THE GOOD FIGHT ‌ Back to Basics 

A primer on how racism shapes everything Southern

I have been writing for years that the basis of most of the South's social pathologies — the ignorance, the violence, the lack of economic development, almost everything that makes this region such wonderful material for anthropologists and novelists — can be traced to the white fear of black people, especially the fear of the black male as a sexual rival and predator.

Confirmation for my theory came last week from Roger Clyde, business manager of the local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Clyde got his name and face in the media recently when he spoke up for two South Carolina Electric & Gas lineman (and IBEW members) who were confronted by the pistol-packing Rep. Wallace Scarborough in the now infamous incident of July 15. On that evening, the District 115 representative stepped out the back door of his parents' house, ordered the linemen off his property and fired a pistol. He spent the night in jail and was briefly charged with assault with intent to kill.

To most observers, Scarborough came off as a jerk. The SCE&G workers had every legal right to be there, as spelled out in every SCE&G contract. And Scarborough's pistol-packing behavior was a public nuisance, if not a public menace. We pay the police to protect our homes so that we won't have to play Lone Ranger in the backyard at night. But to some, Wallace Scarborough appears to be a hero.

A couple of days after leading an IBEW demonstration in support of the SCE&G workers, Clyde received an anonymous, crudely scrawled letter that provides a deep insight into the white Southern psyche.

Addressed "TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN," the letter went on to say, "...Any fool that invades the backyard of private property is doing so at their own peril.

"Even the police know better! I suppose in your opinion, utility workers are above the law....

"Tourists, renters, as well as property owners are being terrorized, brutalized, and sometimes killed. Wifes (sic) and daughters raped and many times right in front of their loved ones..."

Crime in the Holy City is epidemic these days, but the writer's account is rather hysterical. It is hardly supported by media reports I have seen or heard. Most of the violent crime in the metro area occurs on Charleston's East Side or in North Charleston, not in Wallace Scarborough's very upscale West Ashley neighborhood.

At the bottom of the letter was a sticker with the image of a revolver pointed at the viewer and the warning, "NOTICE — Anyone found here at night will be found here in the morning."

And scrawled beside the sticker were these words: "The sign goes double for you NIGGERS!!! It is you low-lifes that commit over 90% of the invasions..."

And there you have it. The coward who wrote this unsigned letter mailed copies to Clyde, to Ken Riley (head of International Longshoremen Association Local 1422), and to Erin McKee, president of the Greater Charleston Central Labor Council. What the incident in Wallace Scarborough's yard had to do with the Longshoremen is known only to the author, as is the fevered logic that carried him from said backyard to a racist diatribe and images of wives and daughters being raped. Yet, as bizarre and scary as this letter is to rational people, I think many white people would sympathize with its spirit, if not its language.

Since the late 19th century, Southern politicians and other opportunists have used the image of the black rapist to unite whites against any perceived threat to the prevailing social order. It would seem that the perceived threat in this case was organized labor, since the three copies of the letter were mailed to three local labor leaders, one of whom had nothing whatsoever to do with the Scarborough incident. (Clyde and McKee both participated in the demonstration on behalf of the SCE&G workers.)

In the South, the concept of "home as castle" is particularly strong, presumably to give the white man the power to protect his women from the ubiquitous "black rapist."

Describing the political scene in North Carolina in 1898, historian Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore wrote in Gender & Jim Crow: "The Democrats charged that while white men slumbered, the incubus of black power visited their beds. They summed up their platform as 'safety of the home.'"

Of course, the ruling party of the South today is not the Democratic Party, but the Republican, and themes of race and "safety of the home" are always just beneath the surface of their rhetoric. It has been a useful tool to keep whites unified and to keep unions and other progressive ideas out. And somebody who is ashamed to sign his name is still working this tired old shtick.


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