A few humble thoughts on race, violence, and South Carolina.
The crimes of Dylann Roof were spectacularly horrible. To murder in cold blood nine men and women who were praising the Lord is unfathomably evil. There is simply no excuse for it. The moral power and restraint of the Charleston black community is historically magnificent. Nothing less than that. The love and forgiveness of the victims’ families is breathtaking, one of the great moments in human history.
And while I don’t think that the rebel battle flag flying over the statehouse in Columbia had anything to do with Dylann Roof’s horrible crimes, the flag has to go on government property. For black citizens, taxpayers, voters, soldiers, war widows to have the flag of an army that fought to maintain their ancestors in chains, as less than human, is painful and cruel. That flag has a place in museums and homes and restaurants but not on the statehouse lawn.
But, that easy target of the flag is obscuring something glorious about America, as are Mr. Obama’s condescending comments about the country of which he is President. (And by the way, can anyone imagine Dwight Eisenhower speaking condescendingly of his country? Or FDR? Where on earth does Mr. Obama get off belittling Americans? Is that what a President should be doing?)
But, I digress.… I know South Carolina. It is a completely different state from what it was in the early 1960s when the stars and bars were run up the state flagpole to mark white resistance to court-ordered desegregation. South Carolina now is a model of racial openness and tolerance and just plain getting along. It has a black GOP Senator, a very powerful black Democratic Representative, many blacks in high positions throughout the state.
Most of my immediate family lives in the incredibly beautiful small city of Greenville, South Carolina. The hippest city in the nation. This is a city on the move, completely integrated. The city, with its neighbor, booming super Spartanburg, is home to immense automotive manufacturing facilities that are completely integrated. Manufacturers and researchers from all over the world flock to this twin city complex. By far the most exclusive club in Greenville, the Poinsett Club — named for the discoverer of the poinsettia plant, a man from Greenville — is fully integrated and when I last looked had a black member as membership committee chair. Another fine club, the Commerce Club, is likewise fully integrated and has black management.
On the streets and in the restaurants, blacks and whites mingle with an ease that is totally unknown in my hometown of Beverly Hills, where blacks and whites are almost never seen together. In the recovery community, where I spend much of my time, blacks and whites are pretty much interchangeable.
I have been coming to Greenville much of the year for years now. I have never heard a racist remark by anyone, black or white. Not one. I also spend time in Greenwood, a much more traditional nearby South Carolina town, and likewise have never heard a racist word there.
South Carolina is exploding with vitality and growth. Like most of the south that I have seen, it is too busy to hate. That is progress indeed.
Dylann Roof was an outlaw and an outlier and a demonic person. But South Carolina, black and white, as far as I can see, is overwhelmingly a shining, brilliant example of what America can be at its best and what humans can be at their best. Let’s be watchful, but also let’s be thankful.
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