Symbolisim Over Substance
Governor on racismBY BRETT BURSEY
It seems that everyone is in a tizzy about how to respond to our oft-born- again governor's most recent conversion. David Beasley has come to the conclusion that the Confederate flag needs to come down from the State House.
Everyone is suspicious of the governor's about-face. Liberals don't trust his motives, and are reluctant to cede the emotional issue to a conservative Republican.
The folks on the right, led by a new champion, Attorney General Charlie Condon, say compromise be damned, let the people vote on it.
Most folks are just tired of the issue.
While Condon is laying the groundwork for a 1998 gubernatorial candidacy, Beasley is building a new constituency. Beasley lost much of the traditional Republican support when he embraced the Christian Coalition. But now fundamentalists have distanced themselves from the governor, and he needs to be born yet again.
Beasley may have changed his political tactics, but that doesn't necessarily indicate a change of policy regarding racial equality.
Although the governor is willing to admit that the flag is racially divisive, he has not evidenced any willingness to go beyond symbolism. The governor wants to take the flag down so we will feel better about his political agenda, one that has a negative impact on people of color and working people in general.
"We can't be distracted by the flag," said Dr. Willie Legette, who teaches political science at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg. "We have to stay focused on the social and economic inequities that black people face every day in this state.
"As long as the governor is against affirmative action, has a punitive view of welfare, runs an administration that is virtually all white, and builds more prisons than schools, he's missing the point when it comes to confronting racism," Legette said. "We shouldn't let him or the Black Caucus get away with it."
Legette argued that public discourse about the flag is off-base. He said blacks in particular must make it clear that the flag stands as a symbol of Southern racism and does not deserve a monument.
"It is a symbol of human domination and cannot be equated with the civil rights struggle, which is a symbol of human emancipation," he said.
"If the governor is really interested in symbolically confronting racism, he ought to host a mass rally and burn the damn thing."
Legette argued that no one involved in the debate over the flag is talking about honestly dealing with the effects of 300 years of racism.
The numbers speak for themselves. Clearly, black South Carolinians don't enjoy the same quality of life as do their white neighbors.
If South Carolinians are serious about addressing racism, they have to start talking about economics. Why should BMW get more incentives than working people? Why does the state work in conjunction with industry to keep wages depressed? Why do black school districts get less funding than white ones?
"On a substantive level, the governor and the legislature ought to find means to move people out of poverty and not simply off the welfare rolls," Legette said. "There is a big difference in improving the quality of life and merely reducing the welfare rolls."
The problems associated with racism hurt working people in this state regardless of their color. The solutions to our racial problems lie more in our willingness to democratize the economy than in platitudes and symbolism about the color of our skin and getting along.
Black and white workers in this state have more in common with each other than with their purporte leaders. Only when the leadership reflects the class interest of the majority of South Carolinians who make less than $17,000 a year can we begin creating the economic and educational opportunities that can dismantle racism.