Sunday, April 15, 2007

BRAVO to Steve Spurrier

Throughout college and graduate school, I heard Sociologists talk about ‘White Skin Privilege’ without fully understanding what it meant. Within two hours of moving to South Carolina in 2001 to take my first full time teaching gig, I understood. I had become, in the 21st century, a beneficiary of it, and it was an extraordinarily uncomfortable experience to someone who grew up in Maine, and then went to graduate school in a cosmopolitan European city. I soon realized that greeting my African American students outside the campus environment, whether it be in a bar, restaurant, or shop, was a political act (at which point I resolved to do it as much as possible!) in a society where legalized racism had gone, but racist attitudes are still very much alive. I should not have been surprised, however, considering that David Beasley had, only three years earlier, been defeated in his bid to be re-elected governor largely as a consequence of his support for removing the Confederate Flag from atop the state capitol. It was eventually relocated on July 1, 2000, but is still displayed on state house grounds, next to the confederate war memorial.

Fast forward to yesterday. While accepting a community leadership award, University of South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier commented:

"My opinion is we don't need the Confederate flag at our Capitol," Spurrier said Saturday. "I don't really know anybody that wants it there, but I guess there are a lot of South Carolinians that do want it there." . . .

On a video of the banquet, Spurrier is heard saying the South Carolina-Tennessee game last year, which was featured on ESPN's "GameDay," was marred "by some clown ... waving that dang, damn Confederate flag behind the TV set. And it was embarrassing to me and I know embarrassing to our state.

"I realize I'm not supposed to get in the political arena as a football coach, but if anybody were ever to ask me about that damn Confederate flag, I would say we need to get rid of it. I've been told not to talk about that. But if anyone were ever to ask me about it, I certainly wish we could rid of it."

BRAVO! Interviewed by The State, Spurrier elaborated:

“It would make us a more progressive, better state, I think, if the flag was removed. But I’m not going to go on any big campaign to have it removed. That’s not my position,” Spurrier said in an interview with The State. “But if anyone were to ask me, that would certainly be my position. And I think everyone in there, it was their position, too.” . . .

“I’m not trying to be a politician. I just gave my opinion,” Spurrier said. “I did mention that if our team wins big and wins the conference championship, then I’ll have a bigger voice. That’s just the way life is. If we stumble-bumble around, no one gives a dang what I say.

“If I want to make a change to hopefully make this state better, we need to win big.”

Sorry Steve, the Confederate Flag is so intrinsic to South Carolina politics that you have, like it not, become one of its central figures. You have also inevitably exposed yourself to the sniping that comes along with it. Sniping like this:

The 61-year-old Spurrier, who grew up in east Tennessee, said he did not know anyone in South Carolina who was in favor of flying the flag, “but I guess there’s a lot out there somewhere.”

Don Gordon is one of them.

Gordon, a state officer with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said Spurrier’s call for the removal of the flag was “the moral equivalent of calling our ancestors ‘nappy-headed hos.’”

Hopefully Steve Spurrier will stay in his job and spark a re-examination of the flag issue. It is possible, however, that the Don Gordon’s will be triumphant, and Spurrier will face adverse consequences. The end result will be an excellent indicator of the extent to which society in South Carolina is now willing to face up to the past.

Update: Check out this excellent column in todays State:

Spurrier shows great social timing

NEARLY LOST IN the aftermath of Steve Spurrier’s stand against the waving of the Confederate battle flag on State House grounds is the fact that South Carolina’s football coach took a stand at all.

Spurrier said the quality of life in South Carolina could improve greatly by removing the flag from the State House grounds. He also said he is no politician, that he simply was voicing his opinion.

Spurrier does not need to be a politician. He is bigger than that. He is this state’s biggest and best ambassador. He is without question the most recognizable name and face in the state. His words, frankly, carry more weight than even those of Gov. Mark Sanford, or any U.S. or state senator or representative from South Carolina.

It can only be interpreted as refreshing to hear someone with the state, regional and national clout of Steve Spurrier take a stand on an issue that continues to serve nationally as a black eye to our state.

Perplexing, though, has been the response from those who support Spurrier’s USC football program while holding to a time-worn belief that this symbol of hate has something to do with heritage. . . .

No comments: