The Race Issue 

Talking about it candidly might just help our community

It's amazing how people act as if racism doesn't exist. Even when there's an "open" forum on the topic, candid discussion seems to get lost in political correctness. But like they say, you can't resolve a problem until you admit there is one. And race is a problem in our community.

Ask most folks if they think its a problem and universally the answer is yes. So why aren't more people willing to honestly and openly discuss it?

I get the feeling that people don't like talking about racism because they find it hard to admit their prejudices in racially-mixed audiences. When the racial composition of the group is more exclusive, the discussions seem to be more candid.

When I'm talking with a group of blacks, I get the idea that racism forms the foundation of almost every aspect of life in Charleston — where they work, play, send their children to school, and even where they worship.

Most whites I've talked with also feel that racism plays a major role in the dynamics of this community, but they don't see it as being as much of a problem.

I recently talked with some white guys I met on Sumter Street downtown about the recent dismissal of a wrongful death lawsuit against North Charleston's police in the controversial shooting of mentally ill Asberry Wylder in 2004. They didn't have a clue about the case.

Once I reminded them about the circumstances of the incident — the victim was shot by police responding to a call about shoplifting — one guy vaguely recalled it and said he felt racism played a role in the shooting.

When I brought up the same subject around a group of black guys, the response was totally different. Their recollection of the incident was far more pointed, almost to the point of anger. They felt racism permeated the incident.

Former state Circuit Court Judge Daniel Martin said racism played a key role in the incident from the time Wylder walked into that grocery store until the case was dismissed earlier this year. Experience and statistics show police are more likely to use deadly force when a suspect is black than when a suspect is white, and blacks are less likely to find justice in the American judicial system, he said.

When it comes to public education, the race issue is perhaps most obvious. Former schools superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson, Charleston County's first African-American superintendent, dealt with the question head-on.

Public education in Charleston is as racist as anywhere in the country, she said. Too bad she waited until she was leaving this community for a job in Seattle to make that bold statement.

But Goodloe-Johnson's reluctance to address racism in our community's infrastructure while she lived here is indicative of why the subject is avoided. If you want to get along with folks in this community, you stay away from the contentious stuff. That's our way.

In Charleston we don't talk about racism or the problems it presents. We simply pretend they don't exist. We deal with the issues of race in clandestine enclaves.

Our community is becoming increasingly more diverse and more and more people who grew up elsewhere are moving to the area, bringing with them different views on racial interactions.

Like it or not, Charleston is growing beyond its traditional boundaries. For once, I'd like to see us take the lead in a positive direction. I think we can do that if we begin to talk to one another.


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