This past week has been stressful for Charleston as the Michael Slager and Dylann Roof trials have begun. The entire Lowcountry, state, and — it seems — nation is watching. During the first days of the trial determining the fate of the white former police officer who shot an unarmed, black Walter Scott in the back and killed him, it was like the prosecution and defense teams decided to personify the country’s most up-to-date caricatures of approaches to race.
Attorney Andy Savage and his defense team took on the persona of accusatory and suspicious, suburban, and rural white stereotypes that were paraded around through the recently completed presidential election. Ninth Circuit Court Solicitor Scarlett Wilson played the part of the color-blind liberal who will do anything to deny that racism exists. The case is being presented to 11 white and one black juror — the only juror of color to claim he didn’t know anything about the case.
Which brings me to my thoughts this week. I have to admit that I laugh to myself every time a commenter on one of my columns fires back that I’m upset/angry/mad that I can’t find anyone who looks like me and that that is what’s preventing me from having any friends. That’s one I haven’t heard before I started writing this column. But there’s another more common response to pieces written about race by myself and others that sheds light upon a shrinking cultural appreciation for nuance in America — “You just have to turn everything into something racial.”
No, I don’t. And neither do writers like Jesmyn Ward, editor of The Fire This Time; Nicole Chung, essayist, memoirist, and former co-editor of The-Toast.com; or local novelist Savannah Frierson. I mean, NPR/WNYC editor Rebecca Carroll and prolific writer Mira Jacob both write insightful things about race and diversity, but they, like me, also have children to raise and friends to celebrate. Carroll and Jacob, along with fellow op-ed writer and essayist Jamia Wilson, all enjoy spending time with their spouses who “don’t look like them” in the sense that some readers imagine we avoid and bemoan. I too, have a husband who doesn’t look like me, and you know what? I’m not bothered by that one bit. That tired accusation of “making everything racial” tends to be lobbed at anyone — not just writers — who speak up about racial inequity, as if we’re making an attempt to gather some sort of purist social army of our own kind. But believe it or not, I’m not the only person in Charleston who has a bone to pick with the peninsula’s socio-racial mores as I saw last weekend.
The end of October was breathtakingly busy in the Lowcountry. I was running around, catching the inaugural Pat Conroy Literary Festival in Beaufort, the Colour of Music Festival Gala in Charleston, and visiting the Rev. Dr. William Barber’s Moral Revival at Mt. Zion AME Church. If you watched the Democratic National Convention, you may remember Rev. Barber as the speaker who roused the crowd with his call for a “moral defibrillator” to shock America’s heart back into a culture of morality, acceptance, and kindness. Needless to say, it was a great weekend — a weekend where many people at each event didn’t look like each other (gasp!).
The best part? It wasn’t a big deal. The events themselves were big deals, but the diversity? Not so much. It was comfortable. There was no pride, guilt, or uncertainty felt by the audiences nor the organizers. It was so normal. It pains me that the normalcy was so unusual in 2016 that it warrants mentioning, but it does. And I want you to feel that kind of normalcy too, Charleston. Interested? I know it isn’t always easy to find events like this around town, but here are two that have my attention:
Y’ALLFest (Nov. 11-12): Blue Bicycle Books’ annual literary blowout for Young Adult readers has a diverse lineup of authors and almost always has several blocks wrapped with even more diverse readers lined up to meet them. Some of this year’s participating authors include Stephanie Kuehn (Delicate Monsters: A Novel), Jenny Han (P.S. I Still Love You), Renee Ahdieh (The Wrath & the Dawn), Jason Reynolds (All-American Boys), and Daniel José Older (Bone Street Rumba Series).
Charleston Jazz Orchestra’s Holiday Swing (Dec. 2, Charleston Music Hall): Jazz brings everyone together, as does holiday music (as long as it’s not before Thanksgiving). According to Jazz Artists of Charleston’s website, “The South Atlantic coast cradle of North American slavery is a big part of the genesis, evolution and legacy of jazz, an entertainment art form that married the best of European and African attributes in the New World.” Charlton Singleton, director and conductor of JAC’s Charleston Jazz Orchestra, has made this missive modern with a diverse repertoire of music and practitioners, bringing audiences of all backgrounds together for many nights of fun. Jazz doesn’t discriminate and we all know how and why the Holiday Spirit doesn’t either, so consider this event inclusive.
If you don’t tend to interact with (as in spend time with, many people who don’t share your gender, skin color, or abilities and my previous columns left you feeling a bit confused, or one of us somehow left our sense of nuance at the door, I implore you to visit one of these events. If nothing else, you’ll have a good time. And I swear there’s a scientific research paper somewhere that says the world is made better when different kinds of people have a good time while sharing the same space.
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