White Silence Is Tragic Silence

September 9, 2015

In 2000, South Carolina moved the Confederate flag that had flown above the State House dome since 1961 to a monument in front of the building. I was twelve at the time, watching news coverage of the debates in my sixth grade classroom in a suburb of Columbia called Irmo. News crews flocked to the area and framed shots of places like Maurice’s Piggie Park, an infamous barbecue chain run by an ardent segregationist that proudly flew the flag until last year.

Maurice’s was the best barbecue in town, but I only went during the town’s annual festival, the Okra Strut, when twelve-year-old me could escape my parents’ gaze and run with the rest of Irmo’s children along the stretch of Lake Murray Boulevard that Maurice’s was on. I normally avoided Maurice’s because my parents had taught me well enough to know that the people who supported Maurice were not our kind of people. My parents probably knew about the 1968 Supreme Court Case (Newman vs. Piggie Park Enterprises) that Maurice lost attempting to preserve his right to bar Black customers from his restaurants, and about his failed political campaigns around the same time—or maybe they just knew about the pro-slavery pamphlets Maurice still distributed at his restaurants in 2000. To know those things, to see the battle flag that represented them waving above his restaurants, was to know that Maurice and his customers were not good people, not like those of us who knew better.

This kind of self-absolution is fundamental to the ways White Americans talk about race: Racism is always the fault of someone else, someone who doesn’t know what I know. The prevalent discourse among White-dominated media outlets and White communities that has been taking place over the past year, since Black activists made racial oppression an unavoidable topic in Ferguson, Missouri, is rife with attempts, conscious and not, to avoid necessary self-criticism by pinning blame on others. Even the words most celebrated as poignant criticisms of racist violence are permeated with this false forgiveness.

Read the rest at Scalawag.