Do you watch Viceland?
It’s a cable channel started, in part, by Spike Jonze. Mr. Jonze, for the unaware, is the man responsible for many of my favorite music videos including “Buddy Holly” by Weezer, “Flashing Lights” by Kanye West, and “Praise You” by Fatboy Slim. He also directed the movie Being John Malkovich, which should automatically make him one of your favorite directors — but that’s a conversation for another day.
I asked if you have heard about Viceland because, out of the blue, I received an email from a producer from a show that runs on the aforementioned channel. He wanted to ask me questions about Charleston as they had plans to come down and film an episode for the show he was working on. I won’t bore you with the specifics of our conversation but the crux of it centered around the racial and emotional climate of Charleston since the massacre at Mother Emanuel. We had a great conversation but, I will say, our talk got me thinking about something, surprisingly, I had never thought of before: What exactly makes Charleston so strong?
It’s not like this is a 50 year old phrase that we’ve always used to describe the people of Charleston. Naw, we straight ganked it. Because of what happened, someone thought it was a cool idea to remix it for our use as a way to, I dunno, describe the resolve of Holy City citizens. Which, on a sidenote, is pretty lame when you think about it. For one, everyone knows that you’re not allowed to give yourself a nickname. It’s considered showy and unauthentic, both of which go against brand, Charleston. We are polite, we are cordial, we cook great food, drink all the booze, and love organized religion. And secondly, it already belonged to Boston! Well, truthfully it belonged to Lance Armstrong’s LIVESTRONG campaign, which started in 2003, but after the whole doping thing no one cared if he got ripped off. You would think that a city that cares so much about its image would do better than to steal anything from the city of Boston but, alas, we did.
But even putting that aside, I still wonder what we have done to deserve such a bold moniker. Does holding hands on a bridge count? What about having a sitting President sing “Amazing Grace” about parishioners who were murdered here? What about hosting panel discussions about race in Mother Emanuel? Just kidding, I already know the answer to those lazy questions: None of those things classify Charleston as strong.
Usually I’d have some out-of-the-box reason to dismantle the entire concept but for once, I’m at a loss for words. I am sincerely asking for your participation on this topic. Why the hell are we all of the sudden considered “strong,” or better yet, what gives us the right to make such a claim?
While you consider that, let me propose this: The family and friends of those nine victims are super, mega strong. Can we at least agree on that? Their determination to live after losing their loved ones in such a heinous manner is the exact definition of strong. If they would have renounced their faith in a higher power that would allow such a tragedy to take place in the first place, I’d get it. If they developed a hate for all police, I would 100 percent understand. For Christ’s sake, the officers that had Dylann Roof under custody saw enough humanity in this monster to buy him Burger King on the way back to Charleston. The fact that the victims’ families haven’t made N.W.A.’s “Fuck the Police” as their ringtone is a miracle. Seriously, could you imagine the absolute outrage Americans would have shown if, say, a Muslim was treated with such respect after committing the same crime. All hell would break loose, right? Trick question! We all know they would never buy that “terrorist” Burger King. Shoot, I’m not so sure they’d be captured alive to be honest.
But anyway, by all accounts, that doesn’t seem to be the case as they’ve kept their faith in both their God and law enforcement. If that’s not strong, then I obviously don’t know what strong is, which further proves why I would need your help in determining why we get to use the #CharlestonStrong hashtag.
Again, the purpose of this particular column was not to call any one person out but rather, all of us. How is it that we feel entitled to call ourselves strong when we weren’t personally affected by what happened? We may have been compelled to action, provoked to change, but we cannot compare our aftermath to those who actually had to bury someone they love because of another person’s hate.
Until someone comes up with a reason for why we should be given permission to continue to tout ourselves as “Charleston Strong,” I have a few suggestions: First, let’s put a moratorium on the phrase. Second, let’s just come up with a new phrase instead. Something that better reflects our true actions after that fateful day. I came up with either #CharlestonCares or #CharlestonCompassion but, again, I’m open to suggestions. I honestly don’t care what we use, so long as we stop pretending that we exhibited a behavior we didn’t actually show.