By Barney Blakeney
Okay so they took it down, now what? I say THEY took it (the statue of slavery advocate John C. Calhoun) down because they put it up. Removal of the statue wasn’t up to us and perhaps had very little to do with us. But again, now that the statue is gone, what happens next? My guess is not a dang thing but some more symbolism to replace it.
Mind you I think the ole piano player, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, is a good guy and perhaps the best mayor for Black folks in the city’s history, but I don’t see anything coming down the pipes from his administration – or any other – that will significantly change the quality of life for Black folks in this community.
Black folks are too willing to accept symbolic gestures in lieu of substantial change. Two years ago the city formally apologized for “its role in slavery”. Gimme a break! You wanna apologize to me for a wrong committed against me mitigate the damage caused by that wrong! And you can start by breakin’ me off a lil sumpin’ sumpin’.
Charleston became and remains among the wealthiest communities on the planet all because of its role in slavery – which is perpetuated today by its continued subjugation of Black labor. In a town where the median income is about $75,000 annually, the median income for Blacks is less than half that amount. A Negro clockin’ $30G a year in Charleston is a Negro makin’ good money. And a Negro makin’ $75G is a rich Negro! I’ve had Negroes makin’ $70G brag to me about how much they make – like I care.
Again, we get it twisted and too often accept symbolism in lieu of substance. Our best and brightest get sidetracked by the illusion of middle class status. The struggle for justice and equality become pump fake activities – if they engage such activities at all. In basketball pump faking is making a defender think you’re going to shoot the ball when you’re not. That allows the shooter to change positions and take a less defended shot. Ever since the 1960s Black folks been falling for the pump fake.
Back in the 1980s former Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley created the Charleston Minority Business Enterprise Office. It was supposed to facilitate the creation and development of Black owned businesses in the city – classic pump fake. It was and remains today, the only such municipal entity in our region. But the office never has been adequately equipped to fulfill its stated mission.
The office has had some great leaders! Dr. Tanya Richardson was its first director – superwoman – and good lookin’. Her office was in the old Cigar Factory – another Charleston pump fake. The Cigar Factory had been converted into a small business incubator. A private firm was brought in to do the work – I forget what they called it. At any rate that shot never was taken.
Several directors followed Richardson, all more than capable of making the office successful. But the city never gave them adequate support. I remember when the office first moved to Calhoun Street – ironically isn’t it? – a young sister, Michelle English of Columbia and younger sister to one of my college schoolmates, was its director. Michelle worked from a cubicle with only a typewriter for equipment. I don’t think the office ever has had an assistant to help its director.
I think our Black elected officials on city council missed the boat recently when they challenged the new white boy, Jason Sakran’s attempt to move $4 million from an affordable housing initiative to emergency funding for small businesses suffering adversities due to COVID shutdowns. You can keep your turkeys, air conditioners, fans and subsidized housing. Give me the equal opportunity to make the same money you make and I’ll buy my own damn fan and home.
I recently got into a squabble with one of Charleston’s most progressive Black women – Barbara Gathers. We fuss some times, but that’s between us. I fight with NAACP President Dot Scott the same way. Them women think they run something. I tell them their place is two steps behind Black men and that their primary jobs are to have babies and dinner ready when their man gets home. Just kidding. I like to make Pat laugh when reading my columns. And my mama, who was every bit the equal to my daddy in our household, might come back and slap the taste out my mouth when I go to sleep.
But Barbara Gathers was among the first Black entrepreneurs that I know of, to operate a business on King Street south of Calhoun Street in modern times. That was some 30 years ago. I don’t think there’s been another since. Not surprising. Heck ain’t that many Black owned businesses on the peninsula in the first place!
Shoot, Black residents are being displaced from the peninsula. After the current generation of Black property owners die, there likely won’t be any Black residents on the peninsula. The projects are gonna go, ya’ll. Don’t fall for the pump fake.
The city has made two recent moves I think we should guard very carefully to avoid the pump fake – the creation of the Diversity, Racial Reconciliation, and Tolerance office and the Special Commission on Equity, Inclusion, and Racial Conciliation. Both initiatives, I think have the potential to address race in our community significantly. But we must insist they produce substantive results. Symbolic gestures don’t provide equal opportunities to the best education, jobs or housing for Black people. Offered the choice between keeping the John C. Calhoun statue and equal opportunity –I’ll take equal opportunity every time and you can keep your statue.