Race still matters in this country. Is that why we try so hard
talking about it? Here's an op-ed piece that calls for the
The political mantra this year is “change.” But South Carolina,
Confederate flag still flies on the grounds of the State Capitol, is
disturbing example of how difficult it is for people of good will to
dispose of the toxic layers of bigotry that have accumulated over
On Saturday, in a cold, steady rain, voters turned out for the
primary. Nearly all of them — close to 100 percent — were white. At
dinner here Saturday night, I was reminded ruefully by one of the
“It used to be the Democratic Party that was the white man’s party
Carolina. Now it’s the G.O.P. The black people vote next Saturday.”
They still honor Benjamin Tillman down here, which is very much like
honoring a malignant tumor. A statue of Tillman, who was known as
Ben, is on prominent display outside the statehouse.
Tillman served as governor and U.S. senator in the late 19th and
centuries. A mortal enemy of black people, he bragged that he and
followers had disenfranchised “as many as we could,” and he publicly
defended the murder of blacks.
In a speech on the Senate floor, he declared:
“We of the South have never recognized the right of the negro to
white men, and we never will. We have never believed him to be the
the white man, and we will not submit to his gratifying his lust on
wives and daughters without lynching him.”
Real change is more than problematic in a state so warped by its
it can continue to officially admire a figure like Tillman.
The host of a dinner party I attended was Bud Ferillo, a white
relations executive who produced and directed a documentary called
“Corridor of Shame” to call attention to the terrible neglect of
schools in South Carolina.
If you were to walk into some of those schools — which are spread
crescent-shaped corridor on either side of Interstate 95 from the
edge of North Carolina to the northern edge of Georgia — you might
that you were in the United States.
A former South Carolina commerce secretary, Charles Way, talks in
about the time his car broke down near one of these schools and he
inside to use a phone.
“I just couldn’t really believe my eyes,” he said. “It was the most
deplorable building condition that I’ve ever seen in my life. How
somebody could teach in an environment like that is really just
Among many other problems, ancient plumbing has resulted in raw
backing up into some schools, bringing in vermin and unbearable
first school profiled in “Corridor of Shame” was built in 1896.
Some 700,000 students attend these rural schools, and they are being
behind in droves. One principal complained about nonfiction books in
school library that dated back to the 1940s and ’50s, including a
that promised “one day man will land on the moon.”
The rural schools in South Carolina are symptoms of a much wider
Only about 50 percent of the state’s children graduate from high
There has been a spasm of political campaigning here, but that will
end. In presidential elections, South Carolina is reliably
state with Pitchfork Ben standing guard at the Capitol hardly could
The Democrats are here this week fighting over the black vote. It’s
that in a state so racially polarized, there is so little serious
discussion among the candidates of the race issue.
Senator Barack Obama, with his message of unity and healing (and not
wanting to be seen solely as a black candidate), has tried to avoid
addressing the issue of race head-on. Bill and Hillary Clinton have
hard at turning that posture into a negative, aggressively courting
black vote, while at the same time spotlighting (directly and
surrogates) the fact that Mr. Obama is black.
The result has been a churning of the issue of race to no
effect, even during last night’s debate sponsored by the
Black Caucus Institute.
This was probably inevitable. In South Carolina the Confederate flag
flying right out there in the open and Pitchfork Ben is on display
to see. But in most other places, the hostility to blacks remains on
down-low. No one wants to deal with it.
Despite big and important advances over the past several decades,
Senator Obama’s crossover campaign, racism remains alive and well in
of the country. And yet no one — not Bill Clinton, the man touted
(absurdly) as the first black president; or Hillary Clinton, who’s
for president; or Barack Obama, the first black person with a real
the White House — is willing to talk honestly and openly about it.