While it would be disingenuous to say that the South Carolina legislature’s decision to remove the Confederate flag from their courthouse is causing more problems than it’s solving — history has been on the side of this decision even long before it was made — it might be fair to say that the situation is illuminating already-existing problems that the government and citizenry have long been trying to downplay or ignore.
Much as I enjoy its status as a cultural punchline, the KKK is still around, still active and still very much intertwined within the very complicated racial history and culture of the southern United States. I graduated from high school just 10 years ago; there was a young man in my class — fairly popular, even friendly in a bumpkin sort of way — who openly stated that his life’s goal was to be a Grand Dragon of the KKK. He wore a perpetual grin, so I’m still not 100 percent certain he was serious, but still… what the hell. That’s not something you joke about, not in the rural South.
And really, we shouldn’t be surprised that a contingent of Klansmen are holding a rally on the South Carolina Statehouse grounds, only a matter of days after Dylann Roof murdered nine African-Americans in cold blood during a Bible study meeting. The Klan are comprised of human garbage, and this is what human garbage does: exploit tragedy to further a twisted agenda. See also: the NRA and every mass shooting in this country for the past 10 years.
What we should still be surprised, shocked and disgusted at is the South Carolina government’s decision to allow the KKK to stage their rally in the first place. Ironically, we have non-discrimination to thank. Via POLITICO:
Brian Gaines, who runs the South Carolina Budget and Control Board, which oversees reservations, confirmed the scheduling in an email to POLITICO Monday. He added that the group submitted the request on June 23 and, because his office allows any group, regardless of ideology, to reserve the grounds on a first-come, first-serve basis, the KKK will be able to hold its rally.
Le sigh. Okay, look: it’s all good and well that we’re holding to our standards here as citizens, trying to turn the other cheek when it comes to jackasses co-opting the Bill of Rights. But as our society becomes more and more universally liberal and tolerant, and certain amount of course-correcting needs to occur.
The problem is in the simplicity of free speech, and how that simplicity complicates the social contract. When we enacted free speech and agreed as a people — by and large — to abide by it, we assumed that it would never, could never, be abused, that somehow the rallying cries to a better life would drown out the hateful din.
We think too much of ourselves. Part of that assumption, to be fair, probably stems from the idealistic sound of the phrase itself: “free speech.” Just kinda sets your heart aglow, doesn’t it?
But it can be twisted, obviously, and this current example by the KKK is just another instance of idiots who use free speech as a shield for themselves and their ignorance. This is the course-correcting to which I referred: free speech was not intended to be, and cannot remain, a free-for-all. The South Carolina legislature should ban the KKK from demonstrating on the Statehouse grounds, or on any other government property, for that matter.
I’m not unaware of the slippery legislative slope that this might establish. But if this country is as great as we’re always crowing about, then surely our leaders and lawmakers can find a way to ban and punish harmful, hateful speech, while continuing to champion free speech.
And why not? It’s about time America started living up to what we’ve always been taught it is.