Category Archives: Race

Colin Powell was a very impressive guy, period

Colin Powell was a very impressive guy, a hero and role model for us all.

He was a man who radiated leadership and strong character. Four-star general. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Secretary of State. He was someone many wanted to see run for president, except that he didn’t want to. (Which makes him preferable in my book than all those people who run for the job every four years when no one asked them. And I don’t hold it against him that he declined. He had given enough to his country, and gave more later.)

So I’m a bit bothered by the way his death was covered by many:

  • Reuters — Colin Powell, the first Black U.S. secretary of state, a top military officer and a national security adviser, died on Monday at age 84 due to complications from COVID-19. He was fully vaccinated, his family said.
  • CBS — Colin Powell, first Black secretary of state, dies at 84 from COVID-19 amid cancer battle
  • CNN — Colin Powell, first Black US secretary of state, dies of Covid-19 complications amid cancer battle
  • USAToday — Colin Powell, first Black secretary of state, dies from COVID-19 complications
  • LATimes — Colin Powell, America’s first Black secretary of State, dies at 84

And here are some headlines that were on the right track, more or less:

  • New York Times — Colin Powell, Who Shaped U.S. National Security, Dies at 84
  • BBC: Colin Powell: Former US secretary of state dies of Covid complications
  • The Washington Post — Colin L. Powell, former secretary of state and military leader, dies at 84

You can probably see where I’m going with this. Colin Powell wasn’t impressive “for a black guy.” He wasn’t great because he was black.

He was impressive for anyone. I suppose some people think there’s nothing special about earning the rank of four-star general. Such people are wrong. It’s a huge accomplishment, and worth a salute from everyone, especially us civilians. But then he went beyond that. And every job he did was a testament to standout characteristics that had nothing to do with the amount of melanin in his skin.

Was the fact that he was black and held these posts interesting, and even a testament not only to his abilities but to the country he served? You bet. As he said during confirmation as secretary of state:

“I think it shows to the world what is possible in this country. It shows to the world that: Follow our model, and over a period of time from our beginning, if you believe in the values that espouse, you can see things as miraculous as me sitting before you to receive your approval.”

Don’t leave it out. Include it in the history book. For that matter, include it in the obit. Celebrate it. (And don’t forget to mention that the man who did these things was a son of immigrants, yet another reason for all of us to take pride in his accomplishments.) But don’t make it the first thing you have to say about him, please.

Because he was much more impressive than that.

Missing the point on gerrymandering

The_Gerry-Mander_Edit

As y’all know, I’m no fan of Identity Politics. Often, though, I seem to fail to explain why to the satisfaction of all my readers. Let me try again.

Today, I eagerly called up an op-ed piece in The Washington Post that was headlined, “The voting fix that cannot wait: Stopping partisan gerrymandering.” I did so harrumphing to myself, Yes, yes, quite right…

But it wasn’t quite right at all. The writer seemed to fail to understand why gerrymandering is a problem, one that is perverting our politics and tearing the country apart. He starts out this way:

The recent wave of voter suppression laws has rightly drawn much attention. But another, even more pernicious wave of anti-voter laws will begin shortly: the redrawing of congressional maps. Unless Congress acts quickly, Americans are on the verge of some of the most aggressive gerrymandering in the country’s history. Inevitably, communities of color, which provided almost all of the country’s growth over the past decade, will bear the brunt of this anti-democratic line-drawing….

His misconception of the problem with the way we redistrict wasn’t confined to his lede. He kept coming back to it again…

Such a ban — along with beefed-up remedies for abuses and uniform standards for drawing maps, including strengthened protections for communities of color — would amount to the most consequential federal redistricting legislation in history….

And again…

What can we expect going forward? In the South, where most of the redistricting hot spots are located, gerrymanders historically have come at the expense of communities of color. This cycle could be even worse….

And again…

Federal legislation would transform how congressional districts are drawn, stepping in where the Supreme Court has stepped out, to restore fairness to the process and strengthen frayed legal protections for communities of color. It also would make it easier and faster for voters to challenge politically or racially discriminatory maps in court, and for the first time require meaningful transparency in a process that historically has taken place behind closed doors….

“Color” appears five times in the piece. Worse, there’s not a mention of “extremism” or “radicalization.” Which, of course, is the real problem with letting the party in power draw the lines for the next decade’s elections: It not only turns primaries into the real election, but causes those primaries to be contests to see which candidate can best appeal to the most committed extremists — the most loyal voters in such party contests. And election after election, the incumbents go farther and farther out on the wings in order to chase away nuttier opponents in the next primary. The members of the two parties give up talking across the aisle, and our republic falls apart.

And if you make the conversation about race, you help them do it. We’ve seen this in every reapportionment since 1990. That’s when Republicans discovered that if they draw a few more “majority-minority districts,” they can create a LOT more unnaturally white districts. Herding all the minorities into (as we’ve seen in South Carolina) a single congressional district, for instance, guarantees that the rest of the state’s delegation will be (with the occasionally brief exception such as the one we saw in the 1st District from 2018 to 2020), fully Republican.

And in election after election, the incumbents and certainly their challengers get more and more extreme. As we saw during the Tea Party and Freedom Caucus stages, leading to the insanity of Trumpism. And now we have a crowd lining up to toss out Tom Rice for the sin of failing to worship the idiot who is their master with sufficient ardor.

Bottom line, if you make it about race, you not only fail to address the real problem, but you can make it worse. As we’ve seen.

What we need is diverse districts — diverse in ways that go far beyond the superficial measure of the color of voters’ skins — that reflect entire, real communities. Not “communities of color” (which apparently is this column writer’s favorite phrase) or communities of ideological nutballs, but true communities that include all people, and elect representatives who try in good faith to serve all of those people.

That’s the only way to save the country from gerrymandering…

DeMarco: Reconsidering Thomas Jefferson

The Op-Ed Page

nickel

A version of this column appeared in the July 21st edition of the Florence Morning News.

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

Reconsidering learned history is difficult. As we are educated, most of us create a world view that portrays the tribe with which we identify in a positive light. For most of America’s existence, schoolchildren have been taught a story favorable to whites. This narrative persists and tends to harden in adulthood.

As I wrote about in a previous post, I continue to learn that my formal and informal education about my country’s and world’s history has been skewed in my favor. This relearning has been particularly difficult with one of my heroes, Thomas Jefferson.

I am a proud class of 1985 graduate of the University of Virginia. More than most universities, UVa reflects the personality of its founder. As I walked the Lawn, I had a window into Jefferson’s expansive mind. I saw him at the drawing board at Monticello, poring over competing designs for his “academical village.”  I was grateful to be one of thousands of students he had inspired. I spent four years at the university in awe of Jefferson’s creativity, intellect, and eloquence.Jefferson

Although I knew he owned enslaved people, I never grappled with the awful reality of what that meant. Despite my four-year sojourn at UVa, I emerged with a child’s understanding of Jefferson. He was an icon, as near to a perfect American as there would ever be. This is partly my own fault; somehow I managed to graduate from UVa without taking any history courses.

One of the things I did learn about Jefferson while at his university was his epitaph. His gravestone is engraved with the following: “Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia.” He was so accomplished that his two terms of president of the United States did not make the cut.

After I graduated, when rumors of Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman whom he owned, gradually bubbled into the press, I was skeptical. This information did not fit with the nearly faultless image I had fashioned for him. I was of the same mind as Dumas Malone who wrote an exhaustive six-volume biography, Jefferson and His Time. Malone opined in the fourth volume that the accusations related to Hemings were “distinctly out of character, being virtually unthinkable in a man of Jefferson’s moral standards and habitual conduct,” and I agreed.

However, in 1998 DNA evidence revealed that Jefferson could have been the father of one or more of Hemings’ six children. To be clear, the evidence is not definitive and there remains a group of scholars who argue strongly that it was another Jefferson relative (his younger brother, Randolph, seems the most likely candidate).

What is known is that Sally Hemings (who was 30 years younger than Thomas Jefferson) was herself the child of Jefferson’s father-in-law and an enslaved woman, Elizabeth Hemings. This made Sally Hemings half-sister to Jefferson’s wife, Martha.

I struggled with the fact that the possibility Jefferson could have been like many of the slave masters of his era who fathered children by their enslaved workers had never occurred to me (or was communicated to me) during my years at UVA. Despite seeing statues of Jefferson on the grounds almost every day, multiple visits to Monticello, and hours of reading, I had not fully reckoned with who Jefferson was. I saw what I wanted to see.

Irrespective of whether Jefferson was the father of Hemings’ children, my subsequent reading forced a deeper examination of the sharp contrast between Jefferson’s exalted words and his actions. Although he did make strong statements condemning slavery throughout his life, he was closely involved in the management and disciplining of the enslaved workers at Monticello. He, like many planters, would have been destitute without them. A nailery at Monticello, which ran mainly on the labors of 10- to 16-year-old boys, was critical to the economic stability of the plantation. The overseers occasionally whipped the children to ensure a sufficient output of nails, a practice about which Jefferson was fully aware. He also recognized the investment potential of enslaved people and calculated that “he was making a 4 percent profit every year on the birth of black children.”

It was unsettling to have my comfortable images of Jefferson transformed in such a disfiguring way. It highlighted for me the fact that when Jefferson wrote the words “All men are created equal,” he was writing about people like himself, white male landowners: not women, not people of color, nor even white men who did not own property. Certainly not Hemings.

I’ve been included in Jefferson’s vision since he penned it over two centuries ago. I have had to fight for none of my rights. My freedom, my ability to live where I wanted, to be educated where I chose, to compete for any job, to expect only respectful deference from the police or any other representatives of government has been guaranteed since the founding of the republic. Not so for so many others.

Seeing our nation for what it really is – both great and deeply flawed, like Jefferson himself – will allow us to better understand and support those for whom the American dream remains unrealized.

Dr. DeMarco is a physician who lives in Marion, and a long-time reader of this blog.

DeMarco: When Did You Learn About the Tulsa Race Massacre?

The Op-Ed Page

Tulsa, Oklahoma burns during the race massacre of 1921.

Tulsa, Oklahoma burns during the race massacre of 1921.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was supposed to run a couple of weeks ago, at the time of the anniversary of what happened in Tulsa, but it didn’t, and it’s entirely my fault. As y’all know, I’ve had a lot going on lately, day and night, and so certain routine activities — such as blogging, and checking my personal email — have fallen by the wayside. Well, yesterday, I managed to put up a post, and I’m getting close to catching up on email (maybe an hour or two of intense monotony left to do, whenever I can find an hour or two). Anyway, I still think we can have a useful conversation on this subject, so with my sincere apologies to Paul, I pass on his column, “When Did You Learn About the Tulsa Race Massacre?”

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

I am astonished and embarrassed that I learned about it so late in life. It’s particularly galling because the black freedom struggle is something I’m interested in and have read about. The March on Washington occurred the year of my birth, and I have always felt a connection to the Civil Rights Movement. The PBS documentary series Eyes on the Prize brought the movement to life for me and propelled me to read the first volume of Taylor Branch’s trilogy Parting the Waters: America in the King Years. My interest in the subject has recently been rekindled and I have resumed my reading about it, focusing on South Carolina’s role in the movement. I just finished Claudia Smith Brinson’s Stories of Struggle: The Clash over Civil Rights in South Carolina which tells of some of the unsung heroes and moments in our state.

I have no memory of hearing about the massacre until earlier this year while I was listening to the podcast Teaching Hard History, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. I learned that the massacre was a brutal decimation of the wealthiest black community in America by an organized white mob. Estimates vary but dozens to hundreds were killed and more than a thousand black homes and hundreds of black businesses were destroyed. After two days of annihilation, approximately a 35-block area had been burned to the ground. No one was ever prosecuted. The 100th anniversary of the massacre coincides with Memorial Day.

The reclamation of this suppressed history is part of the George Floyd effect. Many whites, myself included, had been lulled into believing that America was becoming a post-racial society. But over the past decade there has been a growing sense of incompletion, of too much left undone. This unease began to disturb the national conscience in 2013 with the death of Trayvon Martin, was inflamed by the election of Donald Trump, and reached a tipping point with Floyd’s death. Each name that made national headlines (Garner, Brown, Rice, Scott, Castille, Taylor, etc.) was a message: We are nowhere near finished with racial reconciliation in the U.S.

I’m glad that this part of history is finally being told. The title of the podcast Teaching Hard History is apt. We know the easy, comfortable parts. If you’re a Christian, you will recognize a parallel with our religious education. The story of Tulsa has been treated by whites in a way similar to the way Christians have treated the hard sayings of Jesus. All of us have our favorite comforting verses. But some of what Jesus spoke to his followers was searing. One of the most demanding of Jesus’ prescriptions is found in the gospel of Mark. When a rich young ruler asks Jesus what he must do to have eternal life, Jesus replies, “One thing you lack: Go and sell all you possess and give it to the poor.” Only courageous preachers use this as a sermon text.

Mixed with my gratitude that these neglected stories are finally being told is a disappointment that I have been deliberately miseducated. In contrast to my ignorance of Tulsa, I have retained the name of Denmark Vesey, a free black man who planned a slave revolt in Charleston in 1822. The plot was discovered and he and about thirty of his followers were executed. I remember being taught several times about this. How could I know the name of a man who killed no one but simply scared the bejesus out of white Southerners and not know about Tulsa?

Reasonable people can disagree about what history is essential to teach our children. However, I would submit that not teaching me about the Tulsa massacre was a deliberate omission by a white society that didn’t want to spoil the narrative of its benignity and wholesomeness. In that same vein, in the late seventies when I took South Carolina history in middle school, I was taught the Lost Cause narrative, the crux of which is that the Civil War (usually referred to as “The War Between the States” and sometimes as “The War of Northern Aggression” in my classroom) was about states’ rights, not slavery. Even at that tender age, I remember being confused. Wasn’t the right that all the fighting was about the right to own slaves? I remember arguing this point after class with a friend whose family had lived for generations in the Charleston area. We did not reach consensus.

Some whites are not interested in any reappraisal of our history. Exposing our middle and high school students to this and other episodes of ruthless racially-motivated violence takes some of the shine off the narrative that we have always been the good guys. Conservative politicians and news outlets recognize whites’ fear of this long-overdue reexamination and their desire to change the subject. This desire is the motivation behind the focus on critical race theory (CRT). I suspect that most people who oppose CRT have a very shallow understanding of it. Since they can’t say they are against studying the truth of our racial past, they beat up on the straw man of CRT, which they portray as a shadowy Marxist plot to convince our children to hate America.

Some states, including Oklahoma, have banned CRT and others are trying (Note to legislators: the best way to stoke interest in a subject among young people is to ban it). But most of those who recognize the omissions in the history we teach have no interest in CRT. All we want is for the full, unvarnished story to be told. Hearing the truth of Tulsa and other history like it will be a painful. But it will also set us free.

Dr. DeMarco is a physician who lives in Marion, and a long-time reader of this blog.

The burned-out Greenwood District after the Tulsa Race Massacre.

The burned-out Greenwood District after the Tulsa Race Massacre.

No hate-crimes law? That’s actually a good thing…

The state Chamber of Commerce and other backers of hate-crimes legislation at a recent presser.

The state Chamber of Commerce and other backers of hate-crimes legislation at a recent presser.

I just saw this story in the Post and Courier about the legislative session ending without a South Carolina hate-crimes law being passed.

Well, that’s a good thing — although I’m sure my relief will be short-lived. It’s only a matter of time before pressure from peers and well-intended others — we’re one of only two states without such a law — will have the effect I oppose.

Yes, I know that the motives of those who want such a law are generally kindly, and the motives of many (if not most) people opposing it are abhorrent.

Nevertheless, I’ve opposed the idea as far back as I can recall — here’s a post on the subject from 2007 — and I believe my reasoning is as sound as ever.

This is America, a country where we don’t criminalize thought. We punish actions, not attitudes. There’s a very important reason why all those seemingly different concepts — freedoms of religion, speech, press and assembly — are squeezed together into the very First Amendment to our Constitution. They all assert one thing: They say the government can’t interfere with our freedom of conscience. We get to believe what we want and say what we want and write what we want and hang out with whom we want. And we have a legitimate gripe against the government if it sticks its nose in.

I know that many people feel strongly that such a law is needed. But their arguments don’t add up to anything that outweighs the values expressed in the First Amendment.

I’ve written about this a number of times in the past. I summed up my position fairly succinctly in this comment back in 2009 (which I later elevated to a separate post):

Such things should not exist in America. That’s one of the few points on which I agree with libertarians. Punish the act, not the thought or attitude behind it.

Oh, and I assure you that when I agree with libertarians on anything, I strongly doubt my conclusion, and go back and reexamine it very carefully. But this position has stood up to such scrutiny.

Perhaps you can offer something that will shake my certainty, although at this late date it seems doubtful. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard all the arguments, and while I’ve often admired the sentiment involved, I end up shaking my head at the logic.

But have at it…

What Tim Scott said about race in America

Tim Scott

As I told you previously, such is my complacence with regard to the national government now, with Joe Biden as our president, that I forgot to watch his address to Congress last week.

Consequently, I certainly didn’t watch Tim Scott’s Republican “response.” You recall that I take a dim view of this “tradition” that we’ve had since 1966. It’s rather idiotic. First, it’s not a “response,” because it is written before the president’s address is delivered. It’s basically just a recitation of party talking points, with networks providing free air time. (And now, any national news outlet with a website providing live streaming.)

Here’s the thing: The Constitution requires the president to give Congress an update on the state of the union “from time to time.” He can do it with a scribbled note if he chooses to. But modern presidents have been happy to deliver it in person with much pomp. Fine. Let them do that, and I’m glad the networks are willing to broadcast it when they do. But if the other party wants such a platform as well, they should have to win the next presidential election. Democrats should have no expectation of free air time when the president is named Nixon, Ford, Reagan or Bush, and Republicans should have to sit it out when we have a chief executive named Carter, Clinton, Obama or Biden. Issue all the releases, tweets, etc., you want, and you will get some coverage. But expect no more.

Anyway, this wasn’t a State of the Union, technically.

But on to Tim Scott…

I’ve never had much occasion to say much about him. For one thing, I don’t know him — he rose to statewide prominence after I left the paper, and I’ve never met him, much less sat and talked extensively with him. Secondly, and more to the point, he hasn’t done much to attract attention, until quite recently. For years, I had trouble remembering his name, because it didn’t come up much. When people said “Senator Scott,” I tended initially to think they were speaking of John. Him I know.

It always seemed to me that Tim Scott was sort of maintaining as low a profile as possible — which of course set a stark contrast with our senior senator. South Carolina had elected him (after Nikki appointed him) when he hadn’t done much to attract attention, so he was sticking with the formula. All those white voters seemed pleased to have a black Republican senator, so they could tell everyone “See? We’re not racist!” And that was the sum of his effect on state politics. Why rock that boat by doing or saying anything that drew attention?

That has changed recently, starting with his appearance at the GOP convention last year. For me, it was almost an introduction to Tim Scott. Not only had I never met him, I’d never heard him speak for several minutes at a time.

I formed two impressions:

  1. He seemed like a good and decent man, quite sincere.
  2. He was undermining, even canceling out, all that decency by using it to support the reelection of the man who was by far, by light years, the worst person ever to hold the office.

Anyway, as I said, I missed his recent “response” speech (although I’m listening to it as I type this). But I saw some of the responses to it, which seemed to all center on this passage:

When America comes together, we’ve made tremendous progress. But powerful forces want to pull us apart. A hundred years ago, kids in classrooms were taught the color of their skin was their most important characteristic. And if they looked a certain way, they were inferior.

Today, kids again are being taught that the color of their skin defines them, and if they look a certain way, they’re an oppressor. From colleges to corporations to our culture, people are making money and gaining power by pretending we haven’t made any progress at all, by doubling down on the divisions we’ve worked so hard to heal.

You know this stuff is wrong. Hear me clearly: America is not a racist country. It’s backwards to fight discrimination with different types of discrimination. And it’s wrong to try to use our painful past to dishonestly shut down debates in the present….

I read, for instance, two views in The Washington Post.

The first was actually a step removed from Scott and what he had said. It was headlined, “Kamala Harris has to walk a tightrope on race. This time, she slipped.” This was in response to the vice president having agreed with Sen. Scott on the point that seemed to disturb “woke” Democrats the most. She said “No, I don’t think America is a racist country.” The writer of the column — one Karen Attiah, whom I had to look up because I wasn’t familiar with the name — tried to make excuses for the veep, but nevertheless she “slipped,” leading the writer to conclude:

And especially for women of color, it is exhausting to watch Harris have to walk on the all-too-familiar tightrope of race and gender. Perhaps, in time, Harris will get more space to shine as the administration progresses. Until then, we are all holding our breath.

Yeah, OK. The other piece was by South Carolina’s own Kathleen Parker, and it was headlined, “Liberals just cannot handle a Black conservative,” employing the Post‘s unfortunate recent style of capitalizing references to people’s race. OK… Such an assertion seems more like something that you’d hear on Fox than from such a normally sensible woman as Kathleen. But I suppose that is one way of putting it, since people were calling him “Uncle Tim” on social media. An excerpt:

This, my friends, is (also) what racism looks like in America today.

Let a Black man speak for the GOP; let him defend conservative values that were once considered mainstream; let him challenge the current orthodoxy of systemic racism that pegs Whites as oppressors — and he will feel the wrath of those for whom, as Scott said, belief in racism is essential to political power….

There’s that capitalizing-race thing again. I’ll post about that some other day. (“Capitalizing “Black” bugs me, and capitalizing “White” is just plain offensive. It’s like we’re back to separate restrooms, and they want to make sure the labels pop out so nobody goes into the wrong one.)

For the time being, I responded to the Attiah piece with this tweet:

If she hadn’t answered that way, I think we’d need to have a long conversation about it. But she did, as anyone a heartbeat away from the presidency should. And I see that Jim Clyburn also spoke in agreement with what Scott said.

So, nothing to see here, folks.

As for the Parker piece, I just tweeted it out.

What are your thoughts?

Some really worthwhile recent podcasts

podcast

The news I just got on my phone reminds me of something I meant to share a few days back.

The news is that a cop — actually, now former cop, Brett Hankison — has been indicted in the killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville.

And it reminds me of some podcasts of “The Daily” that I meant to recommend earlier, but forgot.

Most directly, it reminds me of the two-part series the NYT podcast did on “The Killing of Breonna Taylor” on Sept. 9 and 10. Here’s the first part, and here’s the second.

It was really educational. It started with the recording of an incident that happened long before Ms. Taylor’s death, which actually led to the changes in Louisville police procedures that eventually led to the raid that killed her.

It provided a reality-based understanding of what happened. It was horrific, but also contained all the complex texture of real life. You had the fact that this kind of policing was actually based on “reforms” from what had gone before. You were appalled at the bad intel upon which the raid was based. You were as shocked as the cops were when it turned out her boyfriend (who they didn’t know was there) had a gun, and he fired it and nearly killed the first cop in the door by hitting him in the femoral artery. You felt the fear that caused the boyfriend to shoot, and the cops’ panic as they turned their attention from their initial purpose to getting an ambulance to the scene.

And you mourned the shocking tragedy of this young woman’s unnecessary death.

And, when Hankison was indicted today, you had the background to think, “Well, if one person was going to be indicted, he was the one.” (That is, if he’s the one — and the sketchy reports I’m reading indicate he was — who, in the podcast, was described as stepping away from the apartment entrance during the confusion and firing wildly at the apartment and a neighboring apartment, through the walls and windows. That guy was fired back in June, if my memory serves.)

The podcast gave insights that exceed the simplicity of the black-and-white demands of protesters, or of idiot presidents who criticize those who protest.

Anyway, I recommend it, if you can get past the paywall (I’m not sure how that works with podcasts; I’m a subscriber).

And I also recommend one from a couple of days earlier, which was less depressing — even uplifting — but also ultimately distressing.

It was called “Who Replaces Me?” It was the story, told in his own words, of a veteran black cop from Flint, Mich. You learn of his background as a kid who grew up with a father in prison, determined to be whatever his father was not. You hear about him becoming a cop, and amazing his trainers out on patrol, because on every call, he knows and understands the people on the scene.

You hear about him being the guy who intervened when white cops weren’t giving any basic human consideration to black suspects. You hear the stories of when he has “given out his cellphone number, driven students to prom and provided food and money to those who were hungry.” You hear his quiet pride at the service he provides to his community.

And then you hear of his dismay and disillusionment at such events as the killing of George Floyd. It’s the voice of a guy who finds himself contemplating retirement, but wondering, “Who Replaces Me?”

It’s the story of a hero — the real kind, not the cartoon sort. The kind of guy whose narrative doesn’t fit easily into the narratives of left or right.

Anyway, if you can, I recommend listening to that, too…

 

 

 

Not a thing you expect to see happen in Columbia

A police car burns in downtown Columbia.

A police car burns in downtown Columbia.

Two weeks ago, my church started having live masses again. I continued to watch them online, but they were happening. Now, they’ve been stopped again — by a curfew, in response to violence.

I didn’t post about this yesterday, because I was hoping to know a lot more if I waited. I still can’t say I know a lot. Local media seem to be trying hard, but there are more questions than answers.

So I’m still where I was when I saw the first reports of violence and gunshots near the police station downtown. My reaction then was, Hold on. Something is really, really off here. Things like this don’t happen in Columbia.

And they don’t. Normally, public demonstrations — particularly those having to do with issues touching on racial tension — are very much in the dignified, MLK tradition of civil witness. I’ve certainly been to plenty of them, with regard to the flag and other matters. And there are certain things you expect — things that make you proud to live in a community such as this one.

Columbia has a long tradition of this. In the early and mid-’60s, both black and white leaders in the community looked around the country, and they began talking to each other to try to get us through desegregation without the strife seen elsewhere. This was harder than it looks from today’s perspective. There was no venue for such conversations — black and white folks coming together as equals — to take place. Then-president Tom Jones offered to let them meet on campus at USC. These conversations led, among other things, to a relatively peaceful desegregation of downtown businesses.

Out of those conversations grew the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council, whose board I felt honored to serve on for several years (until just a few months ago). We didn’t accomplish anything so dramatic during my time, but the spirit that those meetings in the ’60s represented — let’s get together and figure out how to solve this — seemed reflected in how we talked about difficult issues in Columbia.

Even when horrible, evil things happened in South Carolina — such as the murders of those nine good people in Charleston in 2015 — I remember seeing comments from people wondering why South Carolina didn’t explode violently the way other places had with less provocation. Instead, leaders came together to mourn, and then to take action, together, to get rid of the flag. Yep, all they did was something that should have been done decades earlier — which means that yes, we still have plenty to be ashamed of in South Carolina — but they did it.

So when I saw that there would be a demonstration in Columbia about the death of George Floyd, I figured it would be a demonstration that would show other places how this kind of thing is done — sober witness, a sharing of grief, an airing of frustration that would demand respect.

And, from what I have heard, that’s what happened. There was such a demonstration at the State House.

But then later, several blocks away, all hell broke loose. Violence. Police cars — and a U.S. flag — set on fire. Rocks thrown. Shots fired. Fifteen cops injured. It’s probably happened before, but I can’t remember when one cop has been injured in a riot in Columbia. Certainly nothing like this.

I’m not seeing these comments in the paper this morning, but yesterday I kept hearing from family members (as y’all know, I’m not much of a TV news watcher) that local leaders such as Mayor Steve Benjamin and Sheriff Leon Lott were saying (if you can help me with a link, it would be appreciated) the violence was the work of people from out of town.

In other words, their reaction sounds like it was the same as mine: Things like this don’t happen in Columbia.

Mind you, these are leaders who themselves had expressed their outrage at what happened to George Floyd. But they weren’t going to let people tear this town apart with pointless violence.

In Columbia, people protest. But they do it in a civilized manner, as we saw at the State House.

This was something else. And thus far, local officials are reacting appropriately to calm things down: Honoring those who express their grief and concerns in a rational manner. Stopping those who do things that don’t help any cause.

There’s a lot more to be done, locally and especially nationally. There are a lot of conversations to be had, and action to be taken. But for a community that’s unaccustomed to this kind of violence, we seem to be responding to it pretty well so far…

What did Harpootlian say that was so bad?

debate NH

I watched the Democratic debate the other night — or most of it — but wasn’t interested enough to Tweet about it or anything.

I almost did at one point, but I wanted to take time to do a little research — refresh my memory.

What I had wanted to say was, “What was it Dick Harpootlian said that was so bad that Steyer thought it could be damaging to Biden?”

So I went back and read the stories about the contretemps between Dick and Jerry Govan — neither of them any stranger to confrontation — and came away still wondering that same thing.

It all started with a Tweet from Harpo:

That one was followed up by this:

Then, this happened:

After the state House and Senate let members out of a joint session, the Legislative Black Caucus met in a closed-door meeting, and then held a press conference in the State House lobby. As members of the caucus exited their meeting, Harpootlian waved and said ‘hello’ to Govan, who stared back and waved his index finger in the air…

At the press conference, Harpootlian was accused of being racist. Harpootlian disagreed, and said “I will not be silenced by those who use race as a shield from criticism.”

By the way, only certain members of the Black Caucus backed Govan in this:

State Sen. Marlon Kimpson, a Charleston Democrat and Biden supporter, noted that he and several other members of the Black Caucus did not participate in the press conference.

“It was to his benefit to give the impression that it was a Black Caucus press conference but it simply was not,” Kimpson said.

Kimpson argued Steyer “took advantage” of an internal dispute between SC lawmakers and “distorted the the facts” to hit Biden…

For his part, after the debate, Tom Steyer couldn’t answer Dick’s question about what Govan has done for the money:

“I’m not the person running the campaign,” Steyer said. “I know he’s a senior advisor and I know he’s been working for us. Exactly what that means, I don’t know.”

So I guess I should have sent that Tweet during the debate. Because I still don’t see what Dick said that was so bad. I mean, especially by Harpootlian standards.

But Steyer isn’t trying to convince me. He’s trying to sow enough doubt among Biden’s black support in South Carolina to damage him.

Which seems to me like a pretty cheesy move. I had been sort of neutral on Steyer before this. This knocks him a notch lower than that now in my book…

What on Earth is the appeal of blackface to these white guys?

REALLY?

REALLY?

I mean, seriously, how does the idea even occur to them? And when it occurs to them, what insanity causes them to go ahead with it?

My wife and I were wondering about this last night, and trying to figure out who would do such a thing. The usual story is that these people did it when they were young and foolish. But back when WE were young and foolish, it never, ever would have occurred to us — and if it had, we’d have run screaming in the other direction. Seriously, what possible good outcome could anyone anticipate from being photographed like Justin Trudeau, above?

The usual explanations don’t hold water at all. Trudeau was supposedly trying to look like Aladdin? Whaaaat? Don’t you think he’d have looked more like Aladdin without the makeup? I do. But maybe y’all have a different image of Aladdin. And if you wanted to impersonate Michael Jackson, seems like you’d just learn to moonwalk.

Trudeau’s apparently obsession with dressing up this way suggests to us that it was something that happened among guys somewhere between my age and the current generation of young people. He’s 47, even though he looks younger. This caused me to put forth a theory that it was the Reagan era that did it. There was a lot of pushing back against the racial sensitivities of the 60s and 70s on the part of the “greed is good” crowd in the 80s.

But then I saw that Virginia’s Northam is technically a Boomer. That shoots that down.

Then we wondered whether it was a Greek thing. In the sense of fraternities, not the nationality. Maybe that’s what makes me mistakenly think no one in my generation would do such a thing. Because people who joined fraternities in my day were seriously out of touch with the times, real outliers, and I had nothing to do with them. And there’s something about these photos that suggests frat life. But maybe that’s because I’m just prejudiced against frats.

The people who believe in Identity Politics would probably assume that, being a white guy, I would understand this phenomenon. But I can’t even begin to. I don’t get it at all.

But maybe some of you other white guys out there can explain it. Or maybe someone else can…

Benjamin, Kennell honored by Community Relations Council

Matt Kennell and Steve Benjamin, with their awards.

Matt Kennell and Steve Benjamin, with their awards.

It occurred to me today that I don’t tell y’all enough about the doings of the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council. Which means I’m not being a very good board member.

So, since we had our big annual luncheon today at the convention center, and I tweeted about it, I thought I’d share a couple of highlights:

For instance:

  • Matt Kennell of City Center Partnership is the 2018 recipient of the CRC’s Milton Kimpson Community Service Award.
  • Mayor Steve Benjamin received the organization’s Hyman Rubin Distinguished Service Award.
  • Jennifer Reed was installed as our new board chair, succeeding Hal Stevenson. Hal made the point that she is Jennifer Clyburn Reed, although her relationship to her famous Dad the congressman isn’t something she brings up all that much:

The awards Matt and Steve received are named for two of the first leaders of the CRC, and are given to people who have led in ways that reflect the same spirit. The Council was formed during the civil rights era of the early ’60s by black and white leaders who wanted to see Columbia integrate peacefully, without a lot of the civil unrest that occurred in other Southern cities. Just meeting to discuss those issues was a sort of radical act at the time, and the black and white leaders met on the USC campus, as the guests of then-President Tom Jones, as there was no other place in town where such a gathering would be been accepted.

Today, the Council continues to promote civil conversations about difficult issues facing the whole community.

The role I play is that I’m co-chair — with Roscoe Wilson, who is also related to someone famous, his daughter A’ja Wilson — of the Council’s Community Affairs Committee. We convene issues forums (such as this one on Bull Street) and candidate debates (such as this city council debate), and we’ll be kicking off this year’s monthly Hot Topic sessions with one on affordable housing in August.

Watch this space for more on upcoming programs.

Oh, and as I mentioned in a comment to Doug earlier, I ran into James Smith and Mandy Powers Norrell at the luncheon. No, I did not see Henry McMaster…

DgtgiFfWAAQGaUR

 

This test says I’m a racist — but a moderate one, let me add!

trap

Y’all know I’m a sucker for a written test, even if, as I take it, I can hear the voice of Admiral Ackbar crying, “It’s a trap!”

Which was sort of the case with this one as it proceeded. Even as I thought I could see the trap taking shape and closing on me, hubris kept me going, hoping I’d ace it anyway.

I didn’t.

I was attracted to the test by this item on the radio this morning. It was a story about all the Starbucks stores that are closed for racial-sensitivity training as I type this. Then came the hook:

How to evaluate your own bias:

The Takeaway invites you to participate in an assessment of your own implicit biases. Click here to access Harvard University’s “Project Implicit.” If this is the first time you’re attempting the test, you’ll have to continue as a guest. Select your country and language, then press “GO!” At the bottom of the next page, click “I wish to proceed.” Then select “Race IAT” — or other implicit association test of your choice — from the following page, and continue to follow the prompts from there to take the test. It should last about 10 minutes.

I went for it, of course. The result? It said “Your data suggest a moderate automatic preference for European Americans over African Americans.

Which kinda ticked me off, even though I saw it coming. What caused this conclusion of my racism?

I’ll tell you, but I ask you to go take the test before reading my explanation. No, really, I mean it now! Go take it before you read past this…

SPOILER ALERT!

The test starts off by lulling you. It asks you questions you’d have to be a major, racist jerk — and a particularly dumb one at that — to answer “wrongly.” Questions like whether you prefer white people to black people, and to what degree.

Then there’s another batch of obvious-pitfall questions, about whether you think poor people are that way because they’re lazy and shiftless.

Then comes the trick part. From the beginning, I’m screwed because you’re supposed to respond as quickly as you can. That always messes me up. I like being rushed even less than other people do; in fact it’s a major personal peeve. My hand/eye coordination is about as quick as that of the average giant sloth, and I know it, and I get rattled.

But I can, eventually, sorta kinda get into the rhythm of the thing.

Anyway, in this part of the test, you’re supposed to, as quickly as possible, either hit the e key with your left hand or the i key with your right.

And here’s where it gets REALLY tricky: You’re not supposed to respond according to what you think, but according to how you have been told in advance to respond. And the way you have been told to respond is in a completed irrational, arbitrary manner.

In this portion of the test, the e and the i correspond to “good” and “bad” (or was it the other way around?). Onto your screen will flash two kinds of input — one of a set of photos of faces, and the other and set of words that are obviously expressing either positive associations (such as “happy”) or negative ones (such as “dirty”).

In the first half of this portion, you are instructed to click one of the letters for both black faces and positive words, and the other letter for white faces and negative words. This was kind of silly and irrational, and I hit the wrong key a couple of times, but I muddled through, and thought I was getting a little faster toward the end.

Then, once you’re warmed up, it reverses on you. You are instructed to hit one key for both black faces and negative words, and the other for white faces and positive words. This was both stupid and offensive, but I followed the instructions, and started doing it a bit faster as I went.

And as I did so, I suspected I was getting myself in trouble by getting better at following the instructions.

Sure enough, I was labeled moderately racist for getting a little faster in that last part — because, in the assumptions of the test creators, supposedly it was easier for my brain to associate the positive words with white faces, and negative ones with black ones. And that, they say, is why I did it more quickly.

Obviously, I believe that if it had been the other way around, with white folks associated with good words first, and bad words second, I would still have been faster on the last part. And then I would have been seen as having a moderate preference for black people, which I think would also have been kind of a bogus result.

But I don’t know that. And I kind of doubt that it would be valid to take it again. So I’ll just share with you what it said about me. The result is what it is…

OK, let’s talk about Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’

Doug and Norm were talking about Childish Gambino’s “This is America” video. So I made my usual joke about “What’s a Childish Gambino?,” and then I went to look at it. (I had recorded SNL over the weekend, but hadn’t watched it yet.)

Apparently, this is the “I Am the Walrus” or “American Pie” of the moment, with everyone trying to interpret the references. So I went and watched it. And I didn’t find it to be all that mysterious, although I’m sure I missed a lot on that one run-through. I felt like I “got” what I saw, but I’d need to watch it a few more times to catch things I missed, and wonder about things I don’t get.

This was my stream-of-consciousness reaction, which I’m rethinking even as I post it here, but this was the way it played for me as I watched:

I watched it. I get it.

It’s about reparations.

And it’s also about a whole lot of other images and ideas from the black experience in America, spanning centuries. You have the references to “contraband” all the way through apparently random gun violence, and life going on around it.

The care of the guns just refers to the way we cherish them in America. We have another shooting, and elected leaders sort of close ranks in making sure nothing changes and the holy gun is protected.

He also runs through various caricatures of the Dangerous Black Male that white society has traditionally feared — the sexualized dancing, the violence, the drugs. His mugging facial expressions, some of his dance moves, the whites of his frightened eyes being the first thing you see in the darkness when he’s being chased at the end — all those things make cultural references to the black man as a ridiculous figure of entertainment for whites. So you have this jarring, sudden, back-and-forth going on between a minstrel show stereotype and the dangerous stereotype.

And the old cars remind me of the days of Hollywood’s blaxploitation fad, although they may be a little more recent than that.

The kids are in school uniforms, which seems a reference to the way people think one way of addressing social ills is to put kids in such uniforms. Yet the chaos goes on around them.

It’s interesting. I like that the music has a Caribbean feel to it (at least to my ears). After all, the black experience in America largely came first through the West Indies. South Carolina, the most pro-slavery state in the Union, was initially settled by people who had practiced a particularly brutal form of chattel slavery in Barbados.

And on and on.

Doug thinks I’m clueless. I’m not. The old guy who’s out of it is just a character I play on TV. Or on social media, anyway…

That’s first-blush, without looking to see what others thought of it.

Thinking back, I’m not sure I should have said “Caribbean.” It sounded exotic to my ears, and for whatever reason I thought “Caribbean.” Maybe it’s the way the guy’s dressed, as a combination between a slave working in cane fields (the American form of slavery got its start with sugar cane cultivation) and a Calypso dancer. Wait… I searched on that, and it seems calypso dancers aren’t as a rule shirtless. Don’t know why I thought they were.

Anyway, there’s a lot to unpack here…

Oh, and Childish Gambino? It’s Donald Glover. The guy I keep thinking is related to Danny Glover, but isn’t….

mugging

One place I did not expect to find cheesy artificial diversity

secessionist

Original photography is expensive. So website designers on a budget often opt for stock photography.

If you choose well, you find some that goes well with your site, enhancing your message or the image of your organization without distracting.

But if you choose poorly, you can come across as cheesy and artificial.

One thing stock photo providers offer businesses and organizations is the chance to project “diversity,” which may be desirable to the client. This can work, but like anything it can look out of place or contrived, and not only because the viewer is likely to ask, “How does a photographer find a group of people who not only represent every race under the sun, but are all wholesomely good-looking?”

stockAnyway, I ran across that kind of photo today in the unlikeliest of places: the website of the Secessionist Party of South Carolina.

Yeah, yeah, I know: Party chair James Bessenger has been trying hard to demonstrate that his organization is not racist, most laughably notably by pushing for recognition of basically nonexistent black Confederate soldiers.

But, come on. Surely we’re not to think that this is the aftermath of a Secessionist Party board meeting. These kids look like they just collapsed in exhaustion on that hilltop after too many takes of singing “I’d like to teach the world to sing…

Anyway, it was a bit… incongruous….

Graham should be more specific about what he heard

You were there, Senator. So what did the president say, and how did he say it?

You were there, Senator. So what did the president say, and how did he say it?

Since some Republicans, after a day or two of thinking about it, started claiming Trump didn’t really say “s___hole” (hilariously, one of the lines of defense has been to claim he really said “s___house“) it’s refreshing that Lindsey Graham has stuck to his original version of the story, as Andy Shain reports:

Trouble is, his original story remains vague and indirect. He seems to want to have his cake and eat it, too — to call the president out for his racist assertions without quite, you know, calling him out.

We know from colleague Tim Scott that Graham told him the media reports of what Trump said were “basically correct.”

And Graham has made sure that we know that he gave Trump a piece of his mind in response to, you know, whatever he said:

When Trump made the incendiary remark, Graham spoke up, telling the president that “America is an idea, not a race.”

“I tried to make it very clear to the president that when you say ‘I’m an American,’ what does that mean?” Graham said. “It doesn’t mean that they’re black or white, rich or poor. It means that you buy into an ideal of self-representation, compassion, tolerance, the ability to practice one’s religion without interference and the acceptance of those who are different.

“So at the end of the day, an American is a person who believes in ideals that have stood the test of time,” Graham added. “It’s not where you come from that matters, it’s what you’re willing to do once you get here.”…

Agreed, senator. But since people are standing up and saying Trump didn’t say what he said, it would be helpful if you’d be the truthteller and give us a precise account of what you heard.

As the late Howard Baker might have said, What did the president say, and how did he say it?

Racist signs at USC: Was it a Bernie Bro?

Racist signs found at USC.

Racist signs found at USC./Photo from Twitter feed of @KingShady__.

Students returned to USC for the spring semester today to find racist messages taped up in several university buildings, including one on a display case outside the African-American Studies department in Gambrell Hall.

The precise nature of the messages was interesting. As the Charleston paper quoted:

“We’ve endured a YEAR of Blumpf instead of enjoying one of Bernie because your DUMB BLACK A**** just pull the lever for whomever the party (illegible),” one sign says in Williams’ photo.

“All this bull**** about a ‘King’ when you (illegible) simpletons can’t even pick a candidate properly,” a second sign says. “You stupid monkeys handed Trump the White House the minute you handed Hillary the nomination!”

So… is this the work of a Bernie Bro? Or someone trying to deflect blame and pin it on a Sanders enthusiast?

Whoever did it, it’s pretty disgusting.

(I got the image above from this Tweet.)

Duke Twitter flap: But was it ‘racial’?

blur

I’m musing over terminology after reading about the sportswriter who got himself into hot water at a Duke roundball game on Dec. 2.

Here’s what happened, as I understand it:

  • College Insider reporter John Stansberry made some cracks on Twitter about some students who were right behind him at the game.
  • One of the students took offense, I’m assuming because of his reference to her and her friends as “Asian chicks.” But the student’s explanation of her anger on Facebook wasn’t specific. It may have been the Cheap Trick thing.
  • Duke revoked his credentials for the rest of the season.
  • He became an Unperson. His Twitter account is gone, and apparently College Insider (or someone) has erased traces of his existence. (I base this on the fact that, if I Google “John Stansberry College Insider,” I get a bunch of links that say, “CollegeInsider.com: John Stansberry’s College Basketball Notebook.” But I get a “Not Found” error if I click on them. Down the memory hole, I guess. Like Garrison Keillor.)

All of which seems fairly straightforward in a day when we’re used to people being more or less disappeared for stepping over lines.

But I’m confused by news stories that refer to the incident as “racial” or “racist.”

“Racial” maybe, in the sense that a reference to race was made. But that doesn’t seem to be a primary concern of the young woman who complained. She made a passing reference to herself as a member of the set “Asian women,” but didn’t indicate that that was what bothered her about what the wiseguy did. She seemed mostly bothered about being discussed before the world when all she was doing was watching a basketball game.

But “racist?” I ask because the college paper mentioned this among several instances in a story headlined “‘We were just kind of shocked’: Asian American students report racist comments in recent weeks.”

Yeah, the “Cheap Trick” seems to be kind of snide, presumably a reference to this. But racist? And if this guy is actually part Asian, as the reference to “my Korean mother” would indicate, can it be racist? I don’t know.

I don’t know. The whole thing kind of hovers on the edge of a number of hot-button issues that are in vogue — privacy in a social media age, safe spaces in academia, sexism, racism(?), and so forth — that I thought I’d offer it for discussion.

I do know one thing: If he’d been doing his phony-baloney job and paying attention to the game, we wouldn’t have all of this. But that’s the editor in me….

And I didn’t mean to go on about it this long. But whenever I can come up with anything even vaguely sports-related for you, my dear readers, I try to oblige…

CheapTrick_Live_atBudokan

You say we NEED the slaves to work the fields? So much for philosophy…

The capacity of the human mind for rationalization is an amazing thing. The things we can talk ourselves into without breaking a sweat…

Seeing this sentence this morning in a story about honoring the slaves who built USC sent me off on a tangent: “Sancho and his wife Lucy became the property of Thomas Cooper, president from 1821 to 1833 of what was then South Carolina College, with Sancho becoming a well-known figure on campus.”

Thomas Cooper

Thomas Cooper

My wife’s mother was a Cooper. All the Coopers in living memory lived in West Tennessee, but I knew that if you followed the line back to the mid-19th century, some of the Coopers lived here in Richland County, SC. And a number of Coopers were named Thomas.

So I had often wondered whether there was a connection to the famous Thomas Cooper of USC, and this morning I decided to read up on him.

Apparently, there’s no connection, since the academic Cooper was originally from England — whereas my wife’s Cooper ancestors had been in America a couple of generations ahead of him. With such common first and last names, that’s hardly surprising.

But I found reading about the USC Cooper interesting. He was apparently quite the philosopher, friend to Thomas Jefferson and other leading lights of the time. But this bit from Wikipedia sort of blew me away:

He supported the institution of slavery, although he had strenuously opposed the slave trade. In the mid to late 1780s Cooper fought passionately against “that infamous and impolitic traffic”. He wrote that “negroes are men; susceptible of the same cultivation with ourselves”, claimed that “as Englishmen, the blood of the murdered African is upon us, and upon our children, and in some day of retribution he will feel it, who will not assist to wash off the stain”. But in America Cooper accepted slavery itself, as he doubted that “in South Carolina or Georgia…the rich lands could be cultivated without slave labour”….

Let me make sure I’m following you, Tom: The slave trade is “infamous.” People of African descent are just as human as whites and just as worthy, and all of us who fail to do something to remedy this injustice are deserving of “retribution.”

But hey, we need them to work the plantations, so never mind! That cotton’s not going to pick itself!

Wow. He was celebrated for his great intellect, and this is how he used it…

A discussion Friday about lessons from Charlottesville

Photo by Evan Nesterak obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

Photo by Evan Nesterak obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

Remember a couple of months back, when I moderated a forum for the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council about the Bull Street redevelopment project?

Well, tomorrow we’re going to have another one that may interest you. It starts at 11:30 a.m. at the offices of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce offices at 930 Richland St.

The topic is “Lessons from Charlottesville.” The idea is to have a discussion about the implications for our own community arising from the issues raised there.

We expect 30 or so people, including Tameika Isaac Devine from city council, J.T. McLawhorn from the Columbia Urban League, and Matt Kennell from the City-Center Partnership.

Bryan came to the Bull Street one, and I think he found the discussion interesting. I did, anyway.

Whether y’all can come or not, I’d like a little advice. I’ve thrown together a short list of questions to offer to the group. The questions are just ways to keep the discussion going as needed. These discussions don’t follow a formal structure, with questions followed by timed answers, or anything like that.

Here are the ones I have. Suggestions?

  1. Could what happened in Charlottesville happen here? If not, why not? And if so, what can we do to prevent it?
  2. Even if we are spared the violence we saw in Virginia, how should we here in the Midlands respond to the issues that confrontation laid bare?
  3. President Trump has been roundly criticized for his response to what happened. What would you like to hear elected leaders in South Carolina say regarding these issues?
  4. Being the capital of the first state to secede, we have more Confederate monuments here than in most places. What, if anything, should we do with them?
  5. Has anyone present had a change of attitude or perspective, something that you’d like to share, as a result of the re-emergence of these issues onto the nation’s front burner?

1024px-Lee_Park,_Charlottesville,_VA

KKK questions in the 5th grade, and the ‘virtues of slavery’

They may look scary, but look at it from their perspective, kids...

They may look scary, but look at it from their perspective, kids…

Well, we’re in The New York Times again. This time it’s for asking a bit much of 5th-graders in Irmo:

“You are a member of the K.K.K.,” the fifth-grade homework assignment read. “Why do you think your treatment of African-Americans is justified?”

The work sheet, given on Thursday as part of a lesson on the Reconstruction period, caused an outcry after one student’s uncle, Tremain Cooper, posted a photo of the assignment on Facebook.

“This is my little 10-year-old nephew’s homework assignment today,” he wrote. “He’s home crying right now.”

Mr. Cooper identified the teacher as Kerri Roberts of Oak Pointe Elementary School in Irmo, S.C., a suburb of Columbia, and added, “How can she ask a 5th grader to justify the actions of the KKK???”

Reached by phone, Ms. Roberts’s husband said she was unavailable and was “not going to comment on anything.”…

Hoo, boy.

Of course, that’s a perfectly fine question to ask, to get the ol’ gray matter working — in a graduate poli sci course. I think it’s a shame that Ms. Roberts — who is on suspension pending investigation of the incident — isn’t commenting, because I would dearly love to know the thinking behind asking 5th-graders to tackle it.

Had she even looked at the lesson before she passed it out? Or was this enterprise on her part? Had she decided to go for a real challenge, asking her students to reach for understanding beyond their years?

One thing I’ll say in defense of this: It’s a more reasonable question than this one asked in California:

In February, second graders at Windsor Hills Elementary School in Los Angeles were asked to solve a word problem: “The master needed 192 slaves to work on plantation in the cotton fields. The fields could fill 75 bags of cotton. Only 96 slaves were able to pick cotton for that day. The missus needed them in the Big House to prepare for the Annual Picnic. How many more slaves are needed in the cotton fields?”

Correct answer: “That’s a trick question! Masters don’t have to do math!”

Of course, we have at least one person here in South Carolina who might love to be asked such a question. His letter to the editor appeared in The State today:

Teach truth about the virtues of slavery

The recent controversy about Confederate monuments and flags ultimately revolves around one man and one question. The man is John C. Calhoun, the great philosopher and statesman from South Carolina, and the spiritual founding father of the Confederacy. The question is: Was Calhoun right or wrong when he argued, from the 1830s until his death in 1850, that the South’s Christian slavery was “a positive good” and “a great good” for both whites and blacks?

If Calhoun was wrong, then there may be grounds for removing monuments and flags.

But if Calhoun was right, the monuments and flags should stay and be multiplied, blacks should be freed from oppressive racial integration so they can show the world how much they can do without white folk, the Southern states should seize their freedom and independence, and the North should beg the South’s pardon for the war.

Calhoun’s views are unpopular today because, since 1865, the Yankee-imposed education system has taught all Americans that the South’s Christian slavery was evil and that everyone is equal. But unpopularity cannot make a truth untrue, and popularity cannot make error truth.

WINSTON MCCUEN
AIKEN

“If Calhoun was right….”

Excuse me while I sit here and try to come up with a justification of Mr. McCuen’s point of view. It might be on the six-weeks test…

This is where the South Carolina Court of Appeals sits.

This is where the South Carolina Court of Appeals sits.