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COMMENTARY: Pandemic: Jim Crow denial
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COMMENTARY: Pandemic: Jim Crow denial

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South Carolina is one of only three states that does not have a hate crimes law --Arkansas and Wyoming are the other two, and the former is currently debating a bill. On April 7, the S.C. House passed a hate crimes bill by a vote of 79-29. The bill is currently in a Senate committee.

Rep. Victor Dabney quickly posted a complaint on his Facebook page shortly after its passage: “Our entire way of life has been vilified by the left: it’s our whiteness and ‘straightness’ that keeps getting in the way.” Dabney also stated, “We [white people] are the reason that blacks [sic] can’t seem to succeed in our society.”

Although there was raw emotional testimony from Blondelle Gadsden, whose sister Myra Thompson was killed in Charleston's Mother Emanuel AME Church shootings on June 17, 2015, executed by self-radicalized, self-proclaiming white supremacist Dylann Roof, Gadsen’s personal testimony did not convince Dabney of the need for a hate crimes bill in this state.

Dabney was also not persuaded by other proponents of the bill, including Anita Zucker, CEO of Intertek Group in Charleston; Carlos Phillips, S.C. Metro Chambers Coalition in Greenville; Joel Lourie, former S.C. legislator and currently with the Anti-Defamation League for the Southeastern region; Scott Zweigel, co-chair of the Civil Rights Division of the ADL; the Rev. Eric S.C. Manning, senior pastor of Charleston Mother Emanuel AME church; Fielding Pringle, chief public defender for Kershaw and Richland counties; Duffie Stone, solicitor for the 14th Circuit; Barry Barnette, 7th Circuit solicitor; Eric Johnson, Richland County’s Black Collective & Poor Peoples’ Campaign; Elaine Cooper, also from the Richland County Black Collective; Abdullah Mustafa, RC Black Collective, Racial Justice Network, and the Poor Peoples’ Campaign; and, finally, Cecil Johnson, RC Black Collective, whose jarring testimony was prescient.

Nearly whispering, Johnson stated, “I am tired of my community being traumatized. Police killings are hate crimes because if you chase me and shoot me because of the color of my skin ... that is a hate crime … You can’t keep asking me to be loving when you’re not.” Johnson spoke for many people, including this author, throughout South Carolina who feel such commiseration. No opponents to the bill spoke in the committee hearings.

The only “way of life” behaviors that progressive-minded, compassionate and justice advocates are concerned about are acts of white supremacy that result in the harm or death of a member of a minority group, whereas the violence was committed specifically because of the victim’s minority identity. This bill only pertains to acts of white supremacy, not holders of the ideology. So fears of a possible enactment of a hate speech bill are currently unfounded.

This bill, if enacted, would have no application to your cultural activities, Rep. Danbey or “way of life,” such as Confederate celebrations, private conversations about “‘white superiority” ’and reminiscences of the good ole days, or using the N-word to spout vehemous feelings toward people perceived as unlike yourself. The only behaviors inclusive to this law are those that physically harm a person of a minority group simply based on that person being a member of that minority.

Rep. Dabney, your “whiteness and ‘straightness’” are not problems for minority groups so long as you don’t insist that it is these immutable characteristics that make a person superior in some mythological way. Your whiteness and heterosexuality cause no problems or concerns for any person of a minority group, just as someone’s Black skin and homosexuality should cause you no problems or concerns. It is only when behaviors stemming from the ideology of white superiority or gay-bashing or harms against specific ethnicities are committed because whiteness and heterosexuality are considered the only correct way of being that problems arise and must be met with progressive action.

Regarding Dabney’s comment about Black people being “unable to succeed in our society,” the real problem is tied to systemic racism or that intentional institutional bounding and gagging of Black people that is a remnant from Jim Crow discrimination. Such discrimination denies Black persons equal access to housing -- locations and mortgages; fair and equal access to all educational institutions; and all aspects of social life, such as community pools, restaurants, parks and other public spaces. So when Dabney says “our way of life,” if he refers to the mores and taboos enforced in the Jim Crow era and continuing today, he is correct.

Considering that Dabney is an elected representative in the state of South Carolina, maybe if he brings his concerns to the House floor or committee hearings, fruitful debate might ensue. However, total silence in the House, yet mean diatribes on Facebook, do not add to the public record, and are not the appropriate form of communication for an elected leader from Kershaw County. Facebook is a personal platform, not an elected representative’s official mode of communication.

Eileen M. Sembrot of Bamberg graduated from Rutgers University, New Brunswick in 2008 with a BA in American Studies, and from Union Institute in 2013 with a MA in Writing. She began her social activism in 2001 after witnessing the World Trade Center attacks. Sembrot states that she grew up in a white supremacist family neighborhood in southern New Jersey. She left the area in 1997, and does not plan to return.

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