Category Archives: Race

Benjamin, Kennell honored by Community Relations Council

Matt Kennell and Steve Benjamin, with their awards.

Matt Kennell and Steve Benjamin, with their awards.

It occurred to me today that I don’t tell y’all enough about the doings of the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council. Which means I’m not being a very good board member.

So, since we had our big annual luncheon today at the convention center, and I tweeted about it, I thought I’d share a couple of highlights:

For instance:

  • Matt Kennell of City Center Partnership is the 2018 recipient of the CRC’s Milton Kimpson Community Service Award.
  • Mayor Steve Benjamin received the organization’s Hyman Rubin Distinguished Service Award.
  • Jennifer Reed was installed as our new board chair, succeeding Hal Stevenson. Hal made the point that she is Jennifer Clyburn Reed, although her relationship to her famous Dad the congressman isn’t something she brings up all that much:

The awards Matt and Steve received are named for two of the first leaders of the CRC, and are given to people who have led in ways that reflect the same spirit. The Council was formed during the civil rights era of the early ’60s by black and white leaders who wanted to see Columbia integrate peacefully, without a lot of the civil unrest that occurred in other Southern cities. Just meeting to discuss those issues was a sort of radical act at the time, and the black and white leaders met on the USC campus, as the guests of then-President Tom Jones, as there was no other place in town where such a gathering would be been accepted.

Today, the Council continues to promote civil conversations about difficult issues facing the whole community.

The role I play is that I’m co-chair — with Roscoe Wilson, who is also related to someone famous, his daughter A’ja Wilson — of the Council’s Community Affairs Committee. We convene issues forums (such as this one on Bull Street) and candidate debates (such as this city council debate), and we’ll be kicking off this year’s monthly Hot Topic sessions with one on affordable housing in August.

Watch this space for more on upcoming programs.

Oh, and as I mentioned in a comment to Doug earlier, I ran into James Smith and Mandy Powers Norrell at the luncheon. No, I did not see Henry McMaster…

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This test says I’m a racist — but a moderate one, let me add!

trap

Y’all know I’m a sucker for a written test, even if, as I take it, I can hear the voice of Admiral Ackbar crying, “It’s a trap!”

Which was sort of the case with this one as it proceeded. Even as I thought I could see the trap taking shape and closing on me, hubris kept me going, hoping I’d ace it anyway.

I didn’t.

I was attracted to the test by this item on the radio this morning. It was a story about all the Starbucks stores that are closed for racial-sensitivity training as I type this. Then came the hook:

How to evaluate your own bias:

The Takeaway invites you to participate in an assessment of your own implicit biases. Click here to access Harvard University’s “Project Implicit.” If this is the first time you’re attempting the test, you’ll have to continue as a guest. Select your country and language, then press “GO!” At the bottom of the next page, click “I wish to proceed.” Then select “Race IAT” — or other implicit association test of your choice — from the following page, and continue to follow the prompts from there to take the test. It should last about 10 minutes.

I went for it, of course. The result? It said “Your data suggest a moderate automatic preference for European Americans over African Americans.

Which kinda ticked me off, even though I saw it coming. What caused this conclusion of my racism?

I’ll tell you, but I ask you to go take the test before reading my explanation. No, really, I mean it now! Go take it before you read past this…

SPOILER ALERT!

The test starts off by lulling you. It asks you questions you’d have to be a major, racist jerk — and a particularly dumb one at that — to answer “wrongly.” Questions like whether you prefer white people to black people, and to what degree.

Then there’s another batch of obvious-pitfall questions, about whether you think poor people are that way because they’re lazy and shiftless.

Then comes the trick part. From the beginning, I’m screwed because you’re supposed to respond as quickly as you can. That always messes me up. I like being rushed even less than other people do; in fact it’s a major personal peeve. My hand/eye coordination is about as quick as that of the average giant sloth, and I know it, and I get rattled.

But I can, eventually, sorta kinda get into the rhythm of the thing.

Anyway, in this part of the test, you’re supposed to, as quickly as possible, either hit the e key with your left hand or the i key with your right.

And here’s where it gets REALLY tricky: You’re not supposed to respond according to what you think, but according to how you have been told in advance to respond. And the way you have been told to respond is in a completed irrational, arbitrary manner.

In this portion of the test, the e and the i correspond to “good” and “bad” (or was it the other way around?). Onto your screen will flash two kinds of input — one of a set of photos of faces, and the other and set of words that are obviously expressing either positive associations (such as “happy”) or negative ones (such as “dirty”).

In the first half of this portion, you are instructed to click one of the letters for both black faces and positive words, and the other letter for white faces and negative words. This was kind of silly and irrational, and I hit the wrong key a couple of times, but I muddled through, and thought I was getting a little faster toward the end.

Then, once you’re warmed up, it reverses on you. You are instructed to hit one key for both black faces and negative words, and the other for white faces and positive words. This was both stupid and offensive, but I followed the instructions, and started doing it a bit faster as I went.

And as I did so, I suspected I was getting myself in trouble by getting better at following the instructions.

Sure enough, I was labeled moderately racist for getting a little faster in that last part — because, in the assumptions of the test creators, supposedly it was easier for my brain to associate the positive words with white faces, and negative ones with black ones. And that, they say, is why I did it more quickly.

Obviously, I believe that if it had been the other way around, with white folks associated with good words first, and bad words second, I would still have been faster on the last part. And then I would have been seen as having a moderate preference for black people, which I think would also have been kind of a bogus result.

But I don’t know that. And I kind of doubt that it would be valid to take it again. So I’ll just share with you what it said about me. The result is what it is…

OK, let’s talk about Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’

Doug and Norm were talking about Childish Gambino’s “This is America” video. So I made my usual joke about “What’s a Childish Gambino?,” and then I went to look at it. (I had recorded SNL over the weekend, but hadn’t watched it yet.)

Apparently, this is the “I Am the Walrus” or “American Pie” of the moment, with everyone trying to interpret the references. So I went and watched it. And I didn’t find it to be all that mysterious, although I’m sure I missed a lot on that one run-through. I felt like I “got” what I saw, but I’d need to watch it a few more times to catch things I missed, and wonder about things I don’t get.

This was my stream-of-consciousness reaction, which I’m rethinking even as I post it here, but this was the way it played for me as I watched:

I watched it. I get it.

It’s about reparations.

And it’s also about a whole lot of other images and ideas from the black experience in America, spanning centuries. You have the references to “contraband” all the way through apparently random gun violence, and life going on around it.

The care of the guns just refers to the way we cherish them in America. We have another shooting, and elected leaders sort of close ranks in making sure nothing changes and the holy gun is protected.

He also runs through various caricatures of the Dangerous Black Male that white society has traditionally feared — the sexualized dancing, the violence, the drugs. His mugging facial expressions, some of his dance moves, the whites of his frightened eyes being the first thing you see in the darkness when he’s being chased at the end — all those things make cultural references to the black man as a ridiculous figure of entertainment for whites. So you have this jarring, sudden, back-and-forth going on between a minstrel show stereotype and the dangerous stereotype.

And the old cars remind me of the days of Hollywood’s blaxploitation fad, although they may be a little more recent than that.

The kids are in school uniforms, which seems a reference to the way people think one way of addressing social ills is to put kids in such uniforms. Yet the chaos goes on around them.

It’s interesting. I like that the music has a Caribbean feel to it (at least to my ears). After all, the black experience in America largely came first through the West Indies. South Carolina, the most pro-slavery state in the Union, was initially settled by people who had practiced a particularly brutal form of chattel slavery in Barbados.

And on and on.

Doug thinks I’m clueless. I’m not. The old guy who’s out of it is just a character I play on TV. Or on social media, anyway…

That’s first-blush, without looking to see what others thought of it.

Thinking back, I’m not sure I should have said “Caribbean.” It sounded exotic to my ears, and for whatever reason I thought “Caribbean.” Maybe it’s the way the guy’s dressed, as a combination between a slave working in cane fields (the American form of slavery got its start with sugar cane cultivation) and a Calypso dancer. Wait… I searched on that, and it seems calypso dancers aren’t as a rule shirtless. Don’t know why I thought they were.

Anyway, there’s a lot to unpack here…

Oh, and Childish Gambino? It’s Donald Glover. The guy I keep thinking is related to Danny Glover, but isn’t….

mugging

One place I did not expect to find cheesy artificial diversity

secessionist

Original photography is expensive. So website designers on a budget often opt for stock photography.

If you choose well, you find some that goes well with your site, enhancing your message or the image of your organization without distracting.

But if you choose poorly, you can come across as cheesy and artificial.

One thing stock photo providers offer businesses and organizations is the chance to project “diversity,” which may be desirable to the client. This can work, but like anything it can look out of place or contrived, and not only because the viewer is likely to ask, “How does a photographer find a group of people who not only represent every race under the sun, but are all wholesomely good-looking?”

stockAnyway, I ran across that kind of photo today in the unlikeliest of places: the website of the Secessionist Party of South Carolina.

Yeah, yeah, I know: Party chair James Bessenger has been trying hard to demonstrate that his organization is not racist, most laughably notably by pushing for recognition of basically nonexistent black Confederate soldiers.

But, come on. Surely we’re not to think that this is the aftermath of a Secessionist Party board meeting. These kids look like they just collapsed in exhaustion on that hilltop after too many takes of singing “I’d like to teach the world to sing…

Anyway, it was a bit… incongruous….

Graham should be more specific about what he heard

You were there, Senator. So what did the president say, and how did he say it?

You were there, Senator. So what did the president say, and how did he say it?

Since some Republicans, after a day or two of thinking about it, started claiming Trump didn’t really say “s___hole” (hilariously, one of the lines of defense has been to claim he really said “s___house“) it’s refreshing that Lindsey Graham has stuck to his original version of the story, as Andy Shain reports:

Trouble is, his original story remains vague and indirect. He seems to want to have his cake and eat it, too — to call the president out for his racist assertions without quite, you know, calling him out.

We know from colleague Tim Scott that Graham told him the media reports of what Trump said were “basically correct.”

And Graham has made sure that we know that he gave Trump a piece of his mind in response to, you know, whatever he said:

When Trump made the incendiary remark, Graham spoke up, telling the president that “America is an idea, not a race.”

“I tried to make it very clear to the president that when you say ‘I’m an American,’ what does that mean?” Graham said. “It doesn’t mean that they’re black or white, rich or poor. It means that you buy into an ideal of self-representation, compassion, tolerance, the ability to practice one’s religion without interference and the acceptance of those who are different.

“So at the end of the day, an American is a person who believes in ideals that have stood the test of time,” Graham added. “It’s not where you come from that matters, it’s what you’re willing to do once you get here.”…

Agreed, senator. But since people are standing up and saying Trump didn’t say what he said, it would be helpful if you’d be the truthteller and give us a precise account of what you heard.

As the late Howard Baker might have said, What did the president say, and how did he say it?

Racist signs at USC: Was it a Bernie Bro?

Racist signs found at USC.

Racist signs found at USC./Photo from Twitter feed of @KingShady__.

Students returned to USC for the spring semester today to find racist messages taped up in several university buildings, including one on a display case outside the African-American Studies department in Gambrell Hall.

The precise nature of the messages was interesting. As the Charleston paper quoted:

“We’ve endured a YEAR of Blumpf instead of enjoying one of Bernie because your DUMB BLACK A**** just pull the lever for whomever the party (illegible),” one sign says in Williams’ photo.

“All this bull**** about a ‘King’ when you (illegible) simpletons can’t even pick a candidate properly,” a second sign says. “You stupid monkeys handed Trump the White House the minute you handed Hillary the nomination!”

So… is this the work of a Bernie Bro? Or someone trying to deflect blame and pin it on a Sanders enthusiast?

Whoever did it, it’s pretty disgusting.

(I got the image above from this Tweet.)

Duke Twitter flap: But was it ‘racial’?

blur

I’m musing over terminology after reading about the sportswriter who got himself into hot water at a Duke roundball game on Dec. 2.

Here’s what happened, as I understand it:

  • College Insider reporter John Stansberry made some cracks on Twitter about some students who were right behind him at the game.
  • One of the students took offense, I’m assuming because of his reference to her and her friends as “Asian chicks.” But the student’s explanation of her anger on Facebook wasn’t specific. It may have been the Cheap Trick thing.
  • Duke revoked his credentials for the rest of the season.
  • He became an Unperson. His Twitter account is gone, and apparently College Insider (or someone) has erased traces of his existence. (I base this on the fact that, if I Google “John Stansberry College Insider,” I get a bunch of links that say, “CollegeInsider.com: John Stansberry’s College Basketball Notebook.” But I get a “Not Found” error if I click on them. Down the memory hole, I guess. Like Garrison Keillor.)

All of which seems fairly straightforward in a day when we’re used to people being more or less disappeared for stepping over lines.

But I’m confused by news stories that refer to the incident as “racial” or “racist.”

“Racial” maybe, in the sense that a reference to race was made. But that doesn’t seem to be a primary concern of the young woman who complained. She made a passing reference to herself as a member of the set “Asian women,” but didn’t indicate that that was what bothered her about what the wiseguy did. She seemed mostly bothered about being discussed before the world when all she was doing was watching a basketball game.

But “racist?” I ask because the college paper mentioned this among several instances in a story headlined “‘We were just kind of shocked’: Asian American students report racist comments in recent weeks.”

Yeah, the “Cheap Trick” seems to be kind of snide, presumably a reference to this. But racist? And if this guy is actually part Asian, as the reference to “my Korean mother” would indicate, can it be racist? I don’t know.

I don’t know. The whole thing kind of hovers on the edge of a number of hot-button issues that are in vogue — privacy in a social media age, safe spaces in academia, sexism, racism(?), and so forth — that I thought I’d offer it for discussion.

I do know one thing: If he’d been doing his phony-baloney job and paying attention to the game, we wouldn’t have all of this. But that’s the editor in me….

And I didn’t mean to go on about it this long. But whenever I can come up with anything even vaguely sports-related for you, my dear readers, I try to oblige…

CheapTrick_Live_atBudokan

You say we NEED the slaves to work the fields? So much for philosophy…

The capacity of the human mind for rationalization is an amazing thing. The things we can talk ourselves into without breaking a sweat…

Seeing this sentence this morning in a story about honoring the slaves who built USC sent me off on a tangent: “Sancho and his wife Lucy became the property of Thomas Cooper, president from 1821 to 1833 of what was then South Carolina College, with Sancho becoming a well-known figure on campus.”

Thomas Cooper

Thomas Cooper

My wife’s mother was a Cooper. All the Coopers in living memory lived in West Tennessee, but I knew that if you followed the line back to the mid-19th century, some of the Coopers lived here in Richland County, SC. And a number of Coopers were named Thomas.

So I had often wondered whether there was a connection to the famous Thomas Cooper of USC, and this morning I decided to read up on him.

Apparently, there’s no connection, since the academic Cooper was originally from England — whereas my wife’s Cooper ancestors had been in America a couple of generations ahead of him. With such common first and last names, that’s hardly surprising.

But I found reading about the USC Cooper interesting. He was apparently quite the philosopher, friend to Thomas Jefferson and other leading lights of the time. But this bit from Wikipedia sort of blew me away:

He supported the institution of slavery, although he had strenuously opposed the slave trade. In the mid to late 1780s Cooper fought passionately against “that infamous and impolitic traffic”. He wrote that “negroes are men; susceptible of the same cultivation with ourselves”, claimed that “as Englishmen, the blood of the murdered African is upon us, and upon our children, and in some day of retribution he will feel it, who will not assist to wash off the stain”. But in America Cooper accepted slavery itself, as he doubted that “in South Carolina or Georgia…the rich lands could be cultivated without slave labour”….

Let me make sure I’m following you, Tom: The slave trade is “infamous.” People of African descent are just as human as whites and just as worthy, and all of us who fail to do something to remedy this injustice are deserving of “retribution.”

But hey, we need them to work the plantations, so never mind! That cotton’s not going to pick itself!

Wow. He was celebrated for his great intellect, and this is how he used it…

A discussion Friday about lessons from Charlottesville

Photo by Evan Nesterak obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

Photo by Evan Nesterak obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

Remember a couple of months back, when I moderated a forum for the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council about the Bull Street redevelopment project?

Well, tomorrow we’re going to have another one that may interest you. It starts at 11:30 a.m. at the offices of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce offices at 930 Richland St.

The topic is “Lessons from Charlottesville.” The idea is to have a discussion about the implications for our own community arising from the issues raised there.

We expect 30 or so people, including Tameika Isaac Devine from city council, J.T. McLawhorn from the Columbia Urban League, and Matt Kennell from the City-Center Partnership.

Bryan came to the Bull Street one, and I think he found the discussion interesting. I did, anyway.

Whether y’all can come or not, I’d like a little advice. I’ve thrown together a short list of questions to offer to the group. The questions are just ways to keep the discussion going as needed. These discussions don’t follow a formal structure, with questions followed by timed answers, or anything like that.

Here are the ones I have. Suggestions?

  1. Could what happened in Charlottesville happen here? If not, why not? And if so, what can we do to prevent it?
  2. Even if we are spared the violence we saw in Virginia, how should we here in the Midlands respond to the issues that confrontation laid bare?
  3. President Trump has been roundly criticized for his response to what happened. What would you like to hear elected leaders in South Carolina say regarding these issues?
  4. Being the capital of the first state to secede, we have more Confederate monuments here than in most places. What, if anything, should we do with them?
  5. Has anyone present had a change of attitude or perspective, something that you’d like to share, as a result of the re-emergence of these issues onto the nation’s front burner?

1024px-Lee_Park,_Charlottesville,_VA

KKK questions in the 5th grade, and the ‘virtues of slavery’

They may look scary, but look at it from their perspective, kids...

They may look scary, but look at it from their perspective, kids…

Well, we’re in The New York Times again. This time it’s for asking a bit much of 5th-graders in Irmo:

“You are a member of the K.K.K.,” the fifth-grade homework assignment read. “Why do you think your treatment of African-Americans is justified?”

The work sheet, given on Thursday as part of a lesson on the Reconstruction period, caused an outcry after one student’s uncle, Tremain Cooper, posted a photo of the assignment on Facebook.

“This is my little 10-year-old nephew’s homework assignment today,” he wrote. “He’s home crying right now.”

Mr. Cooper identified the teacher as Kerri Roberts of Oak Pointe Elementary School in Irmo, S.C., a suburb of Columbia, and added, “How can she ask a 5th grader to justify the actions of the KKK???”

Reached by phone, Ms. Roberts’s husband said she was unavailable and was “not going to comment on anything.”…

Hoo, boy.

Of course, that’s a perfectly fine question to ask, to get the ol’ gray matter working — in a graduate poli sci course. I think it’s a shame that Ms. Roberts — who is on suspension pending investigation of the incident — isn’t commenting, because I would dearly love to know the thinking behind asking 5th-graders to tackle it.

Had she even looked at the lesson before she passed it out? Or was this enterprise on her part? Had she decided to go for a real challenge, asking her students to reach for understanding beyond their years?

One thing I’ll say in defense of this: It’s a more reasonable question than this one asked in California:

In February, second graders at Windsor Hills Elementary School in Los Angeles were asked to solve a word problem: “The master needed 192 slaves to work on plantation in the cotton fields. The fields could fill 75 bags of cotton. Only 96 slaves were able to pick cotton for that day. The missus needed them in the Big House to prepare for the Annual Picnic. How many more slaves are needed in the cotton fields?”

Correct answer: “That’s a trick question! Masters don’t have to do math!”

Of course, we have at least one person here in South Carolina who might love to be asked such a question. His letter to the editor appeared in The State today:

Teach truth about the virtues of slavery

The recent controversy about Confederate monuments and flags ultimately revolves around one man and one question. The man is John C. Calhoun, the great philosopher and statesman from South Carolina, and the spiritual founding father of the Confederacy. The question is: Was Calhoun right or wrong when he argued, from the 1830s until his death in 1850, that the South’s Christian slavery was “a positive good” and “a great good” for both whites and blacks?

If Calhoun was wrong, then there may be grounds for removing monuments and flags.

But if Calhoun was right, the monuments and flags should stay and be multiplied, blacks should be freed from oppressive racial integration so they can show the world how much they can do without white folk, the Southern states should seize their freedom and independence, and the North should beg the South’s pardon for the war.

Calhoun’s views are unpopular today because, since 1865, the Yankee-imposed education system has taught all Americans that the South’s Christian slavery was evil and that everyone is equal. But unpopularity cannot make a truth untrue, and popularity cannot make error truth.

WINSTON MCCUEN
AIKEN

“If Calhoun was right….”

Excuse me while I sit here and try to come up with a justification of Mr. McCuen’s point of view. It might be on the six-weeks test…

This is where the South Carolina Court of Appeals sits.

This is where the South Carolina Court of Appeals sits.

How far have we come in 70 years? Maybe not so far…

cadet

When I saw the above story, and especially the picture with it, I had to smile.

Look at that young woman! She has worked hard, and achieved a milestone toward a lifelong goal. She deserves the joy I see in her face. God bless her. I’d like to meet her and shake her hand, and thank her for her service, and her drive to excel in that service. For the rest of the day, I’d probably feel much better about Life, the Universe and Everything — and especially the human race, which as we know can be disappointing at times.

But when I read stories like this, this tiny, cynical voice tries to ruin it by saying something like “Another ‘first’ story. It’s 2017, and ‘first’ stories still get big play in The New York Times.”

Don’t blame me. On this point, I was warped early on. In high school, I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. And a lot of things about that book have stuck with me. Here’s one of them…

X tells this colorful sort of comic-opera story about himself that is much like the one Arlo Guthrie tells in “Alice’s Restaurant,” about how he got his draft notice, and upon arrival at the intake station went into an elaborate, over-the-top act to get a psychiatrist to rule him unfit for service.

This was 1943. X acts as crazy as he can while standing in line with the other draftees during the physical, and marvels at how long it takes them to pull him out of the queue. But eventually they do, and when he gets to the shrink’s office, he describes this scene:

firsts

Ignore the “not bad to look at” part. This was 1943, and even 20 years later when the book was written, we guys got to say stuff like that without being condemned for it.

Malcolm X in 1964

Malcolm X in 1964

No, my point is what X is saying about “first” stories. Reading this at 17, and rereading it today, I get the strong impression he held such stories in contempt. Part of this arises from the attitudes he would embrace through the Nation of Islam (views he would just be in the process of turning away from as the book was being written). He apparently held all involved in contempt — the white man for so grudgingly allowing black people such small achievements, and black folks for being so thrilled at such crumbs from the white man’s table.

I have never been a bitter cynic in the league of Malcolm X, and hope to God I never will be. I’m pleased for people who accomplish anything that improves their lives and inspires other people. But that anecdote has stuck with me over the years. And every time I see a story like this one today, that memory looms up.

About the time X was working with Alex Haley on that book, the white press joined the “Negro press” in celebrating such firsts. Which in and of itself was a fine thing, a form of progress, of the nation forming a consensus around its highest ideals.

But here it is 2017, and we’re still reading these stories? Almost a decade after the election of our “first black president,” this is still news?

To go back to where I started: I liked reading this story. I like reading about the achievement of a fellow human being named Simone Askew. This world needs more like her! But that part of me that was influenced by that book when I was younger (and far less accomplished) than she is makes me wonder whether it doesn’t take something away from her personal achievement to couch it in terms that Malcolm X scoffed at in 1943…

About what happened in Charlottesville…

Lee

Y’all, I’ve had quite a few thoughts about this, but they’re all pretty involved and would take me time to develop and I haven’t had the time. But for now, I’ll do what I should have done Saturday — put up a sort of Open Thread devoted to what happened at Charlottesville, so y’all can get a conversation rolling.

Some possible avenues of exploration:

  1. Trump’s statement — As I’ve said many times before, I don’t think the president’s job description should, normally speaking, include issuing statements in reaction to every traumatic thing that happens across the country. But if he’s going to say something, it should be something that, for starters, doesn’t make matters worse. Trump utterly failed to meet that standard. And it wasn’t just his usual complete lack of thoughtfulness or hamhandedness with the English language. We know why he responded the way he did: He does not share the fundamental values of most Americans. He actually values the rock-solid backing of white supremacists, and doesn’t want to say anything that erodes that support.
  2. How do we prevent such violence without violating the 1st Amendment? If the ACLU stood up for the “right” of Illinois Nazis to march through Skokie, surely it would sue to uphold that right with this latter-day group of racist yahoos. And who’s to say the ACLU would be wrong? Personally, I think they were wrong in the Skokie days — sure, the Hitler fan club had the right to say what it wanted, but letting them do it in Skokie is too much of an offense against human dignity to allow it. This case seems fuzzier. Again, yes, they have free speech rights. But they went out of their way to express themselves in a place guaranteed to create as much tension, and likely violence, as possible. Should that be allowed? Does the free-speech clause guarantee freedom of venue? Such as, say, a crowded theater?
  3. If there would to be such a rally in Columbia, would you attend? I mean to protest, or for any other reason. Would you see yourself as having an obligation to show up in public to register your disapproval, or would you dismiss it by staying away and not giving the Brownshirt types the attention they crave? I can see arguments both ways.
  4. What about that Robert E. Lee statue? I hesitate to mention this because I don’t want to dignify the supposed “issue” that motivated the demonstration. But I mention it only to say that I have no position on the “issue.” What the University of Virginia chooses to display or to take down is none of my business, and I think Charlottesville homeboy Thomas Jefferson would back me on that. I feel like we have enough going on here in South Carolina and don’t need to weigh in on what they do up there. I would argue that any of those white supremacists who were not from Virginia lack such standing as well…

Anyway, that’s for starters. Happy conversing…

Tim Scott’s celebrated one-word burn

I read about this in The State this morning, but it really didn’t make any sense without the original Tweet:

Tim Scott is the first black Republican U.S. senator from the South since Reconstruction and the only black Republican in the Senate at the moment. He also has announced he will vote for Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to become the next attorney general.IPwQ2WC9

Given the allegations of racism that have followed Sessions since he was denied a federal judgeship in 1986, Scott’s decision to support him has been met with plenty of criticism.

And lots of that criticism has come online, especially on Twitter, where Scott has 162,000 followers. But one tweet in particular annoyed Scott. User @Simonalisa blasted Scott and former Sessions aide William Smith by referring to them using a racial slur….

“So I thought it was a good time to tell people what I thought.”…

The original Tweet and the account that produced it had been deleted, but I found a reTweet that reproduced it:

OK, now I get it.

Well played, senator.

Dylann Roof found guilty

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… which in a way isn’t news, since it was a foregone conclusion. But it’s a tribute to the fact that we still live under a system of laws and not of men — innocent until proven guilty, etc. — which is reassuring in this post-election world in which so much that our Founders bequeathed us seems threatened.

Of the seven news outlets I just glanced at, five led with it, including both British outlets I looked at:

  1. The State — Dylann Roof found guilty
  2. NPR — Jury Finds Dylann Roof Guilty In S.C. Church Shooting
  3. BBC — Supremacist guilty of US church killings
  4. The Washington Post — Dylann Roof found guilty of all charges in Charleston church massacre
  5. The Guardian — Dylann Roof found guilty in Charleston church shooting

Only The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times led with other things. The Journal, true to its calling went with an item about the dollar hitting new heights, while the Times touted the latest in its series about the Russians tampering with our election.

In other South Carolina news, Steve Benjamin — of all people — had a meeting with Donald Trump. He says he thinks it went well. Sure — that’s what people say just before Trump gives them the Mitt Romney treatment…

Barton Swaim on how Kaepernick fails to make his point

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Columbia’s own Barton Swaim has yet another nationally published opinion piece out there, headlined “Kaepernick’s symbolism misses the point,” in The Washington Post today.

And unlike Kaepernick, Barton hits the mark.

You know how I’m always blathering about how I think street protests, among other unseemly forms of expression, are generally unhelpful? That’s what Barton’s on about. And the problem, as he identifies it, is imprecision. Quite right.

Noting that Kaepernick now protests that he was misunderstood, Barton writes:

He was right. It was a misunderstanding. And that’s precisely the problem with symbols and symbolic gestures in the realm of political debate — they’re understood by different people in different ways, and not always in ways consistent with original intent. By choosing not to stand (he sat on the bench during the anthem for the Aug. 26 game against Green Bay and knelt during the anthem for the Sept. 1 game in San Diego), Kaepernick wants to say something about racial injustice. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told the NFL Network after the Packers game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”

Kaepernick evidently has some strong views on this subject, but what are they, exactly? Does he believe, say, that most Americans are racists? That most police officers target African Americans for harassment? That the United States as a whole deliberately and systematically persecutes African Americans? Somehow I doubt he would agree with any of these things without qualification — and yet they are all rational inferences from his refusal to honor the flag of a “country that oppresses black people and people of color.”…

Indeed. Barton is a wordsmith, and seems to share my horror at the thought of expressing oneself without being specific and explanatory.

And yet we are surrounded by people doing precisely that, from tattoos to grand public gestures. Harrumph.

In an age when there is no barrier to blogging, for instance, there is no excuse for failing to explain oneself — especially when one has done something that shouts only one thing clearly: “Look at me!”

As young mothers tell toddlers, use your words.

Now, changing the subject slightly, Barton’s piece goes on to say:

When pressed further to explain his views after the Chargers game, he wasn’t helpful. What was he trying to convey? “The message is that we have a lot of issues in this country that we need to deal with. We have a lot of people that are oppressed. We have a lot of people that aren’t treated equally, aren’t given equal opportunities. Police brutality is a huge thing that needs to be addressed. There are a lot of issues that need to be talked about, need to be brought to life, and we need to fix those.” President Obama reinforced that message on Monday. “If nothing else,” the president said, “what he’s done is he’s generated more conversation around some topics that need to be talked about.” Reminding Americans that they need to “talk about” and “deal with” a problem that already consumes them is not, perhaps, the wisest of political exhortations. And in any case, one wonders what nation in the history of the world has not had dire “issues” that needed to be talked about and dealt with. Has there ever been a nation sufficiently issue-free to merit Kaepernick’s reverence?

I call your attention in particular to this bit: “Reminding Americans that they need to ‘talk about’ and ‘deal with’ a problem that already consumes them is not, perhaps, the wisest of political exhortations.”

I’ve been told for all my adult life that we need to “talk” about race in America. And you know me; I have generally obliged without hesitation. I can talk all day and all night about such a thing, and on occasion can even bring myself to listen.

But I bring the point up now because, right after reading Barton’s piece this morning, I saw this other opinion item in the Post, headlined, “It’s time to stop talking about racism with white people.” Excerpts:

Why are we losing solid hours out of our day, wearing our fingertips numb on keyboards and touch screens in an attempt to explain to some dense dude-bro why “All lives matter” is a messed up and functionally redundant response to “Black lives matter”?…

If Colin Kaepernik’s decision to stand against social injustice by sitting during the National Anthem has shown us anything else, it’s that much of white America is more bothered by our methods of protest than they ever will be about the injustices we’re protesting. Let’s dispel the notion that if we only protested better, white people will miraculously become more receptive of our message and less scornful of our audacity in speaking out….

Black people, it is long past time for us to start practicing self-care. And if that means completely disengaging with white America altogether, then so be it….

Zack Linly seems to have given up on making himself understood at a fairly early age (I’m going more by the way he expresses himself in seeing him as young, but for all I know he could be as old as Brett Bursey). Which is sad. Because as Barton suggests — even though he, too, seems a bit weary of the conversation, we need to communicate better about these things.

But there’s hope! Mr. Linly and Mr. Swaim seem to have some promising common ground, judging by the cover photo the former chose for his Facebook page. They both have a sense of the futility of some street action. But then, I could be misunderstanding this message, too…

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Allegations against this Sheriff Arpaio guy

Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Wikipedia.

Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Wikipedia.

Speaking of Trump supporters… I don’t know this Sheriff Arpaio guy from Adam’s off ox, but this release from the state Democratic Party at least lets me know what is allegedly wrong with him.

Consider the source all you like, but it’s quite a list:

SCDP STATEMENT ON JEFF DUNCAN AND MICK MULVANEY HONORING RACIST SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO
Columbia, SC – The South Carolina Democratic Party released the following statement today on the announcement by Rep. Jeff Duncan that racist Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio will be a “special guest,” alongside Rep. Mick Mulvaney, at Duncan’s Faith & Freedom BBQ next Monday in Anderson:
“The fact that Jeff Duncan and Mick Mulvaney would honor a racist and sexist bigot like Joe Arpaio is disgusting, but given their support of a racist and sexist bigot like Donald Trump for president, it is not surprising.
“Pasted below is a list of 10 of Joe Arpaio’s policies, taken from a 2012 article by Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress based on a U.S. Department of Justice legal complaint.  We are interested in hearing which of these policies Jeff Duncan and Mick Mulvaney believe are appropriate.”
1. Forcing Women To Sleep In Their Own Menstrual Blood: In Arpaio’s jails, “female Latino LEP prisoners have been denied basic sanitary items. In some instances, female Latino LEP prisoners have been forced to remain with sheets or pants soiled from menstruation because of MCSO’s failure to ensure that detention officers provide language assistance in such circumstances.”

2. Assaulting Pregnant Women: “[A]n MCSO officer stopped a Latina woman – a citizen of the United States and five months pregnant at the time – as she pulled into her driveway. After she exited her car, the officer then insisted that she sit on the hood of the car. When she refused, the officer grabbed her arms, pulled them behind her back, and slammed her, stomach first, into the vehicle three times. He then dragged her to the patrol car and shoved her into the backseat. He left her in the patrol car for approximately 30 minutes without air conditioning. The MCSO officer ultimately issued a citation for failure to provide identification.”

3. Stalking Latino Women: “In another instance, during a crime suppression operation, two MCSO officers followed a Latina woman, a citizen of the United States, for a quarter of a mile to her home. The officers did not turn on their emergency lights, but insisted that the woman remain in her car when she attempted to exit the car and enter her home. The officers’ stated reasons for approaching the woman was a non-functioning license plate light. When the woman attempted to enter her home, the officers used force to take her to the ground, kneed her in the back, and handcuffed her. The woman was then taken to an MCSO substation, cited for ‘disorderly conduct,’ and returned home. The disorderly conduct citation was subsequently dismissed.”

4. Criminalizing Being A Latino: “During raids, [Arpaio’s Criminal Enforcement Squad] typically seizes all Latinos present, whether they are listed on the warrant or not. For example, in one raid CES had a search warrant for 67 people, yet 109 people were detained. Fifty-nine people were arrested and 50 held for several hours before they were released. Those detained, but not on the warrant, were seized because they were Latino and present at the time of the raid. No legal justification existed for their detention.”

5. Criminalizing Living Next To The Wrong People: “[D]uring a raid of a house suspected of containing human smugglers and their victims . . . officers went to an adjacent house, which was occupied by a Latino family. The officers entered the adjacent house and searched it, without a warrant and without the residents’ knowing consent. Although they found no evidence of criminal activity, after the search was over, the officers zip-tied the residents, a Latino man, a legal permanent resident of the United States, and his 12-year-old Latino son, a citizen of the United States, and required them to sit on the sidewalk for more than one hour, along with approximately 10 persons who had been seized from the target house, before being released”

6. Ignoring Rape: Because of Arpaio’s obsessive focus on “low-level immigration offenses” his officers failed “to adequately respond to reports of sexual violence, including allegations of rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse of girls.”

7. Widespread Use Of Racial Slurs: “MCSO personnel responsible for prisoners held in MCSO jails routinely direct racial slurs toward Latino prisoners, including calling Latino prisoners ‘paisas,’ ‘wetbacks,’ ‘Mexican bitches,’ ‘fucking Mexicans,’ and ‘stupid Mexicans.’”

8. Widespread Racial Profiling: “[I]n the southwest portion of the County, the study found that Latino drivers are almost four times more likely to be stopped by MCSO officers than non-Latino drivers engaged in similar conduct. . . . In the northwest portion of the County, the study found that Latino drivers are over seven times more likely to be stopped by MCSO officers than non-Latino drivers engaged in similar conduct. . . . Most strikingly, in the northeast portion of the County, the study found that Latino drivers are nearly nine times more likely to be stopped by MCSO officers than non-Latino drivers engaged in similar conduct.”

9. Random, Unlawful Detention Of Latinos: “MCSO officers stopped a car carrying four Latino men, although the car was not violating any traffic laws. The MCSO officers ordered the men out of the car, zip-tied them, and made them sit on the curb for an hour before releasing all of them. The only reason given for the stop was that the men’s car ‘was a little low,’ which is not a criminal or traffic violation.”

10. Group Punishments For Latinos: “In some instances, when a Latino [Low English Proficiency] prisoner has been unable to understand commands given in English, MCSO detention officers have put an entire area of the jail in lockdown—effectively preventing all the prisoners in that area from accessing a number of privileges because of the Latino LEP prisoner’s inability to understand English, inciting hostility toward the LEP prisoner, and potentially placing MCSO officers and other prisoners in harm’s way.”

###

Race card flung at Joel Lourie, of all people

Lourie at his recent retirement party.

Lourie at his recent retirement party.

As a smart friend of mine once said somewhat hopelessly, she feared that a thousand years from now, historians would look back and say, “The United States was a noble experiment, but they never got over that slavery thing.”

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Sen. John Scott

In the Midlands, in South Carolina, across the nation, there are a lot of issues that turn largely, if not primarily, on race. On the local level, race is the (usually) unstated pivot point on attitudes concerning, for instance, local school districts.

Some people still think of Richland One and Richland Two as the black district and the white district, although perception is catching up to reality, which has changed dramatically. District One has long been a black power base — with white influence clustered into a few zones within the district (Dreher, A.C. Flora). Now there is a struggle for the future of District Two that is largely rooted in racial identity.

Elsewhere — such as with the Richland County election and recreation commissions — race is a widely understood subtext, shaping viewpoints but not openly acknowledged. Until now.

Apparently, the defenders of the status quo at the Richland County Recreation Commission — a legislative special purpose district with a growing reputation that brings to mind the routine corruption on “The Wire” and “Boardwalk Empire” — feel backed into a corner.

How else to explain Sen. John Scott and Rep. Leon Howard suggesting there is something racist in the white majority of the county legislative delegation demanding accountability from the commission?

Sen. Scott even had the nerve to bring the notoriously, spectacularly incompetent Lillian McBride (of the election commission meltdown) into the equation, as though that helped his case:

“This is the second time the same group has made an inquiry as it relates to an African-American director,” Sen. John Scott said, referring to then-Richland County election director Lillian McBride.

Sen. Joel Lourie, one of the letter’s authors, said Scott’s suggestion is offensive….

And well he should say that. Sen. Lourie, I mean.

leon-howard

Rep. Leon Howard

It’s a sad day when Joel Lourie has to defend his good name in the twilight of his Senate career, saying, “‘My family and I have a very proud record of community and race relations for the last 50 years.”

Indeed they have. Sen. Darrell Jackson has a Senate seat because Joel’s father, Isadore, gave up his seat in order to let an African-American have a shot at it.

And Joel’s record as a champion of social justice is impeccable — as is those of others being smeared by innuendo, such as Reps. James Smith and Beth Bernstein.

The saga of the recreation commission was sordid and shameful enough. Messrs. Scott and Howard have made it more so, by choosing such an inexcusable manner of defending it.

Fire Department’s social media flap has gotten out of hand

19th century --- by Raffet --- Image by © Gianni Dagli Orti/CORBIS

19th century — by Raffet — Image by © Gianni Dagli Orti/CORBIS

This is getting to be like the French Revolution — heads are rolling everywhere, and the tumbrils keep rumbling up.

The Fire Department has now fired three people for inappropriate social media posts (while Richland County has fired a fourth).

And — and this seems more extreme than anything — it’s shutting down fire stations for fear of retaliation.

This has really gotten out of hand.

I wonder — if Chief Aubrey Jenkins and other city officials had known there would be these other cases coming down the pike, would they have fired the first guy? Now there’s this precedent, and they seem unable to stop themselves from firing one after another.

I sort of have the feeling they were thinking, “Fire this one guy, and that’s the end of the problem. Others so inclined will be forewarned.” Reckoning without the fact that others had already done likewise.

Anyway, this has gotten messy.

Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter is having a rally Saturday. Um, excuse me — didn’t they just have one? Isn’t that how all this started? Is this different groups of people calling themselves “Black Lives Matter,” or what?

It’s all a bit disorienting…

The firing of Capt. Jimmy Morris

One of the great things about the internet, or so I’m told, is that everybody can publish anything they want any time for the whole world to see, without any professional editors getting in the way.jimmy morris

One of the truly awful things about the internet, I know from experience, is that everybody can publish anything they want any time for the whole world to see, without any professional editors getting in the way.

Self-publishing amateurs sometimes wonder, is there a boundary? Is there something I might say on the Web that will get me in serious trouble? Where is that line?

As a professional editor, I can tell you that the answers are, yes, hell yes, and somewhere in Capt. Jimmy Morris’ rear-view mirror.

Morris, a 16-year Columbia Fire Department veteran, ran screaming over that boundary with this Facebook post referring to the Black Lives Matter protesters who were blocking I-126 Sunday night:

Idiots shutting down I-126. Better not be there when I get off work or there is gonna be some run over dumb asses.

Apparently having read that back over, and deeply concerned that maybe he hadn’t been quite inappropriate enough, he added this an hour later:

Public Service Announcement: If you attempt to shut down an interstate, highway, etc on my way home, you best hope I’m not one of the first vehicles in line because your ass WILL get run over! Period! That is all….

The next day, he was fired from his job with the fire department.

Let’s just leave race out of this for the moment (ex-Capt. Morris is white; the Black Lives Matter protesters, in case you just aren’t paying attention, are not — and the station where Morris worked is in a mostly black neighborhood). Pretend there’s no such thing as race: Who, unless he’s blind drunk or something, thinks that’s an appropriate message for a ranking public official to post about the general public?unnamed (1)

Another, tougher question: What would be the motive for that message in a world where race was not a factor? What’s the cause of all that bile?

Since we live in world that does have the problem of race, we’ve come to recognize certain types of communications that derive their flavor from that factor.

And those messages have a distinctly familiar flavor.

There’s a lot more I could say about someone in such a position who responds this way to protesters who already believe that the public-safety sector has it in for people like them.

But I’ll step back now and let y’all comment…

 

Does marching in the street accomplish anything (usually)?

vietnam_protester

And before you answer, “Well, it accomplished a lot in the Civil Rights era 50 years ago,” let me say that I think it did — under those particular circumstances. But that was about a clear and obvious gross injustice supported by law as a matter of policy. The nonviolent resistance, the dignified witness of those marchers, were needed to draw attention to the fact that a state of affairs that was clearly wrong would no longer be tolerated. It was a movement with clear goals, and they were achieved as they should be, through legislation. (If you get HBO, go see “All the Way” for a wonderful dramatization of a time when our political branches still worked as they should.)

Those demonstrations were carefully organized, and the marchers showed up in their Sunday best. Everything about their appearance and demeanor demanded, “Respect me!” And that was good, because respect was what the movement was about. Again, the marchers had clear goals, and they were achieved with remarkable alacrity.

But how many other such movements can we point to? The Vietnam antiwar movement? I don’t think so. Those increasingly boisterous demonstrations went on year after year before the nation just got tired of the war.

Which brings us to the Black Lives Matter movement.

A friend connected to law enforcement observed that the demonstration Sunday evening seemed rather confused and disorganized. I’m not surprised. Remember the rather silly Occupy movement? It was a core principle to those folks that no one be in charge. Well, rattle off the names of some key Black Lives Matter movement leaders. Maybe you can. I can’t.

So far, the first word I can think of to describe BLM is “amorphous.” I don’t know where to grab hold of it. And I don’t know whom to ask, What, precisely, are you trying to achieve? What specific actions do you want to see taken? Yeah, I know, the movement doesn’t want to see cops killing people without justification. We all want that. But what are the specific steps you want taken? How do you get from here to where you want to be?

Is it just about, as Mick Jagger would say, venting your frustration?

The chaotic, disorganized nature of the modern demonstration was on particularly extreme display the other night in Dallas. I’m not talking about that one nut who was killing cops — I certainly wouldn’t blame the demonstrators for that. But I’m talking about the overall scene, as mentioned in this editorial by The Washington Post:

THE SOLUTION to a bad guy with a gun, it is often said, is a good guy with a gun. Yet according to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings (D), there were 20 to 30 good guys openly carrying guns among the protesters whom Dallas police were supervising last Thursday night, when Micah Xavier Johnson began picking off officers. “In the middle of a firefight,” the mayor said Sunday, “it’s hard to pick out the good guys and the bad guys.”…

This is a movement that needs some people in charge, making some rules. And it also needs to decide what it wants our political system to do. Because however much the attendees may wish for a peaceful demonstration, the elements of violence were there even if that one murderous sniper had not shown up.

Of course, I have a prejudice here, one that’s been noted here a number of times: I just don’t hold with taking to the streets, under most circumstances. And I take that way back in history: Calling a Continental Congress to debate and eventually declare independence was the way to go about getting free from King George — shooting at British soldiers in Lexington and Concord more than a year before that declaration was not. Nor was the Boston Tea Party — pure hooliganism, destroying other people’s property — more than a year before that.

Yeah, I know, you’ll say we wouldn’t have gotten to the point of Independence without that year of fighting first, and you may be right. But we can’t know, can we, because that’s not the way it went down.

Over the weekend my wife and I watched the movie “Suffragette.” (Side note: If you’re looking for a “feel-good” movie, this isn’t it — very depressing.) And I found myself recoiling at one of the first scenes — nicely dressed ladies smashing windows with rocks on Oxford Street (no, I couldn’t tell whether it was Selfridge’s).rocks

Yeah, that was preceded by words saying that a generation of more dignified approaches had accomplished nothing. But I was not persuaded. If I were trying to persuade people that I should have the vote, I wouldn’t think that throwing rocks would make anyone think I was good voter material. I’d want to persuade people that having people like me vote would be an actual enhancement to civilization.

(Mind you, I think peaceful marches by the suffragettes were probably one of those cases when, as with the Civil Rights movement, taking to the streets was the thing to do. After all, what else were those ladies going to do — they couldn’t vote.)

Anyway… I am in my own way as unfocused as the Occupy folks were. I’ve gone from talking about peaceful demonstrations and what they accomplish to violence, or at least destruction of property.

Yeah, I know the difference, and no, I don’t know where I’m going with this. But I do know that time and time again, when I see people take to the streets, whether nonviolently or not, I tend to wonder, what is being accomplished here?

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