It is Sunday, June 21, 2020, and South Carolina is still struggling with the coronavirus that came to us from China. But today I’m walking in the middle of Charles Street — with 400 other masked Beaufortonians — silently protesting the recent Black deaths.
I am struck with the number of young, white marchers in this late afternoon crowd.
I say this because there is a term — systemic racism — that is making its rounds with Rachel Maddow, Robin Young and every other pundit to describe what is behind the deaths. I remember my father using the term “systemic” when talking about septicemia, influenza or some other, body-wide infection.
When I hear that adjective I assume it means everyone — young, middle-aged, elderly, black or white — is infected with racism. But here, today, in the middle of Charles Street there are at least a couple hundred white folk who are willing to hike a half mile protesting what happened in Minneapolis, Ferguson, Atlanta, Brunswick, etc., etc.
Clearly the “systemic racism” infection doesn’t extend to these folks.
Or does it?
You may notice that in some columns, I speak “ad hominem,” or reinforce the issue with a personal anecdote. Notwithstanding the fact that I’m here, walking in the early summer sun, I come to this particular dance infected.
I say infected because I was raised by a mother who was a daughter of the Confederacy in spirit and in actual fact. She told me, as a child, about the valor of her grandfather at Petersburg.
More than that she told me stories (later verified by visits to those battlefields) about where he and his brothers actually stood during the battle.
I listened and learned.
I was also influenced by my mother’s mother — a larger-than-life woman who had Black housemaids whom she loved. Nonetheless they were required to use a special bathroom that was enclosed on a porch attached to her house in Florence.
I watched and learned.
And so I got inoculated with the bravery of Confederate soldiers and the lower status of Black house servants early on. I can reliably say that trace amounts of this childhood virus still circulates in this atherosclerotic body.
But I am convinced that we, as a society, in the last half century have tried hard to make-up for this problem of racism. We have enacted legislation — voting rights, accommodations, health care and education in particular.
We have given preference to Black applicants when it comes to college admissions, and there is an on-going, sometimes written-down preference given to minorities who seek management positions in the world of commerce and entertainment.
If there is one area of success, it has to be athletics — college and professional football in particular. Last fall, before the virus, I watched Baltimore, Md., go crazy over a Black man named Lamar Jackson.
Jackson, the quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens, is worshipped by hundreds of thousands of men and women, white men and white women, for what he does every Sunday and, further, who he is off the football field.
You may say, “Scott, this isn’t love, its a transitory, passing infatuation with Lamar’s running and passing ability.” I reply, “No, I was in the stadium. And what I saw, and felt, was more than admiration. Much more.”
I also know that my son, Zach, is mostly free from this racism virus. I know this because we have walked and talked; and two weeks ago he and his fiance (a Mississippi native) walked down Broadway in New York City protesting of the killing of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and the others.
So this afternoon I’m optimistic as we turn onto Carteret and make our way back to the Waterfront Park. And, yes, I regret the toppling of the statues, the erasure of that history, the vilification of my ancestors. But these are remarkable times, change is under way, we are generationally beating this racism virus.
One day we’ll be cured.
Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.