When Charleston City Council formally apologized for its role in chattel slavery in 2018, it signed up to do the hard work of finding and eliminating the ways city government continues to reinforce institutionalized racism. Now, it’s time for council to get to work.
Some of the 125 recommendations made by Charleston’s Commission on Equity, Inclusion and Racial Conciliation will make you uncomfortable. That’s the point. You may not agree with or completely understand all the historical and cultural underpinnings of some of the recommendations. Again, that’s the point.
But remember: This commission was not created to coddle Charleston’s preoccupation with Southern gentility.
The group’s 545-page report represents a massive undertaking, spearheaded by dozens of people from disparate areas of expertise, working over the past year to target recommendations to make Charleston a more equitable place to live and work.
Yes, adopting some of the recommendations will cause some to be upset. But Charleston City Council committed to doing its part to eliminate the vestiges of white supremacy in its apology. The continued harm caused by doing nothing does not compare to the noise of a few who are content to do nothing but worry and whine.
Some of the ideas are big: Pushing legislative change to lift the ban on inclusionary zoning. Some are bold: A $100 million reparations fund to shrink the racial wealth gap. Other ideas are all-encompassing: Flood mitigation with an eye on environmental justice.
“This is a document that’s not centered in the white experience, and it will make you feel uncomfortable. But it’s in that uncomfortableness that I hope that we can move forward,” said commission member Kimberly Butler Willis last week. “It’s something that we finally have to recognize here in Charleston: that this is not a pleasurable, number-one location for all people that are here.”
The task of enacting these recommendations now falls to members of city council — a fact that may be tough to reconcile for some members facing reelection in November.
“We have to look at this opportunity as a learning experience for some because, you know, these words may seem harsh and hard, but at the same time, it’s real,” said member Crystal Robinson Rouse. “It’s been harsh and hard for a lot of us for a long time.”
In all, half of council districts are on the ballot this year, including three members not assigned to the commission — Robert Mitchell, Kevin Shealy and Mike Seekings — and another who was kicked off last year — Harry Griffin.
Our city leaders now need to take the next step by moving quickly to give general support to the commission’s report. Then refer each recommendation to council committees to hash out specifics.
Now is not the time to succumb to bald emotion rooted in a race-driven past. Now is not the time to do nothing. Now is the time to move along with recommendations to make Charleston a more equitable city for all.