Yesterday, outside of Charleston City Hall, leaders from the South Carolina Secessionist Party and the Charleston Black Nationalist Movement gathered to hold a press conference to make a “statement to prevent violence against one another” in the wake of the tragic events that took place in Charlottesville, VA. While I commend these two groups for committing to working together in the name of peace, I was troubled by what was implied during this announcement.
The press conference was lead by Tyler Bessenger (the South Carolina Secessionist Party) and Shakem Amen Akhet (Charleston Black Nationalist Movement). As the two men offered up their respective statements of purpose, some light banter and a reference to their previous night’s beer summit, I couldn’t help but cringe.
You see, the Secessionist Party, most notably in recent months, has attempted to terrify the citizens of Charleston with their numerous “Confederate Grand Flaggings” in high-traffic, high-visibility areas. These “flaggings” are often staged during times where Black voices are speaking out against the blatant racist symbolism of the Confederate flag (Bree Newsome’s College of Charleston appearance) or following a fatal terror attack (ex: Charlottesville, Va.) where they took to Folly Beach this past Sunday, proudly displaying the same flags adopted by the Nazis and White Nationalists on the weekend of Heather Heyer’s death.
The Secessionist Party here in Charleston are unashamed. They are unfettered by our protests and cries for change. And why would they be? Their symbols of division are accepted among mainstream, White culture here in the Palmetto State. Moreover, many of our lawmakers support this painful reminder and have pledged to keep it at the forefront of our consciousness. A flag that has been present at nearly each major race related act of violence perpetrated against Blacks. A flag that has been used to scare Blacks in the South into submission. A symbol of hate chosen by the Ku Klux Klan for generations. A flag adored by the despicable Dylann Roof.
So, I beg the question: Why did members of the Black community have to be present to denounce racial violence? Where have we, historically, been responsible for any race based terror in Charleston? (Please note: If you are thinking of using slaves revolting against their oppressors for survival, you can have a seat.)
For far too long, Charleston and its residents have subscribed to a notion that in order to feel better about our painful past here in the cradle of slavery, we need Black passivity. We need those wronged by the institution of White Supremacy to forgive wrong doers and in quick order. We need Charleston to “shine as an example” of peace and harmony to the world by way of African American acquiescence. We saw this following the devastating shooting at Mother Emanuel. Plagued by Southern civility and politeness, many celebrated the fact that Blacks didn’t rise up and take to the streets in protest … which they would have every right to do. I am in no way advocating violence. But I would like to see Charleston become more comfortable with strong Black figures who demonstratively demand justice and equality without apology.
Following yesterday’s press conference, I was left slack-jawed by the outpouring of comments that commended the men on their show of civility. All the while, knowing the mere presence of the Black community at this “spectacle of performative racial reconciliation” would largely serve as tacit statement that African Americans must excuse the abhorrent behavior of White Supremacists in order for Charleston to “Heal.”
African Americans living in the Holy City need to know this one true thing: The use of violence as a tool to terrorize communities to reach political goals has never been our legacy. It has been a tool of White Supremacy. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with an avowed “Son of the Confederacy” isn’t how we achieve racial justice. However, standing up to them at every turn is.
Tamika “Mika” Gadsden is the Lead #reSISTER with the official South Carolina Chapter of Women’s March on Washington and manager of The Charleston Activist Network platform.