When photos of a group of Citadel cadets dressed like Klansmen surfaced, some people probably found it easy to dismiss the incident as an isolated problem, much as others have done in similar racially charged situations. They shouldn't have. While racism in our classrooms and workplaces is an ugly but real truth facing people of color, every day black and brown people face subtle racism that doesn't make headlines. The page on bigotry and institutional racism has not turned. As much as we like to pretend — and on special occasions forget — such deeply rooted feelings are alive and well. Unfortunately, the city of Charleston understands this more than almost any other community in the country.
Whether we like it or not, race remains a deep fault line in our neighborhoods and across our nation. Our schools are more segregated than they were in 1968. Nearly half of all black families have lived in poor neighborhoods for at least two generations, compared to just seven percent of white families. Blacks are nearly three times as likely as whites to be denied a mortgage. One in every three black males born today can expect to go to prison at some point in their life.
We can't run from these hard truths. We need to throw them out in the open, name them, own them, and do our best to change them.
That's one reason why I started working for Hillary Clinton. She cares deeply about confronting the inequities that exist — starting when she was here in South Carolina with the Children's Defense Fund which investigates children incarcerated in adult prisons. Most importantly, she has brought specific ideas to address the core issues underlying America's troubles with race — in particular where these issues involve the criminal justice system, law enforcement, healthcare, unemployment, the school-to-prison pipeline, gun violence, education, and economic opportunity. These will be the priorities of a Hillary Clinton administration, and she will deliver.
Of course, there are laws we need to pass and programs that need to be funded. But if we ever hope to stitch the fraying fabric of our communities, we all need to step up and do our part to confront deep-seated prejudices. Much of the real work is going to come around kitchen tables, in community centers, and at Bible studies. It's going to come from quiet but pivotal moments in school and work, over bedtime stories and honest conversations with friends. At the end of the day, this is about how we treat each other and how we look at the people surrounding us everyday, no matter what they look like or who they worship. We need to teach our children these lessons by our actions.
The joy of my life and the reason I get up everyday and go to work is my nine-month-old son Jeremiah. I want to help build a better world for him and his generation just like so many did for me and mine. But in order to move forward together, we need to fix the systemic inequalities we have become accustomed to that exist in our backyard and in society today. Being complacent, comfortable, and refusing to take bold actions is not how we solve problems and create opportunities.
Eight years from now, I want Jeremiah to live in a community and world that reflects all that Hillary Clinton and our campaign has fought for and hopefully accomplished — a balanced criminal justice system, ending the onslaught of gun violence, and creating a country where the color of your skin won't determine if you're in prison or Princeton.
Clay Middleton, a Charleston native, is a 2003 graduate of The Citadel and currently serves as the state director of Hillary for America.