In South Carolina, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday resulted in a couple of disgusting acts that revealed how deep racial inequality and ignorance continues to run in the Palmetto state. On the campus of the University of South Carolina, a man posted several flyers with headlines that read "Dumb Black Asses" and "You Stupid Monkeys." The unidentified culprit was sure to include the building which houses the African American Studies program. While this act is certainly nauseating, it's not surprising that racist people exist. However, in what I consider a more offensive act, SC gubernatorial candidate Catherine Templeton took a more historic approach to ignorance by vandalizing the spirit of Dr. King.
Templeton took to Twitter to post a picture of Dr. King as well as a quote from the civil rights leader that encourages fighting for progress no matter the struggle. She also added her own campaign logo on King's image, suggesting that her desires as a public servant mirror those of Dr. King. Even worse is the marketing suggestion that Dr. King would have endorsed her. For some reason, you can no longer access the more than 100 responses to her tweet pointing out her hypocrisy.
It's understandable because this is the same woman who visited Charleston in order to introduce Steve Bannon, the featured speaker for the Citadel Republicans annual fundraiser, a man whose presence was offensive enough to draw protests across the street. This is the same woman who said "I am proud of the Confederacy" as well as South Carolina's confederate history. She also expressed disappointment that the Confederate flag had to be removed from the Statehouse grounds after "a bad man took our symbol and turned it into hate," referring to Dylann Roof, murderer of nine African-American churchgoers in downtown Charleston. The same woman who dares to conjure the spirit of Dr. King for the sake of a political campaign is proud of the Confederate symbol and can't see the difference between a racist murderer and a country whose white supremacy philosophy enslaved nearly 4 million blacks.
But the most degrading part of Templeton's tweet is not the hypocrisy. It's the ignorance she is assigning to African Americans. In order to put her logo on an image of Dr. King, despite her Confederate pride, suggests that she believes those who would be most offended are too stupid to know better. Frankly, it creates a strong pillar of support for her statement of pride in the Confederacy, whose leaders she referred to as "giants" whose shoulders are the grand base for modern South Carolina; giants who would see the continued enslavement of blacks. It's an inherited and ingrained philosophy of white supremacy where minorities are nothing more than uneducated farm animals to be controlled with subtle taps of a stick or a the smack of a whip.
Furthermore, this belief that African Americans would not see past her sleazy marketing of a civil rights hero who gave his life for equality, is representative of the difficulty many people have with seeing past their own experience as a white person. It's a vision that suggests racism died in the 1960s and that the statistics that show African Americans are incarcerated, killed, and living in poverty at disproportionate levels to whites is simply the result of laziness and inherent aggression in the darker-skinned populations. It also reveals Templeton's ignorance of her own ignorance in regards to matters of racial equality and the issues minorities continue to face as a result of historic and embedded racism, which she guarantees to perpetuate.
The alternative? She's very aware of what she is doing, which makes her a very lost soul who finds joy in bigotry.
Regardless of whether her actions are ignorant or hateful, the sad truth is that Templeton's exploitation of Dr. King and our modern minority struggle makes her a perfect fit for the classic mold of a South Carolina leader. Her abuse of the strength of the African-American people through her kidnapping of Dr. King's message is a hideous parallel to the doctrine of enslavement that her beloved Confederate flag defends. It pains me to write these words because this disrespect is a grain of sand on the beach of hate that has been enabled in the Trump era and the burden of this reality is becoming too much to bear. In that spirit, though, I will suggest a better quote from King for Templeton to consider:
"The Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who prefers a negative peace (the absence of tension) to a positive peace (the presence of justice)."
That is the difference between the USC incident and the tweet. That is the difference between blind hate and systemic oppression. If you can comprehend this, then maybe you can see the difference between honoring a civil rights hero and vandalizing his spirit.