Tag Archives: South Carolina

It’s about loving your neighbor: The Flag Controversy

For 2 days, South Carolina sits stunned at the news that a sullen 21 year old boy, hyped up on white supremacy nonsense and hoping to start a race war, spent an hour studying the Bible with a group of African Americans at a legendary AME church in Charleston before pulling out his gun and shooting 9 of them dead.

Stunned.

We all struggle to speak, because really, what can I say?

But I can add my voice to the rising tide of others who are willing to be so bold as to challenge the narrative that there isn’t a race problem in America, that this is all caused by angry black people or poor black people or good-for-nothing lazy welfare black people or [insert your other favorite slightly racist but still acceptable conservative statement here].

I can challenge the reality in my state of South Carolina that above our capital, on the grounds, flew one flag yesterday at full mast while all the others were at half: The Confederate flag. The flag that signified the South’s proud assertion that they were sovereign in 1860 and they are sovereign now over any federal mandate.

We could easily get bogged down in an argument over that sovereignty. I’ll leave that to the armchair historians.

But if you think that the value of the Confederate flag as a statement of sovereignty means anything in face of our American white/majority culture that glorifies violence in general as symbolized by the right to own weapons of violence, and refuses to relinquish power over what defines racism — well, here we must disagree.

The question of what SC needed to do with its flag was settled a decade ago with a compromise: remove the flag from the actual statehouse building but fly it on the grounds at the Confederate memorial instead.  Ok, that’s decent I suppose. I’m fine with history.

But the flag. That flag. It nearly throbs with the emotions attached to it by both sides: those who feel like their Southern culture and way of life are being ripped from them and must then clutch to the orange and blue symbol as a rallying cry to keep out anything that suggests we live in a different world. And by those who see in the flag a constant reminder of the lynchings (144 in South Carolina alone), the lunch-counter sit-ins, the beatings that accompanied the Civil Rights marches, the man who was shot dead by a Charleston police officer just two months ago.

Folks, the hate isn’t stopping. And our refusal (as those with power and privilege) to acknowledge this hate, to own it, to take responsibility for the backbreaking work of pushing against the capacity of the human heart to manufacture evil – that refusal is hurting us.

It’s a failure to love.

The Great Commandments are these: Love God (as hard as you can all the time with everything you have) and Love your neighbor as yourself.

Friends, our neighbors are the ones mourning the shots fired and the nine lives robbed from the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston on Wednesday.  And our neighbors are telling us that racial attitudes in South Carolina are not fine.

The Confederate flag is not a neutral symbol of fried chicken, biscuits, sweet tea, and big trucks. It’s a physical manifestation of our failure as Christians in South Carolina to give up our “love” for “Southern heritage” (whatever the hell that means) on behalf of actually carrying out our mandate to flood every corner of this dark earth with the Gospel: the Gospel that condemns racism and sexism and classism, the Gospel that enables us to love God and neighbor, the Gospel that recognizes sin and names it for what it is and roots it out. 

I’d like to share Dr. Anthony Bradley‘s outstanding commentary on South Carolina’s moment in the spotlight in the wake of this shooting, as the flag’s presence over the capital — padlocked to its pole so that no one can ever take it down, or even lower it to honor innocent people slain by racial hatred — has moved to the forefront.

Dr. Bradley is a scholar, a PCA minister, and one of the few minority voices within my denomination. The PCA just last week passed a basic statement of repentance for our tainted and murky racial past. Bradley is clearly a brave man to be willing to hang out with us here in all our whiteness and Presbyterianness. And he’s brave enough to say this on Facebook and elsewhere:

The video referenced in this post is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7m5kWC90a6I
The video referenced in this post is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7m5kWC90a6I

Calling out this paragraph as the heart of his argument, and it’s a point that may cost me some friends by repeating it:

The spirit of the Confedrate battle flag remains alive and well in South Carolina because conservative Republican evangelical Christians have yet to place “loving your neighborhood” ahead of a romantic idolatry of “states’ rights and the old south.” Until black people become more important than “the Southern way of life” by white Christians, who hold the state’s economic and political power, the community of discourse that produced this shooter could keep producing people who are just as evil.

I don’t *need* for famous people to agree with my point of view, but it’s nice when it happens. 🙂

To save myself from typing:

FB lori comment

A friend of mine teaches at a school in the Greenville area and one of her German students struggled to understand why the Confederate flag is even defensible given America’s yearlong carnival of racial violence and shootings:

Michele student

Of course, it’s hard to find a more eloquent commentator on American flaws than Jon Stewart….. I still can’t cope with the reality that he won’t be a voice for us much longer ….. he had this powerful statement last night in response to the shootings. And I’ll let this be the last word (you can also read this summary at WaPo if you don’t have time for the video):

Among many excellent points, Stewart says:

I heard someone on the news say “Tragedy has visited this church.” This wasn’t a tornado. This was a racist. This was a guy with a Rhodesia badge on his sweater. You know, so the idea that — you know, I hate to even use this pun, but this one is black and white. There’s no nuance here.

And we’re going to keep pretending like, “I don’t get it. What happened? This one guy lost his mind.” But we are steeped in that culture in this country and we refuse to recognize it, and I cannot believe how hard people are working to discount it.

Update, 11:30am:
This excellent article by a South Carolina native and minority woman is a gentle reminder that South Carolina life is complex and messy, just like life everywhere. I’ll post it here because her viewpoint is important and necessary if we are to move past condemnation into hope:

Social justice is complicated and the lack of it is fraught with local nuance. What I ask from my friends who will and should add to the public conversation on the Charleston shootings is that they consider this before they tweet generalized condemnation.

from “My Complicated Relationship with South Carolina”

Update, Saturday, 1:30pm:

One of the best articles I’ve read in a while, Osheta counsels us to stop talking and listen, setting a trajectory of response that is Gospel-rich. “I’m sorry” and “I’m listening.”

 I’m sorry tames the anger.  “I’m sorry” respects the pain. “I’m sorry” positions you as a friend and not adversary.

I’m listening because we’re called to be reconcilers.

from What I need you to say in response to the shooting in Charleston

Why I’m not voting for Haley

Gov. Nikki Haley Puts Down Arts Funding at Opening of Arts Festival | George Patrick McLeer Jr.

I’m tired of Nikki Haley’s war in South Carolina against the arts (see the link for an example ^), against mental health services, against public services in general in SC, against infrastructure.

If this is the Republican utopia of pseudo libertarianism where everybody who already has enough money can continue enjoying their lives while those in need are ignored because the scale of poverty is too big for individuals to overcome on their own …. well, I guess I need to go vote for Shaheen.

I missed the 2010 gubernatorial election in SC because I was so pissed at politics in general. I’m still pissed (and apathetic, somehow at the same time).  But this year I will make sure I vote.

I have no confidence that it’ll matter, but at least I’ll be able to complain with a clear conscience if Haley is re-elected.

A dark tale with Southern roots

This will seem like a very strange followup to yesterday’s post about Christianity changing its response to abuse, but hold on till the end and I think you’ll see the connection.

South Carolina has a surprisingly robust music scene, especially in Columbia and Charleston. (The Upstate really needs to catch up. …. and develop more of a “music scene” to support a couple more good venues for good old-fashioned rock. But that’s an issue for another day.)

One of my favorite South Carolina bands is The Restoration, fronted by Daniel Machado and based in Columbia.

The hubby and I first met Daniel when he opened for some friends of ours at the local Irish pub, and then got a flat tire in the parking lot which not a one of us — even the big burly guys — could manage to break free from the rusted lug nuts. So Daniel packed himself off to our friends’ house for the night, which turned into about a 3-day saga. So I feel a bond with Daniel, one somehow linked to great music, a banjo, South Carolina, and the crappy vehicles that musicians always seem to drive because the Universe is unjust. (In MY universe, musicians would make enough to eat without worrying, and financial analysts would have to drive 17 year old Corollas with rusty fenders.)

We’ve followed Daniel ever since, making the switch with him from The Guitar Show (his first band) to The Restoration, his roots-music band that delves deep into the twisted history of the South.

An encounter with William Faulkner at a USC literature course set Daniel’s sights on Southern Gothic storytelling. He grew up steeped in the Southern civic Christianity that flavors everything down here — God is woven into South Carolina life, regardless of your personal belief.  Here, especially if you’re white, good people respect the Almighty and appreciate the Bible; bad people believe evolution, vote for Obama, and claim to be agnostic. I think the Republican to Democrat ratio here in SC is something like 8 to 1.  I’m not even sure why I bother to vote (because seriously, regardless of party affiliation, my vote does not matter).

The Restoration kicked things off with an incredible album called Constance. I’ve written about it before, when we attended the CD release show, and I highly recommend hitting the newspaper interviews that I’ve linked to in that post.

Constance tells the story of a biracial young man in the 1910s whose rage against the injustice of his life, both economic and racial, blazes into hatred against a particular man as the cause for that injustice.  Like any good Faulkner follower, Constance doesn’t end happy, just like the racial reality of many Southern towns. (The last lynching in South Carolina was in 1947.)

This depressing narrative captured Daniel’s soul, resulting in some pretty amazing art.

The Restoration followed with a sophomore album named Honor the Father. It’s a dark, twisted story of a cultish Bible believer in the 1950s who follows Old Testament law straight into the arms of domestic abuse, murder, and weirdness.  Cheery.

The album spawned a Kickstarter for an indie film – fitting for a story of the 1950s, not all Mayberry as they’re cracked up to be.  You really ought to listen to the album in whole, but definitely check out the film:

Honor the Father from Christopher Tevebaugh on Vimeo.

Diana Bright grasps for a means to escape her husband’s transformation from insecure youth to domineering husband in this musical short about the 1950’s South.

The Restoration released a quick EP back in December, I think, called New South Blues. It crackles with satire toward Christians who speak so often of Gospel but live so much like the broken world we inhabit.

To quote a verse from the title track:

Lo the Facebook lamentations 
About the “spoiling of the nation” 
And how the good ol’ days are gone. 
Oh? They never mention ol’ Jim Crow. 

“In the past, turned the page” 
Muslim witch hunt, Proposition 8 
This is the new South 

and later

In all fairness, the South has no monopoly 
On ignorance and bigotry 
You understand 
We just have the most trusted brand

Whenever I hear Constance or Honor the Father and especially New South Blues, it hurts my heart that so many people see Christians as racist, misogynist hypocrites.

I listen, so that I may remember. And be different.

 

When Good People Do Nothing: The Appalling Story of South Carolina’s Prisons – Andrew Cohen – The Atlantic

Disgusting.  Appalling.  Excruciating.

Please take time to read the article and then do something about it. If you live in South Carolina, talk to your legislators. If you don’t, call someone here anyway.  This must stop.

Willful abuse of the mentally ill, even if they have been convicted of a crime, is inhumane and despicable.   And I’m not surprised that it’s happening here, a state that values its social services so little I’m amazed we even have infrastructure left.

On Wednesday, in one of the most wrenching opinions you will ever read, a state judge in Columbia ruled that South Carolina prison officials were culpable of pervasive, systemic, unremitting violations of the state\’s constitution by abusing and neglecting mentally ill inmates. The judge, Michael Baxley, a decorated former legislator, called it the \”most troubling\” case he ever had seen and I cannot disagree. Read the ruling. It\’s heartbreaking.

The evidence is now sadly familiar to anyone who follows these cases: South Carolina today mistreats these ill people without any evident traces of remorse.  Even though there are few disputed material issues of law or fact in the case, even though the judge implored the state to take responsibility for its conduct, South Carolina declared before the sun had set Wednesday that it would appeal the ruling—and thus likely doom the inmates to years more abuse and neglect. That\’s not just \”deliberate indifference,\” the applicable legal standard in these prison abuse cases. That is immoral.

But what makes this ruling different from all the rest—and why it deserves to become a topic of national conversation—is the emphasis Judge Baxley placed upon the failure of the good people of South Carolina to remedy what they have known was terribly wrong since at least 2000. Where was the state\’s medical community while the reports piled up chronicling the mistreatment of these prisoners? Where was the state\’s legal community as government lawyers walked into court year after year with frivolous defenses for prison policies? Where were the religious leaders, the ones who preach peace and goodwill?

via When Good People Do Nothing: The Appalling Story of South Carolina’s Prisons – Andrew Cohen – The Atlantic.

Concert Report: The Restoration (Album release: Constance)

There are local musicians, and there are local musicians. Friday night we were privileged to hear Daniel Machado lead The Restoration in an incredible performance of their new album Constance. The evening was so awesome that it deserves its own report. 

I love how this band dresses the part for whatever story they're trying to tell
I love how this band dresses the part for whatever story they’re trying to tell

The Restoration is a collection of talented musicians who play a variety of instruments. I’m not sure what genre fits them best; perhaps folk-rock? They incorporate older styles and skills into a modern musical landscape, blending the modern with the traditional.

What grabbed my attention about Constance several months ago was its back-history. Daniel was researching the history of his own hometown (Lexington) and was struck by the insidious racism that marked South Carolina’s history for a century (or more) after the Civil War. His research led to creative impulse, and this incredible album is the result.

The Columbia newspaper did a series of articles on the band and their historic/social project — I highly recommend them. The first one includes a lengthy interview with Daniel and the USC American Lit professor who helped him find literary voices from America’s racist past:
Restoring the past in hopes of a better future
Paste Magazine: 50 States Project (review)

Daniel Machado published two interesting articles on Scene SC while they were recording the album:
Part 1: Out of a Nashville Studio and into the Heart of Local Racism
Part 2: Smiling Faces, Beautiful Places, and Angry White Men

And you can watch the band’s short film about the use of shape-note singing in Constance
The Making of Constance

The CD release show was a great example of how music and performance and literature and art can all combine to communicate unified story. I felt like I was watching a living “Multi-Genre Project.” The release show band included additional musicians — our friends Steven & Collin; a cellist, a sax player, etc. If you hit The Restoration’s site you can hear some of the tracks, but the entire experience of sitting in the Trustus Theater and watching the music unfold live can’t really be reproduced in a recording studio. Sometimes the emotions behind the music get lost in the digitization. I still prefer the energy of a live show to a “perfect” CD.

(If you go listen, don’t miss “Constance.” That song will stick in your mind for days.)

I should mention that two interesting acts prepared us for the performance onslaught of The Restoration. The first were dancers from the Alternacirque dancers in Columbia. I don’t know what else to say other than “a displaced tribal belly dancer originally from New Orleans found herself in Columbia and opened a studio.” Lol.  It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen ….

Incredibly cool = getting to hear Riley Baugus play his Appalachian tunes in person. Riley is a world-famous banjo player and Appalachian mountain music man. He currently lives 10 minutes from Stevo in Winston-Salem (who promises me they’ll get to hang out soon, and I’m quite jealous). Riley gives you the history behind his tunes as he picks up the banjo or guitar or violin to transmit to us a tiny bit of America’s musical heritage. The modal melodies of the Appalachian tunes, the thumping rhythms, the lyrics/themes that suck your heart out through the sound of his raspy voice — that unmistakable blend of African and Irish/Scot/English and Native American — it takes me back to the PA mountains of my upbringing. I felt like someone had set a musical icon in front of me.

All this for $6. Ridiculous.  I should mention too that the TRUSTUS Theatre is a really cool performance space! Black interior, uber-comfy seats, lots of leg room & places to put your snacks, a clear view of the stage. Thumbs up.

I bought the Constance book that accompanies The Restoration’s album, which includes lyrics and photos and the full short story which brings Daniel’s vision into focus. Holler if you want to borrow.

And if you want to hear The Restoration for yourself, they’re playing with Riley Baugus in Columbia at the end of May. Show dates/info are posted on their MySpace.