The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

September 18, 2009

Joe Wilson Does Not Speak for This South Carolinian

Filed under: Joe Wilson — cynthiaboiter @ 15:41
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It almost seems like a daily ritual.  One of my students, a friend on Facebook, or someone writing to the editor of a South Carolina newspaper will complain about how unhappy they are with our state; how much they can’t wait to get away from South Carolina. 

I remember feeling that way.  As young adults when my husband and I finished our studies in South Carolina, having lived here since we were born, we were only too ready to leave the humid hypocrisy behind and move to a place with better restaurants, better art and better politics.  We thought Washington, DC would be that place.  Ha! 

I will never forget the waxy fresh scent of new leaves turning over in the wind as we headed our moving van north out of Columbia, leaving our tiny Blossom Street apartment behind; the door bolted and locked on oppressive childhoods, embarrassing statesmen, and a stuck-in-the-mud mentality we knew would never flourish closer to the Mason-Dixon Line.  Ha again!

It took only three authentic winters for us to come crawling home, as wondering Southerners are wont to do, back to the land of sweet tea, Gamecocks, and Jesus.  Safely in South Carolina, we consummated our love-hate relationship with a state most aptly epitomized by the term “bitter-sweet,” and ultimately bore and raised our children here.  Like eating the freshest fried produce, we learned to live with the mixture of pride and shame that comes from being South Carolinians. 

We are Democrats in a land still populated, to a some degree, by Dixiecrats. 

We are progressives in a place that oft thinks the past was just fine the way it was. 

We live in the land of beauty and the beast, with beauty being our luscious landscapes, pristine beaches, and mossy forests; the beast, the capitalist monster that wants to rape and dominate them.

We are constantly fighting against the current, all the while still defending the tide. 

Such is the life of the South Carolinian — if you aren’t blind as a bat or crazy as a loon, then you qualify as the adult in the room and the rest of the population are the children embarrassing you in the grocery store line.

Last week was one of those times when I was not proud of my homeland.  Joe Wilson made fools of us again just as the ugly limelight Governor Sanford had shined on us was beginning to fade.  He sat his haughty self in the Congressional chamber, fuming with a white man’s indignation at being lectured to by his uppity Black president, and just as the feeling that all the goodies to which his pale skin and testicles entitled him were slipping through his greedy fingers, he exploded.  And rather than a wave of snowy white, testosterone-tinged  bravura, what we saw was a desperate display by a scared little man – crossing his arms, stomping his foot, and trying to make the world stand still. 


Wilson wasn’t the first South Carolinian to make a spectacle of himself in such an inappropriate place and manner. 

In 1856, South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks, alarmed by the abolitionist sympathies of Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, took out his anger on Sumner by approaching him in the Senate chamber and beating him about the head and body with his Gutta-Percha walking cane.  Seconded by South Carolina Representative Laurence Keitt, who stood guard over the assault, lest a more able bodied or minded politician attempt to go to Sumner’s aid, Brooks successfully beat Sumner into an unconscious and bloody heap, only stopping when his gold-headed cane broke from the force of the battery.

Today, some of my fellow South Carolinians may have responded to Joe Wilson’s histrionic outburst with support, both verbal and financial – the equivalent of the dozens of shiny new canes sent to Mr. Brooks more than a century and a half before by seething Southerners unwilling to share their wealth of the world. 

But for every pat on the back that Wilson won, just as many of us shook our heads and sighed.  We were mortified.

We aren’t just disappointed with Representative Wilson; most of us know his MO whether we voted for him or not.  A protégé of Senator Strom Thurmond, Wilson has consistently favored the placement of the Confederate flag on our statehouse grounds and he accused Senator Thurmond’s African-American daughter, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, of attempting to sully Thurmond’s reputation when she laid claim to her heritage even after his mentor admitted the truth of his paternity.     

More than being disappointed, we are embarrassed by Joe Wilson.  In the smallness of his act he cast dispersions on all of us, placing South Carolina once again as the butt of a joke we seem to have brought upon ourselves.  And the sad thing is, we did.  Because in South Carolina we have a tradition of letting those with the biggest mouths spouting the vilest sentiments represent us to the world. 

And it has to stop.

I challenge my South Carolina sisters and brothers to find amongst us, no matter what our political persuasion, politicians of intelligence and integrity; politicians who respect the role of civil discourse as a way to grow our culture and our minds; politicians who represent all of us from South Carolina – not just the angry white men in the suits.

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