South Carolina is a miserable place. It isn’t just the climate; though the humidity and heat are more than sufficient to kill the young, the old, the unwary, and the foolish. South Carolina is a land, and never doubt that it is a distinct entity attached to other geographic dominions by only the merest thread of history and convenience, beset by the people who live there. Contrary to popular belief they are not a stupid or foolish people; in fact, the average IQ in the state is almost precisely in the middle of the average human intelligence range. They are, however, a downtrodden people beset by racism, poverty, and oppression who steadfastly refuse to see their own hand in their misfortunes; but prefer instead to always blame the someone, anyone, else.
On the surface all of the politicians say the right words, denounce racism, tear down the battle flags of past rebellions, and try to paint tomorrow as a new day. Tomorrow will be the same as today and today was the same as yesterday. You actually hear the voice of the South, the white South anyway, when you listen to the words spoken by white Southern men when they are alone. They whisper to you that race wars are inevitable and that we, again meaning white men, must prepare or we’ll be overwhelmed. That the flood gates are open for immigrants and black people breed like rabbits; there will be too many for us to overcome. The nation, according to these men, was better sixty years ago when colored people knew their place and gay people knew better than to show their true face around decent people. They believe, with no doubts, that there is a conspiracy to destroy white America. They don’t realize it, of course, but they are simply repeating rhetoric that has not changed much since Denmark Vesey put real fear into the heart of South Carolina
The African-American population has been the victim of racism for generations, centuries even, but they are not completely blameless in the race game either. Every white person in South Carolina has been accused of racism at some point, every last one. This is as true for those of us who have labored long and hard to exorcise the ghost of Jim Crow as it is for those who keep him alive through whispered hate. This perception that every white person will act in a prejudiced manner against blacks is in of itself racist and helps promulgate the problem rather than hastening its resolution. It becomes a never ending cycle of hate and distrust that never seems to fully recede into the shadows.
In addition to being besieged by the endless racial divisions, recriminations, and acrimony the state is also crushed by mind numbing poverty. South Carolina, as of 2014, had the 9th highest poverty rate in the United States clocking in at around 14% of the population living at or below the poverty line. Despite what political pundits might tell you this is not entirely the fault of the people who live here. In general, the people of South Carolina mirror the rest of the nation in work ethic as measured by hours worked per week, education as measured by percentage completing a four year degree, and ability as measured by intelligence. The situation is even worse for women (20.2%), African-Americans (26%), Hispanics (29.9%), and American Indians (24%) who are far more impoverished than their white male counterparts.
If one survives the climate, the racism, and the poverty, then it is time to consider the religious oppression of everyone who is not an evangelical Christian. South Carolina is a state where vice, by and large, is illegal and punishable. In the majority of South Carolina counties it is, for example, illegal to purchase alcohol on Sundays. The old religious laws are quaintly referred to as blue laws and South Carolina has a lot of them. Fortunately, most of them are not enforced and have been superseded, in practice if not technically, by a variety of more modern codes. Religious Oppression in the South, however, does not end with law codes. It is far more a matter of interpersonal interactions and quiet, but rigid, enforcement of social norms and mores. As a colloquial example, I had a good friend who was a practicing Buddhist and openly wore symbols of her faith as a teacher. She was directed by her school administration to remove her religious iconography after a parent complained. Many teachers and students at her school wore Christian crosses and my teacher friend asked if they too would be required to relinquish their religious icons. She was told that they would not. In the end, she was pressured into resigning. To be fair, such examples of religious discrimination are far from universal. I, for example, have worn a religious symbol of Celtic Druidism in the classroom for years and no one has ever asked me to remove it.
In the end, South Carolina is a miserable place to live for anyone; but is even more miserable if you aren’t white, straight, male, or Christian. For the longest time I thought the answer was to stay in South Carolina and try to build a better future. After all, the people here, like people every where, are fundamentally good human beings who are merely misguided, right? I am no longer sure that is the case; this year alone I’ve watch hate bubble in personal conversations with people I thought were my friends when confronted with the new legality of my marriage, I sat transfixed as a young man related to some of my students murdered 9 people in a church, and then watched the KKK march on South Carolina streets to protest healing gestures. Perhaps, when the reformer looses faith in the people he seeks to help it is time to find a new mission. It is possible that with time, as measured in centuries, South Carolina will become a better place; I for one no longer care to wait.