I’ve been a proud Black man from South Carolina for a few weeks north of 36 years. And, in all honesty, my state has always confused me. If I were ever asked to play word association with it, I would begin by telling the poor fool who asked the question to “grab a chair” because this may take a while.
I could go on…
I’ve always known that being a Black southerner required a high-level of duality that allowed for loving and embracing your home while dealing with murky hate-filled past (and present) of the South. The simple idea of being proud of where you’re from but dealing with the toxic images of your home’s past is as stifling as the heat we’re known for. Black southerners from Texas up to Virginia all have similar stories detailing the slow dance of pride and disgust when they speak of their homes. That’s how I feel about South Carolina. That’s how I feel about SC’s past and its shot at doing better than it did before.
That existence takes its toll when you listen to the stories, coming from the mouths of relatives of the not too distant past detailing how they were literally afraid to breathe at times. Your duality is again acknowledged when your high school debate coach speaks about not taking your team to a tournament at Bob Jones University because of the school's leaders’ views on race. Again, you feel the duality weighing on you when find yourself defending things about South Carolina to a German classmate in college only to look at members of the same class when they began extolling how awesome “Dixie” is. It gets extra real for you when you go through your father’s wallet after his passing to find his original voters registration card, a memento from long ago, a see that he was well into his 30’s the first time he could cast a ballot in his home state. Yet he loved his home. It’s the chill that ran up my spine when I drove home to Fairfax, SC from Charleston admiring the pine trees and swamps only to see a signs advertising the John Birch Society and saying “Get the U.S. out of the UN NOW!” in rural Colleton county. Yes, all of this in modern South Carolina. A place that, according our own slogan, is filled with “Smiling faces and beautiful places.”
At no time did my duality come to the forefront of my mind like it has in the past few weeks. At this point there is no need to recount what happened. And as South Carolina and the rest of the nation finds itself neck-deep in another racial conversation, what spun out of the massacre has put my relationship with South Carolina’s blood-stained history on display once again.
Sentiments of sorrow and regret began flowing from the mouths of just about every South Carolinian I know after the last .45 acp casing hit the floor that fateful Wednesday night. People began to speak of how terrible these events were, in a seemingly genuine manner. We all started to pray about the situation while looking for answers to questions that we don’t exactly know. Our officials, ranging from Mayor Joe Riley to Governor Nikki Haley, took to the airwaves saying how this isn’t a reflection of Charleston or South Carolina only to be met with questions about our state's sketchy racial history and imagery and how they intertwined with Dylann Roof’s motivations. (I still don’t think Roof has the ability to acknowledge the irony of him speaking about “taking his country back” in a Black church which was probably founded well before his people left Europe in a town that essentially acted as the Grand Central Station for Black people in America.)
As much as I wanted to agree with the idea of Charleston and South Carolina as a whole being different and Roof’s actions not being a “reflection of us” I have to disagree. My state’s history is linked to gross examples of hatred and human rights issues that would make Pol Pot nod with approval. The fact that a symbol of racial hatred and treason flies over the statehouse should be enough of an example, but it goes deeper than that.
Our confused and bloody past is linked to the existence of Sullivan’s Island, which acted as the first stop for many slaves coming to America. It’s linked to the fact that men like John C. Calhoun, who wrapped himself in the banner of State’s rights as means to keep slavery viable, are honored with statue in a park a stone’s throw away from Emanuel A.M.E. It’s linked to the fact that a former governor, Ben “Pitchfork” Tillman has buildings named in his “honor” at two of the state’s universities when his actions are considered that of a terrorist by many historians. Names, phrases, and events like “Strom Thurmond,” “Walter Scott,” “Dixiecrat,” and the “Orangeburg Massacre” should act as reminders to whom and what SC is known for. But, alas, “We aren’t like that.”
In modern times, South Carolina has the issues of under educating a good portion of its public school students along one of the main arteries of the state leading to a swath of land with the unfortunate moniker of “The Corridor of Shame” where schools are laughable by modern education standards. Yet somehow our state government has its mind set on recruiting large industry here. But I wonder if they’ve realized that our school systems are so poor that many of the students will struggle obtaining jobs with the companies they’ve recruited. But “We aren’t like that.”
Yes, the fuck we are!
I love my state but I can’t love everything about it. It confuses me on levels that make my head spin. For over 30 years I’ve been trying to reconcile my relationship with South Carolina and I keep getting stuck deeper in the muck of its past and the notion of the muck that will be its future. It’s been a bad study session for a test that can’t be passed because the questions keep changing.
This is your chance South Carolina. We have a history of doing things that don’t make any sense. But this is our chance to reflect and move forward. Do something smart for once, South Carolina. Take the action of reflecting on your past was so that you can adequately look toward an inclusive future in which 30 percent of your state’s population isn’t left scratching their heads when something as horrid as the Emanuel A.M.E. shooting occurs.
South Carolina, fix this shit. Because I’m tired of being confused about how I feel about you. And I’m even more tired of defending you.
Keith lives in Charleston, SC. He has a stupid hot wife, an accent, and a beard with an attitude of its own. He's the lone Oakland Raiders fan without a felony. If given time he can make a comic book or WWII analogy work in any situation. He writes once a year at Up Here on Cloud 9.