By Barney Blakeney
The implosion of our national government is difficult to watch because it so much reminds me of what’s happening on the local scene.
Ever since I became an adult and started interacting as a reporter in professional circles I’ve heard people refer to our community as “The Great State of Charleston”. Sarcastically they besmirched my beloved Charleston as a delusional elitist commune. I usually accepted the smirks because knowing my community, we think of ourselves as ‘the bee’s knees’ although some others would relegate us to a small town imitation of ‘the big city”. I know better. Charleston is no imitation. It has some of the best America has to offer. All roads lead to Charleston. That’s been true since city was founded in 1670.
But Charleston has earned some of the criticism. Blue blood elitists locals used to call SNOBS, those who live ‘South Of Broad Street’ and some of the most intense racism south of the Mason Dixon Line live here. Charleston, today, is home to decadence almost unparalleled anywhere. Downtown King Street has become its center.
The beautiful jewel that is my home has smudges. The city whose culture is founded on African culture today is all but bereft of Black people. White folks who come to the city as tourists seeking the unique experience of an imagined antebellum Southern city ask, “Where are all the Black people?” And if you go north to our sister city, North Charleston, the same question is on its horizon.
Plagued by a public education system that deludes whites and disenfranchises Blacks; an increasingly emerging affluent class adopts the ways of their forefathers and ignorantly denies others’ civil rights and opportunities for quality education. Within a few miles predominantly white schools with the highest academic ratings are located only a stone’s throw from predominantly Black schools with the lowest academic ratings. The proximity defies logic. And in a community where some of the best medical facilities in America are located, the infant mortality rate among Black babies rivals that of some third world countries.
The College of Charleston in its report titled ‘The State of Racial Disparities in Charleston County, South Carolina 2000-2015’ noted, “The report is the culmination of a year-long effort to gather information that helps set the record straight. That record has been colored by myths and misinterpretations about race relations in Charleston which has made it impossible for Blacks who overwhelmingly are impacted by racial disparities, to overcome those barriers.”
The tragic murder of nine parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in 2015 rebuked those myths and misinterpretations in ways none could refute. Still the heartfelt sympathy and symbolic gestures have not altered the inevitable course of Charleston conduct. And the detached insensitivity to racial disparities remains translucent until pictures such as those of former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager shooting a fleeing Walter Scott in the back surface.
Political correctness and expedience focus Charleston’s vision of its potential. In a city of about 99,000 registered voters of which some 19,000 are Black, political campaigns revolve around topics of flooding and over development. Quality of life issues such as racial and economic diversity are sidebar issues.
I see the national picture of political dominance reflected in our local elections. Candidates talk about people, but seemingly in an abstract sense. What seems more important is whether my side versus your side comes out the victor. Locally the debate seems more about roads and buildings. The human factor I think has gotten lost.
Fortunately our local political landscape isn’t marked by circles of corruption. But I’m wondering if after November 5 we will be on track to a more progressive community or stuck with the same old same old perpetrated by different players?