By Barney Blakeney
This is an issue I really didn’t want to weigh in on – former Trump advisor Steve Bannon’s upcoming speech at The Citadel. I got an email from Charleston Rep. Wendell Gilliard protesting Bannon’s invitation to speak to the Citadel’s Republican Club. I got bad vibes from the get-go.
I really don’t know a whole lot about Bannon. I hear a lot of stuff about him, but I don’t follow his every move. I know enough about him to realize we’re at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to ideas about the direction in which our society should head. But I refrain from a lot of the denigrating name calling.
The facts always speak for themselves. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, most rational people will recognize it as a duck.
But I understand not everybody thinks like me. Some people really are passionate. I get passionate too about some things. From his email, it seemed Gilliard was extremely passionate about denying Bannon the opportunity to speak at The Citadel. That’s where the red flag went up in my mind.
I may not like what a man says, but I’m not the one to deny him the right to say it. This whole thing about denying Bannon the opportunity to speak at The Citadel is real touchy. It wasn’t that long ago Black folks were denied the opportunity to make speeches at The Citadel.
Mrs. Christine Jackson often tells me stories of Martin L. King Jr’s speeches in Charleston. It usually was difficult to secure venues where he could speak. Black folks would allow King to speak at their churches, but the venture to secure King’s speaking engagement at Charleston County Hall in 1967 was an odyssey, she says.
More recently, some folks had a hard time finding a venue where Nation Of Islam Min. Louis Farrakhan could speak. After some wrangling, he spoke at Royal Missionary Baptist Church Family Life Center in North Charleston.
I got this funny thing about denying civil rights. I guess it’s easy to get caught up in the passion about things. But just because you don’t agree with what someone says, doesn’t give any of us the right to deny that person the opportunity to express their beliefs. After I got Gilliard’s email, I asked the folks at The Citadel what they thought.
Here’s their response: “The Citadel greatly values civility, and although all members of the college community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.”
They tweaked that thing two or three times before they finally sent me a response they wanted me to use. All of ‘em said the same thing – they couldn’t deny Bannon the opportunity to speak. Again, I think that’s the right move.
What’s so bad about it is nobody would have even known the man was going to be at The Citadel if our guys didn’t make such a big stink of the thing! Bannon’s getting maximum exposure out of this because of the controversy.
I’ll tell you something else that bothers me about this. When was it – last year or the year before when cadets had that Halloween spoof about the KKK? Our guys went in demanding Gen. Rosa’s resignation and the students’ expulsion. And what’s happened with that?
I’ll tell you what. Rosa’s about to retire with full benefits and the students went back to class. Oh, there was some talk about diversity training and junk, but we see how that turned out. To make matters worse, the kids across town at the College of Charleston just pulled off a racist Halloween stunt of their own – complete with jail jumpsuits and racial epithets.
When I think about the young whites who took part in the Charlottesville, VA racial melee and the proliferation of racist acts being perpetrated throughout our community and across this nation at college campuses, I’m thinkin’ we’ve already missed the boat. A new generation of young people already has been miseducated! How does the denial of civil rights change that? It exacerbates the problem!
Folks, the message being carried by people like Steve Bannon are a problem. But we’ve got bigger fish to fry. By my estimation, we have failed to properly educate the last two generations of our kids – the Black ones want to kill each other and the white ones want to kill everybody else! Shutting down Steve Bannon is like closing the gate after the horse has left the barn.
If we’re smart, we should recognize that The Citadel’s Republican Club is comprised of a group of young people who likely will become significant leaders in the future.
Do we really want to further instruct them in the art of denying civil rights to others?