By Barney Blakeney
Over the past few weeks I’ve been writing about the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture’s report on racial disparities in Charleston County. Its commissioner and author said the report is important because it documents what most of us already know – that racial disparities in our community are profound. Despite all the ‘cum by yah’ and genuine efforts of so many people, Black and white, manifestations of racism permeate every aspect of our daily lives. The report itself is a manifestation of that racism – it was financed by funding that came to Avery after the 2015 murders at Emanuel AME Church.
In the stories I’ve written, I tried to convey some sense of what the report says through its data. I don’t know if I was able to do that as well as it should be. I guess I was looking for perspectives that might articulate the reality of the information. Perhaps that only can be done, or may best be done, through the feelings experienced from the reality of living it.
“The racial barriers identified in this report are rooted in legacies of slavery, racism and white supremacist structures of power throughout all sectors of Charleston County,” the report said in its conclusion. “Such inequities impede efforts to make Charleston County a just, fair and inclusive place for all residents.”
The report, which can be found at all Charleston County Libraries and online, offers a mountain of information. I think anybody who’s conscious of the plight of Black people and want to be a part of the change to improve their plight should read the report. I say those who are conscious and want to be a part of the change should read it so they can inform all those who aren’t engaged – too many people ain’t got a clue and don’t even care! They need to be informed because they are bringing the rest of us down. Racial disparities cost us greatly. Everybody’s a loser in that game.
Post and Courier reporter Deanna Pan was at the November release of the report which says from the beginning of their experience in public schools Asian and White students outperform Black students in every area and that in the 2015-2016 school year, the five schools with the highest poverty indicator were predominantly Black schools and those with the lowest poverty indicator were predominantly white. Those trends continue as students complete high school. While white students graduate at a rate of about 91 percent, Black students graduate at a rate of about 75 percent.
Pan’s news article in the December 24 P&C about graduation rates said higher graduation rates translate into additional millions of dollars in gross domestic product, more jobs, income that produces higher incomes, more state and local tax revenue, home sales, automobile sales and overall spending.
Some of this stuff are just no-brainers. When the tide raises all boats rise with it – except those that are being held under water. Never mind that eliminating racism is just the right thing to do, it makes good economic sense! I never could figure out why white folks adhered so staunchly to Jim Crow racism. That ‘no Blacks allowed’ thing in business just never made sense to me. Some of the other stuff I could see – Black people were dehumanized for a lot of reasons – but when it comes to making money and spending money, I figure the more the merrier.
Of course, the report covered other aspects of the community like income and poverty levels, gentrification and barriers to affordable housing, educational attainment, health and environmental hazards and crime and policing. As a reporter, I get disparities studies all the time. They all say the same thing. But reading the stats for Charleston County was like seeing that stuff for the first time. Sometimes I think I’m a little desensitized to that kind of information. I usually have to think about it a little while before it soaks in. But that report, it pinched my nerves.
It hurt to read stats that said though the county’s Black population in 2014 was 28 percent, 65 percent of the county’s jail population was Black, that adverse health disparities result in Blacks being hospitalized more than twice the rate as whites, that Blacks stay in hospitals longer, have three time the number of emergency room visits as white which all results in triple the cost of medical care for Blacks compared to the cost for whites. Blacks die at a rate twice as high as whites because risk factors that contribute to poor health are much greater for Blacks due to disparities in our community. All that information should trigger some common sense responses. But don’t count on it. The report says the disparities outlined have existed the past 40 years. We all know they’ve existed far longer.
“Charleston County is the state’s main attraction for tourists coming to see the history, culture and architecture that makes it a world famous destination. But beneath the accolades and adulation of historic Charleston is a haunting story of racism that’s generally avoided” is how the report introduction began. In conclusion it said, “We hope this report will empower stakeholders, community leaders and local residents to forge more equitable and inclusive Charleston County. As Jesse Jackson might say, let’s keep hope alive!