We're a full four months removed from the massacre at Emanuel AME Church and a couple weeks removed from the settlement between the family of Walter Scott and the city of North Charleston, so there's no better time than now to check the area's pulse as it relates to racial matters. But before we can determine how well we've been doing, we need a firm definition of one of the buzzwords we've been using lately: "unity."
These days, unity is arguably the most used word in Charleston. According to Dictionary.com, the primary definition of unity is "a state of being one." That sounds great, right? But not so fast. Unity also means "the absence of diversity" and "unvaried or uniform in character." As it relates to the state of things in Charleston, I'd say that the type of unity found in the Holy City is closer to the latter two meanings, not the former.
Now before any of you well-meaning people stop reading this article at this point to head online to write in the comment section, "No, you sir, are the real racist," let me say this matter was first brought to my attention by a white person, who sent me a text congratulating me on my inclusion in Charlie's special Unity Issue.
She also asked me how I enjoyed my first experience at the most recent Pecha Kucha. I told her that I loved it and that I thought other black people would enjoy it as well. I tweeted as much because I believe black people should be coming to Pecha Kucha.
My friend then asked me why more black folks don't come to events like Pecha Kucha. My response: "Because they don't care if we come" — the "they" being the organizers of these kinds of events. She then asked me to explain what I meant by that.
I started off by mentioning the University of South Carolina's current head football coach vacancy and how college football provides a great parallel to race relations in Charleston.
According to the NCAA's 2014-'15 demographics database, of the 27,873 athletes that played Division I football, 47.1 percent of those players were black. But for some reason, the high percentage of black players does not translate into leadership positions; only 15.2 percent of head coaches were black. While those numbers are shocking, a closer look reveals that of the 3,552 Division I administrators (i.e. athletic directors, assistant ADs, associate ADs), only around 11 percent are black.
Why does this make a difference? It matters because somewhere between "student-athlete" and "former student-athlete," black players are not getting the opportunity to become head coaches. And it's not because there aren't enough qualified black men for the job. Instead, it's because the decision-makers (see school administration) are overwhelming white and therefore overwhelmingly not exposed to qualified black candidates.
As for the Gamecocks vacancy, finding a new head coach will probably go something like this: South Carolina Athletic Director Ray Tanner, a white dude, will presumably reach out to his staff, which include a deputy athletics director, COO, CFO, three senior associate ADs, and 16 associate/assistant ADs to field their suggestions on who should be the next head coach. The list of candidates probably won't be all that racially diverse since, of the 23 people I just mentioned, only two are black. Given this, the chance that the next head coach will be a white guy is damn near certain.
Which brings us back to our situation here in Charleston.
The vast majority of people that make up Charleston's creative class are white, and the vast majority of their friends and contacts in the industry are white. As such, this is why you'll see mostly white people at Pecha Kucha or at Charlie's Unity Issue party or anytime somebody hosts a conversation about race or gentrification. This doesn't mean the people who put on these events are racist or bigots, nor does it mean that these events aren't good (Pecha Kucha and Charlie's Unity Issue and party were all awesome). It means that you're going to get a lot of the same ideas passed around by a lot of the same people to a lot of the same people — in this case, creative class whites. In the end, that isn't going to bring the races in Charleston closer together. It just creates an echo chamber of goodwill — but little action.
Unity and diversity are sweet concepts. We can all be for them. The problem is that embracing diversity and fostering a truly unified community requires a lot of hard work. So when I told my friend that "they don't care" if black people come to their events, it's not because these creative class whites don't like black people or that they're trying to hold the community back. It's just that they don't think about us.
And honestly, they don't have to. Why rock the boat when it's doing a fine job staying the course?
If Charleston is going to keep shouting about inclusion, then this boat needs to be rocked. If the folks in this town truly want more diversity, they need to be prepared to undertake the uncomfortable work that goes along with getting to know people who don't look like they do and who aren't in their social circles. And in the case of Charleston's black community, the folks behind Pecha Kucha and the like have to make an effort to learn the cultural language of those they haven't traditionally included, and they have to be prepared to explain what a "creative" is to those who don't know what it is. Most importantly, they have to be willing to examine the actual reasons why minority groups are underrepresented at these events. These are the steps needed to create a better Charleston.