The Belly of the Beast: Racism in Charleston

On my run last Sunday, I decided to go a little further than I normally do; partially because I somehow had extra energy and more importantly, I was not about to ignore the imposing confederate flag and protestors I spotted up ahead of me. As I got closer to the commotion, I saw three men standing at the Battery, in front of the statue dedicated to the Confederate Defenders of Charleston during the Civil War. These men were proudly waving their confederate flags with no intention of leaving their post. On the opposite side of Murray Boulevard, closest to the water, I stumbled upon a woman and her husband. They were holding signs condemning racism and the history the confederate flag represents.

Rita Kazirskis is a retired project manager from Chicago who has lived in Charleston for the past decade. Every weekend, without fail she stands at the battery, alone or in a group, and protests the hate that these men are supposedly honoring. Rita explained to me that these men have been coming out to the Battery every weekend promoting their messages of racism for the past three years. They began to show up after the Confederate flag was taken down at the South Carolina State Capitol Building, in the wake of Dylann Roof’s shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church which killed nine people.  Rita told me that her group would like to see an ordinance adopted that would reduce the allowed flag size. They have been trying to reach out to Mayor Tecklenburg to bring his attention to the issue, with the hope that it may encourage some change. While these men can claim to be exercising their first amendment rights, they are also promoting hate speech and encouraging racist ideals.

Charleston is one of the most beautiful cities in the country. With its rich history, culture, and diversity, one can’t help but fall in love with it.  However, sometimes I think we forget the prejudiced beginnings of the city. When it comes to segregation, professors at the Citadel have referred to Charleston as the “belly of the beast”.  There is a systemic racism built into our society and it is essential that we, as young people affect some change. The color of one’s skin should never define their place in this world. Rita said she believes racism is still so prevalent because there are “a lot of people who like the feeling of being superior.” While that’s not surprising to me, it did make me realize that this way of thinking has existed for far too long and it’s time to turn the tide.

 We have the opportunity to change the conversation. Get out and vote. Reach out to your local elected officials. Stand with Rita and her friends and exercise YOUR first amendment right. Making a difference is not easy and it takes time, but it’s time that racism is put to bed in Charleston.  

 

Help by reaching out to Mayor Tecklenburg using this link:

http://www.charleston-sc.gov/EmailPage