My friends across the United States, don’t believe the hype. Charleston is not the No. 1 city in the United States. I’m sorry you’ve been led to believe this. I truly am.
Yes, we have a great and wonderful town, full of colonial charm and history and friendly pride. We’re home to great chefs and great restaurants, a truly great arts festival, and a music scene that’s on the edge of breaking through — Cary Ann and Michael, love ya! Sean Brock, I just ordered your cookbook. Spoleto, Memorial Day weekend can’t get here soon enough.
From the Battery to Upper King, the Ashley to the Cooper, we are truly one of the most beautiful cities in the country, if not the world. I love Charleston more than I’ve loved any other city — and I lived in Honolulu with the ocean right out my bedroom window and the mountains to my back.
But goddammit, this town is rotten with racists.
Not only do we have a Confederate-flag waving, Southern apologist heading up the College of Charleston, now the Charleston County School District Board of Trustees has forced Superintendent Nancy McGinely out of her job because she dared to fire a football coach who condoned a racist act.
Honestly, I had no idea that this was how the Coach Bud Walpole controversy would play out. I don’t think anyone really did. The ouster of McGinley is every bit as surprising as one of George R. R. Martin’s wedding-day bloodbaths. But it’s even more brutal than the Game of Thrones author could have conjured up because McGinley was in the right to give Walpole the boot — and the board should’ve backed her.
The Academic Magnet coach had to know that his players were engaging in a ritual that would be perceived as racist by any sensible outside observer. If you don’t already know, a racist caricature had been drawn on a watermelon and then smashed each time the largely white football team defeated their predominantly African-American competitors. Even worse, they reportedly made monkey sounds when they did it.
And based on what has been reported, it appears that McGinley in part was motivated to remove Walpole because he apparently didn’t see anything disturbing himself, a stance that more than strains credulity given the coach’s 50-some-odd-years on this planet.
But none of that explains how we got here — with Charleston’s most successful superintendent being escorted from office by pitchfork.
In hindsight, there’s no denying that McGinley simply misjudged her fellow Charlestonians. Perhaps she too had bought into the hype that the Holy City had shaken off its racist past, that our Lowcountry home had been born anew as America’s most beloved tourist town. Perhaps she genuinely thought that the community would rise up with her and condemn this racist behavior. But it didn’t.
As the controversy unfolded, the black community largely remained silent, while the entire Academic Magnet community rallied behind Coach Walpole, with some even going as far as to deny any racist connection between watermelons, Sambo-like caricatures, monkey noises, and black people. Because one single coach had been fired, they were willing to ignore America’s shameful racist past. Apparently, to admit that their coach, their children, might be just a smidgen racist was simply too much to bear.
Coach Walpole’s firing should have been a teachable moment, the kind that instructs the largely white student body of Academic Magnet High School in the ways that white people, even good ones, can inadvertently engage in hurtful racially offensive behavior. Instead what the students got was a teachable lesson in mob rule and white privilege. Days after his removal, Walpole was reinstated.
Many years from now, I know that many of these same AMHS students who defended Walpole and his players will see the error of their ways. I know that they will realize that it was wrong to turn a blind eye to how much pain the team’s actions caused the African American community, some of them their fellow students. Now that Nancy McGinley has been forced out of office, perhaps that realization will happen much sooner rather than later.