioneer. Brack, who received a bachelor’s degree from Duke University, lives in Charleston, S.C. with his daughters, a dog and a badass cat.

Brack’s new book, “We Can Do Better, South Carolina,” is now available in paperback via Amazon.

One Comment
  1. Lee Leslie

    Andy, I love ya man, but you are too nice. The battle flag doesn’t represent heritage. It was hoisted up at the capital because the white legislators wanted to make a statement against civil rights and desegregation in 1962. It is hate pure and simple. I am heartened SC leaders have asked to take it down – getting to 2/3rds vote is might be hard, but now that Gov. Haley has made it clear that the symbols are bad for business, too, maybe they have a chance.
    I’m with you on laws fixing open carry, regulating hand guns and assault style weapons, and requiring training and home gun safety, but I fear those will also end up on the symbolic stack.
    For things to change, we need to integrate the economy and opportunity. We need to stop the resegregation of schools and get serious about dropouts. We need expand Medicaid (still the best way to get a family out of poverty). We need to raise the minimum wage. We need to invest in poor families. We need to empty our prisons of simple drug crimes (likely close to 50%), clear their records and get them back with their families. We need to provide subsidized childcare and invest in early childhood education. And we need desegregate neighborhoods, churches and community recreation.
    And we need to tell pink & beige parents, pink & beige children, pink & beige teachers, pink & beige law enforcement and white businesses about right and wrong. That black & brown lives matter. That racism isn’t funny. And we all need to make it bad for business.
    And then it will take a lot more.
    If the legislature takes the flag down, well that would be nice, but let’s don’t end it there. We need to shake things up. We need to get business to get their lobbyists to demand change in our leaders (sadly, that is who they work for).
    We just can’t let this go. We owe to Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor and Susie Jackson.

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