I want to openly congratulate my hometown for the way we’ve come together after the tragic deaths of both Walter Scott in North Charleston and the nine parishioners at Mother Emanuel downtown. We have shown the world our uncanny ability to join hands and work towards positive change. We have demonstrated a level of care and compassion for each other that quite frankly didn’t exist before these murders, and it’s particularly telling that all this continues to this day. Our specific brand of Southern hospitality has been kicked up a notch, and I’m thankful for the love being shown by everyone.
Charlestonians are still coming together in their own unique ways, whether it be through poetry clinics, prayer vigils, or food truck rodeos. I’ve had the privilege to be a part of inclusive-minded events like a contemplative conversation hosted by Cathryn Zommer, the executive director of Charleston-based nonprofit Enough Pie; Hi Harmony, a concert put on by the civic-minded nonprofit BACE League; and the upcoming Most Races Show on Earth, a multicultural comedy show produced by local comedian and real estate agent Neil Bansil.
In each of these instances I’ve been blessed to be a part of a situation involving locals doing their best to make a difference in their community. I’m both humbled and flattered to have come to mind when the time has come to make these events a reality.
But now, it’s time to get real. Some people are declaring that this coming together of blacks and whites after the Emanuel murders is simply for show, a facade put on by people who mean well but have no long-term intentions. For these critics, the unity bridge walks and singing are cool, but the problem is that we’re still not talking to each other — at least not in any meaningful way.
Over the past few months, people have talked a lot about their feelings. Black people are angry that other blacks are still dying at the hands of the police more than any other demographic. They feel like their skin makes them targets of incompetent officers. They are confused that it took 10 murders in four months for the rest of South Carolina to finally show compassion about their plight, and they are worried that just because the Confederate flag no longer flies over our state’s capital, everyone’s going to think that racism is officially over. It’s not.
Many white people feel this way as well. I’ve been involved in some heartfelt conversation where they have expressed a range of emotions, from feeling upset because they believe they are unfairly getting lumped in with the actual racists and bigots to feeling frustrated because their eyes have been opened to the fact that, through no fault of their own, they finally realize that they are privy to privileges that others are not.
I see the sides to each story. As a black man, I fully understand the anger and frustration of the black community. I also understand that all white people aren’t bigots, and I can sympathize with their desire to make a positive change in the community even if they’re not exactly sure what to do. These feelings are valid, and if combined properly, they can be a catalyst for long-lasting change.
I’m not as pessimistic as some are about these acts of unity, but I do think it needs to be said plainly that these events are awesome, but they aren’t enough. The good news, though, is that they have brought all of us together. That part can’t be overstated. But since we’re here, we might as well get down to brass tacks, right?
I mean, what good is any type of unity event if when we leave said function, I’m still three times as likely to be arrested as the white person who was standing or sitting right next to me? Why is it that, according to research conducted by the public policy organization Demos, my family is likely to have only around 6 percent of the wealth of a typical white household? Why can’t people understand that this extreme gap in finances leads to fewer opportunities for blacks to own their own businesses, a sure-fire way to create wealth, and much lower home-ownership numbers for blacks, another staple in the creation of wealth? Why is it that people don’t seem to understand that without access to the type of wealth creation that white people have had since the establishment of this country, blacks typically aren’t going to be able to afford to live in the nicer areas of town that, not surprisingly, have better schools?
Speaking of education, why is it that in Charleston County, a black student is almost five times more likely to be suspended and eight times more likely to get expelled from school than a white student? Combine less money with poorer schools, below-average living arrangements, and a higher rate of suspension and expulsion and you create a perfect storm for black youth to get involved in criminal activity. Oh, and did I mention that this less-educated, less-financially secure black kid is more likely to get arrested, forcing them into a system that is statistically proven to hinder any person of color’s ability to create wealth?
See what I’m saying? These unifying events are providing us with plenty of prime opportunities to discuss some of the real issues that keep us apart. The question is, are we ready to do the hard work that is required or are we going back into hiding until the next concert comes around?
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