Once a temple for selling African slaves, Charleston is paving the way for equality in South Carolina with the recent passage of a hate crime ordinance. The ordinance provides an extra layer of consequence for intimidation based on "actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical or mental disability, or national origin."
South Carolina is one of only five states that do not have any hate crime legislation. Gov. Henry McMaster has stated hate crime laws are unnecessary and redundant. Like McMaster, Charleston Councilman Bill Moody told City Paper that the proposed ordinance doesn't "really do anything ... it's kind of pandering and being political."
For those who have not found themselves being attacked based on race, color, creed, etc., it is easy to dismiss the slow march toward equality as simply "political." The fact is, that despite that progress, we are not always treated equally in reality, and that unequal treatment is based on things like race and religion.
McMaster's and Moody's opinions ignore the plight of those who experience hate and violence based on race, religion, etc. at higher rates than everyone else. Unfortunately, blissful ignorance is the approach of the governor and West Ashley's city councilman, and demonstrates why this Charleston ordinance is so important. It's easy to scoff at this "political pandering" when you don't personally experience inequality. I doubt McMaster or Moody have ever been pulled over for simply looking suspicious while driving through a nice neighborhood.
However, I can appreciate Moody's sentiment. Superficially, it creates a relatively inert consequence for an offense that's deemed a hate crime. Crimes based on hate carry an extra $500 fine and/or 30 days in jail. It's comparable to littering.
But what Moody and McMaster don't appreciate, or care to understand, is the slow, painful trek that has created the relatively progressive society we have today. The fact that I am using the word "progressive" to describe the idea of people being equal based on race, sex, ethnicity, etc. suggests we are not so far removed from hateful American policies such as racial segregation. It should not be progressive.
It should just simply be.
One day we will get there, but it will be because of selfish approaches to government from folks like McMaster and Moody that will delay our arrival.
For the governor of a state that sold slaves and encouraged segregation to say hate crime laws are "redundant" shows how much we actually need them. For a local leader who casts votes in city hall just blocks from where humans were bought and sold like livestock to say hate crime laws are just "pandering" makes the home stretch toward actual equality seem so much longer.
Sure, codified segregation and slave markets are no longer part of this America. But in 2019, to think there are no lingering effects of generations of ingrained white, male supremacy, is to enjoy the blissful privilege of that heritage. This is the place where Moody and McMaster reside. We cannot blame them for that. They can be blamed for rejecting the reality of inequality that exists in a world far outside nostalgic white America.
This isn't an attack on white men. It is simply a reality. Being white and/or male doesn't make you evil. But pretending it doesn't provide you privilege makes you part of the problem.
The relatively innocuous life of an S.C. governor who enjoyed membership at an all-white country club is not something most minorities experience.
I'm not talking about the financial barriers.
I'm talking about the feeling of your heart rate increasing when you get pulled over as you hope you got one of the good ones.
I'm talking about a successful black man being the only applicant to be denied membership at the Charleston Rifle Club.
I'm talking about the idea of masculinity being advertised as respectful and peaceful by a razor company causing controversy.
Hate crimes against American minorities and women are a reality. And they are increasing, FBI stats show us. American history is overflowing with celebrations of inequality. It should be a hate crime in and of itself not to recognize this and to refuse to act when you have the authority — and responsibility — to do so.
I applaud the City of Charleston for recognizing the struggle American minorities experience. We can take comfort in the fact that the McMasters and Moodys of history only worked to slow, not stop, humanity's struggle for the unconditional love promised by God and used as the base of this country's constitution. Don't give up.
Ali was born in Greenville, S.C. but grew up in High Point, N.C. where he studied English/Writing at High Point University.