Blog: "If we're going to bring these things up, there will be a mirror shining on each of us"
Updated: Mar 24
“They’re cocksuckers and I fuckin hate em. And I wish I could see them out in the street” -- that’s how Councilman Harry J. Griffin referred to fellow Charleston City Councilmembers (or members of the Commission of Equity, Inclusion & Racial Conciliation -- Griffin has not clarified). After Griffin himself suckled at the tit of White supremacy and failed to go all the way with the Overton Report -- a group instrumental in December 5’s protest to “Take Back Charleston” -- the group exposed Griffin for his hypocrisy.
Cue typical neo-liberal outrage cycle/alt-right fairy tale deluxe combo where "anti-heroes" like Councilman Griffin fall on their swords for the cause of...relevance?
Griffin prophesied his martyrdom in a post on his Facebook page, cloaked in what appears to be an earnest desire: “I want WEST ASHLEY TO BE RELEVANT!!!!”
MWAGA-what? An odd word choice -- to be “relevant” is hardly aspirational. Griffin’s declaration begs the question: to what or to whom does Griffin wish West Ashley to be "RELEVANT!!!"?
Likely not to the City of Charleston, from which he is trying to separate. Did he mean relevant as in “to matter” -- because all towns should matter!? Did he mean relevant as in trending? This would depend on whether or not Griffin is familiar with the fatal arc of any trend, which is to shine briefly, to die, and to be replaced.
It was perplexing to watch several City Councilmembers make excuses for Griffin, eschew discussion on his activities that run counter to the CEIRC mission, and imply that his mistake was “getting caught.” When the CEIRC convened on December 8, 2020, Councilwoman Marie Delcioppo warned (in regards to discussing Griffin’s actions): “If we’re going to start to bring these things up, we also gotta know that there will be a mirror shining on each and every one of us.”
Is this not the point of a council focused on equity? To shine the mirror on one’s beliefs, attitudes and actions in order to develop an awareness of how we uphold the institution of White supremacy in our own, seemingly harmless, ways? Ways that would embarrass us if juxtaposed with our flaccid black boxes and hashtags?
Delcioppo waxed nostalgic about “how Charleston used to be…“that grace and elegance and acceptance,” implying that the issue of racial inequity in Charleston might simply be solved if “those who hate the hate stop hating.”
White supremacy, however, is not only propagated by overt acts of racism, of visceral hatred; on a more regular basis, it is maintained by acceptance...of allowing “gentrifiers to lay claim to streets they were once afraid to walk down, to call death squads in fear of their neighbors who lived in their homes before they were born, that bursts into tears when met with critique, that holds on to trauma in the name of tradition” -- lines from a poem co-written by Charleston poet laureate Marcus Amaker and Asiah Mae, commissioned by Mayor John J. Tecklenburg upon the removal of the Calhoun monument.
The mission of the CEIRC as stated on their website is to focus on “the creation of measurable outcomes, promotion of greater accountability, and coordination of community wide efforts to achieve racial equity in our community.”
What does that really mean? It means breaking up with White supremacy (with which Charleston has been in a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship with since the city’s inception) and repairing harm caused by the institution of slavery -- harm that we living, breathing, hoping White South Carolinians did not originate, but for which we are responsible. It is clear that several CEIRC members have been ready to move forward with dismantling racist structures in Charleston while others are searching for ways to be neutral.
Those who facilitate equity work will be quick to dispel the myth of neutrality. Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum uses the metaphor of a conveyor belt in the airport to differentiate between active and passive racism: “Active racist behavior is equivalent to walking fast on the conveyor belt. The person engaged in active racist behavior has identified with the ideology of White supremacy and is moving with it. Passive racist behavior is equivalent to standing still on the walkway. No overt effort is being made, but the conveyor belt moves the bystander along to the same destination as those who are actively walking...Unless they are walking actively in the opposite direction at a speed faster than the conveyor belt -- unless they are actively anti racist -- they will find themselves carried along with the others.” City Councilmembers should know that we will not achieve equity in the City of Charleston by standing still and waiting for it to appear in a ninety-day timeframe.
Several Councilmembers seem more concerned with visitors retreating to their hotels (during a pandemic), than sitting in the discomfort that is a co-requisite of having productive discussions of equity, inclusion and racial conciliation -- discussions that have a deadline and that will have consequences on their own constituents. How can you yearn for the Charleston that “used to be,” and sit on a commission whose work will inevitably problematize that very history?
#CharlestonStrong, unity hand chains, decorated plywood, and presidential quotes on benches may convince White Charleston that they “did a thing” in response to racial violence, but those actions don't venture past virtue signaling, and barely scratch the surface of the equity work required to repair the harm that has persisted for generations in Charleston.
Many will be satisfied with Griffin’s removal from the CEIRC. Regardless of his status, the City Council and the CEIRC must hold the mirror to each other and themselves. Confront the “shadow that no one talks about,” the shadow, that Marcus Amaker decries, “forces me to inform you of its presence, just for you to pretend you don’t know it looms.”
If we are not actively dismantling the racist structures that built and sustain this city, then we are complicit. City Councilmembers on the CEIRC -- do you dare to look in the mirror? Do you dare to hold it up to each other while moving forward with the work you have been tasked to lead? Or at the end of your ninety days to develop an action plan, will you just be another empty gesture to those depending on your leadership?