Being a liberal newspaper columnist in this conservative old town means suffering through a lot of outrageous letters and web postings. That comes with the territory, and on a good day I have discovered that it can even be fun.
I am not much given to quoting Republicans, but Gov. Mike Huckabee had it right when he said, “When you’re taking a lot of flak, that means you’re over the target.” I’ve been taking a lot of flak lately and loving it. But I confess I was a bit surprised to see my friend and colleague, Jack Hunter, taking potshots last week in his City Paper column. (“White Guilt,” June 25)
I am used to having critics put words in my mouth and misrepresent my ideas. But I was surprised to see Jack employ these techniques. Let me state for the record that I do not hate white people. My family and most of my friends are white. Furthermore, I do not hate myself, Jack. If you had met me more than three or four times, you would know that. This is the kind of Kmart psychoanalysis one expects from Jerry Springer.
In his column, Jack takes me to task for writing: “This violent, ill-tempered little state continues to live in fear of the future, of black people, of multiculturalism. The white majority lashes out at all three with their Confederate flag, their racist T-shirts, their angry letters to local newspapers. And they lash out with their lockstep subordination to the Republican Party. The GOP remains the White People’s Party, a perfect index of this state’s sublimated white supremacy.”
What part of this statement do you not agree with, Jack? Institutionally and individually, South Carolina is one of the most violent places in America. I’ve seen the T-shirts, even if you haven’t. I have read the angry, bewildered, terrified letters to the editor of The Post and Courier, and numerous other papers. These are the letters of people who don’t understand the world they live in, don’t understand why it’s changing, don’t understand what their place will be in the new order of things. And so they strike out with angry words, quoting scripture, relaying warnings from Gawd Almighty against this wicked nation. Don’t tell me you haven’t read these letters, Jack.
Or maybe you were peeved that I should call your Republican Party the White People’s Party, as if you had not been to local Republican functions and found yourself in a sea of white faces and Tim Scott. C’mon, Jack. You may be out of touch, but you’re not stupid. You know how the game is played. But for your fans and readers I will give a couple of examples.
To make the first major policy address of his 1980 presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan did not go to a major city or media center or historic site. He went to Philadelphia, Miss., a wretched little Delta town forever infamous as the place where three civil rights workers were brutally murdered just 16 years before. And what was the subject of the Gipper’s address in this remote little redneck hellhole? It wasn’t taxes. It wasn’t the Soviet threat. No, he came to Mississippi to talk about state’s rights, the oldest racial code in the southern code book. Do you think Bubba got the message, Jack? This is how the Republican Party was built in Dixie.
Or think about the 1992 Republican state primary in South Carolina. State GOP leaders put a question on the ballot: Do you think the Confederate flag should remain atop the Statehouse? The question had absolutely nothing to do with nominating candidates for public office. But party officials knew that the question would bring out the kind of frightened and uninformed people the party needs to fill its lower ranks.
“The sad truth is that many Republican leaders remain in a massive state of denial about the party’s four-decade-long addiction to race-baiting,” Jack White wrote in Time in 2002. “Republican leaders and their apologists tend to go into a frenzy of denial when members of the liberal media cabal bring up these inconvenient facts.”
To deny the manifestly undeniable is manifestly pathological.
Conservative white southerners like to claim that the past is so important that it must be preserved and perpetuated into the future, yet when their ancestors are shown to be manifestly foolish and corrupt — as when they went to war to preserve slavery — southern whites insist that this part of the past is not important or perhaps is not real.
Jack, we are all the products of our personal and collective pasts. We cannot understand our future unless we understand where we came from and what went before us. Denial is the opposite of understanding. And it is the basis of much of the South’s anger and violence and backwardness.