Herbert in NYTimes: Racism Still With Us

Bob Herbert has an excellent Op-Ed in today’s New York Times. His focus is on South Carolina.  And given that I’m teaching a visual media course in which we’re discussing the use of non-fiction films to address issues of racial injustice, I was particularly struck by Herbert’s mention of the documentary, “Corridor of Shame,” about racial disparities in the South Carolina educational system.   I’ll have to add that one to my list of films to see.

In reviewing the historical context of racism in South Carolina, Herbert makes reference to Benjamin Tillman, aka “Pitchfork Ben,” who served as both a governor and senator there. Herbert writes:

“A statue of Tillman …. is on prominent display outside the statehouse. … A mortal enemy of black people, he bragged that he and his followers had disenfranchised “as many as we could,” and he publicly defended the murder of blacks.

In a speech on the Senate floor, he declared:

‘We of the South have never recognized the right of the negro to govern white men, and we never will. We have never believed him to be the equal of the white man, and we will not submit to his gratifying his lust on our wives and daughters without lynching him.’

Real change is more than problematic in a state so warped by its past that it can continue to officially admire a figure like Tillman.”

Much of the MLK-holiday-themed rhetoric would have us believe that we’re past “that kind” of racism, but when monuments to Tillman still stand and when white supremacists still march (even when outnumbered), it seems to me that this type of racism is part of the fabric of this society, rather than a regional or historical aberration.


  1. Seattle in Texas

    I can understand. I am in a state where practically every statute and prized landmark is either somebody who was in a white supremacist group or a sacred place where some terrible event took place and the whites won. These guys are hero’s down here. I was talking with a person in Dallas about this. I was questioning why this was so. We both agreed that we don’t want to forget that history and in some ways it is better they stay so we don’t forget. But where the problem comes in, is when these guys are worshipped and put up on pedestals—literally. They are praised and remembered for the gruesome oppression and brutal violence, which is so openly internalized by the residents. But, it’s obviously not just this state. My state’s flag has George Washington on it—he owned the most slaves…although we do have a statute of Chief Seattle in down town…. It’s just all so perplexing.

    I think we are in times where the idea of “me” has been overcome or perhaps mistaken for the “we”—me, memememememe, meeeeeeeeeeeee. We need to get back to the “we” and focus on collective rights, and the rights to be “Free from” things that are obviously socially harmful rather than place more value on the idea of “Rights to” emit hate, and other things…. But again, there has to be some type of balance of the right to individual expression, autonomy, etc., regardless if it works harmoniously or dialectically with the “Free from” ideology…. I don’t know the solution…it’s a tough one…I am just now learning in the strangest ways, that the “Free from” ideology is not popular or even understood in many places as being the other side to the “Rights to” ideology. Maybe it’s all relative to location, cohort, etc.? I don’t really know. My world is flipped upside down for the time being….

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