Friday, March 13, 2009

South Carolina On My Mind

When I decided to go to Clemson University for graduate school, I was concerned about what I would find when I arrived. Armed with an unnecessarily smug Virginia attitude, I headed south. It was perfectly fine. Though Clemson did not have the patrician air of Hampden-Sydney College, it provided me with a great academic experience, and I have friends from that era that I continue to cherish.

Yet, when I ventured beyond the campus and encountered the rest of South Carolina, I was troubled. I could see the racial and class distinctions all around. I saw poverty, black and white, that I never hope to see again. The battle of the Confederate Battle Flag over the statehouse was just getting warm. It struck me that people here knew their respective place within the hierarchy. Most of the black folks I met (native South Carolinians) longed to leave for Atlanta or Charlotte or DC. Most of the white folks I met (native South Carolinians) looked forward to building their lives right there in South Carolina. I found that so fascinating, because it spoke to how those students felt about futures at home.

Only when I heard Ty'Sheoma Bethea's story as told by BHO at the "not SOTU (State of the Union) address," was I reminded of the things I saw in South Carolina. It made me sad. But it was this story done on CNN that made me even sadder still. The lawmakers in South Carolina dropped the ball. Though I do not know who runs things in Dillon, SC, it makes no sense that an open school should be in such a terrible condition.

Gov. Sanford's political stand not to accept stimulus funding that could go to help meet the needs of Ty'Sheoma's school is insulting (not to mention the needs of the poorest in the state overall). Maybe Sanford and his supporters need to be reminded that the school Ty'Sheoma attends is the same school Ben Bernanke, the current Chair of the Federal Reserve, attended. And that is something that I remembered about South Carolina that I hope will go away one day: race and class still matter.

6 comments:

Fiona said...

Yes.

One of the things that drove Ch. and me crazy about SC was an incredible, oppressive, unending emphasis on Staying In The State. Our high school, for example, had a program that offered free tuition to any graduate who went to USC or Clemson. The Director of the school had a personal scholarship he could award, good for free tuition at...you guessed it.

And though Ch. went to Caltech and I ended up with a PhD (though not in science) to them we *don't exist*. The alumni organization? Locals, for the most part. Donors? Local. Events? Held locally. Etc.,etc. And this from a school that sent its best students to all kinds of places - including within SC.

That emphasis on remaining in the state is part of SC's myopia. They don't care what others think (which is why it took my entire lifetime to get that flag down - the fight was hot long before you got to Clemson). They don't care what black South Carolinians do. Stay, go. Whatever.

And while in some ways that culture has changed (thank you, immigrants to the Lowcountry and the Upstate!), in other ways it's the same. I'm amazed at people who seemed fairly normal way back when but who have made lives in which they never leave their little corner of SC.

As for Dillon, it's in a little-noticed part of the state that has no voting power. The PeeDee is perpetually adrift, it seems to me. The Midlands have the state capital, the Upstate has industry, and the Lowcountry has Charleston. the PeeDee's got the Darlington Motor Speedway. That should tell you all you need to know.

As for Sanford...the man compared the President to Mugabe. Not a lot of clear thinking involved there.

Scott said...

Sanford and the other GOP governors threatening to refuse the stimulus money are digging their own political graves.

I can understand--not agree with, but understand--a member of Congress voting against the stimulus as "bad policy," but once it has been passed and the money is being distributed, how does a Governor explain to the citizens of his state that even though their federal tax dollars are going to be PAYING for the stimulus, they will not be getting the BENEFIT of that stimulus?

I think these political gamers will be overridden by their own Republican state legislatures, and they can kiss their political futures goodbye. Some grandstanding stunts are just too blatant.

And Fiona is right...comparing Obama to Mugabe?? Is Sanford trying to make Rush Limbaugh seem reasonable or sumthin?

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I see the problem with state leaders trying to encourage talented students/professionals to stay in their state. It's part of the competition for talent—I'd be flattered.

I've lived in different parts of the U.S. as well as abroad and I've always found there to be a connection to the Clemson alumni network. I've not always used it as much as I should, but I always knew that it was there.

In fact, because I have a military postal address, (I'm a civilian at an embassy), I received an unexpected envelope from Clemson one day. It contained a dozen postcards that had been signed by Clemson fans at a basketball game to send to servicemen overseas. There were many extraordinarily patriotic and kind comments and thanks for my service, which I didn't really feel should be directed to me, since I am not in uniform. But the effort moved me immeasurably and I was reminded of what a special place Clemson is, and what special people are drawn to the university.

Michele Obama may not be proud of America, but I am, and I am certainly proud to be an alumnus of Clemson University.

Micheal Sisco said...

Ah, welcome to the South ... the good, old stompin grounds for Highland clans and Irish clans, who came over on the boat and sewed the seeds of their parochial, not-so-friendly-to-outsider nature.

To paraphrase South Park ... Poor people (rednecks ... my insertion there) live in clusters.

I wouldn't go so far as calling it short-sightedness -- southern folk are really tied to their land, their little corner of the universe. It can be quaint, cute and maddening at the same time.

"Night Comes to the Cumberlands" explains a lot, though it doesn't lend itself to hope ...

Obama to Mugabe? ... Really? ... Can't wait to get my hands on the next 100,000,000,000 dollar note printed by the Treasury. .. That comparison was a stretch, to put it mildly

hscfree said...

@Anonymous (aka Paul): We've just displayed (through my post and your comment) the classic distinctions between our perspective world views. You see the good and uplift it. You know that there are issues that require work. Yet, it's the former that you highlight. I am just the opposite. I know that there are good and wonderful things in this world, or in this case SC. I am glad of that. But I also know that there are problems that require our work, and I zoom in on those. My hope is that those problems, as they are dealt with, will move more people to the other side.

I find it interesting that your comment focused mostly on Clemson, and its network. Though it took me awhile, I totally warmed up to Clemson. I am proud to be an alumnus (Hampden-Sydney gets more of my pride, but you knew that).

But in this post, I am thinking about the people beyond the Clemson world. When you and I left campus, we went to beautiful places (like Table Rock), and I noticed people. With others, I met people. We talked, and it was fascinating.

You were at Clemson for 6 + years. You didn't notice the differences of the lives of the people in different parts of the state? The poor whites from Oconee County? Wealthy whites from Kiawah Island? Poor blacks from Florence County? Wealthy blacks (from the "best" white families) from Charleston? I encountered and talked with those folks when I was there, and I came away with what I posted. I am grateful to have met those folks.

So Paul, what about the South Carolina beyond Clemson? What did you think?

Anonymous said...

You're right about our different world views. I would certainly not say that there are no problems in a state like SC, I'm just not sure that the problems are so much worse than other states in the union. The truth is that I spent most of my time in Clemson. While I did explore other parts of the state I didn't feel that it was a third world country. Mostly what I saw was regular folks trying to make a living and trying to get on with their life. Some were well off and some were not. One critique I would make of intellectuals (like you my friend) is that they look out at the broad population of the country and expect everyone to be like them. Not it terms of race, or your sharp fashion sense, but in terms of their education and opportunities and outlook. I would guess that most people in SC, or GA, or even your beloved VA, are concerned about getting through the week. They're focused on paying their bills, saving up for a vacation, going to the lake for the weekend, watching the game, helping their kids with homework. Period. This is probably true whether they are a software engineer in Reston or a plant worker in SC. I'm very comfortable with that, but I get the sense that it bugs you a bit…

I would like to see the infrastructure of SC and every other state in the Union improved. Of course, it saddens me to see the state of basic education in the country. On the solution to the infrastructure issue, I think we probably agree, on education I think we probably differ. I think that physical quality of schools has likely declined, but far more important is the destruction of the family. The push to use the schools to teach race, recycling and reproduction rather than reading, writing and arithmetic also hurts considerably. I would happily pay teachers more, like Michele Rhee, if they would give up tenure. However, I'm not sure that throwing money at the problem is the answer. Per pupil spending in DC is the highest in the country, and what do we get for it?

My problem with your original post is that is seems to single out SC for special criticism. I have never seen more extreme poverty or racial segregation than in our beloved Washington DC. I used to cross Rock Creek Park on Military Rd. every day and be transformed from one world to another.

Your original post:

"Yet, when I ventured beyond the campus and encountered the rest of South Carolina, I was troubled. I could see the racial and class distinctions all around. I saw poverty, black and white, that I never hope to see again. [Worse than other states?] The battle of the Confederate Battle Flag over the statehouse was just getting warm. It struck me that people here knew their respective place within the hierarchy. [More so than in VA for goodness sakes?] Most of the black folks I met (native South Carolinians) longed to leave for Atlanta or Charlotte or DC. Most of the white folks I met (native South Carolinians) looked forward to building their lives right there in South Carolina. I found that so fascinating, because it spoke to how those students felt about futures at home. [Most of the young folks that I met (white and black) wanted to move to Atlanta or Charlotte. That's where the jobs were, as well as their friends. And I'm pretty sure that there are black folks left in SC, so clearly they all didn't escape to another place.]