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Columbia Missourian

GUEST COMMENTARY: What I really want you to know about Columbia, S.C.

By Thomas Barclay
September 21, 2012 | 10:24 p.m. CDT

I'm a current Mizzou student and Air Force veteran who was born and raised in South Carolina and has immediate family living in Columbia, S.C. I have mixed feelings about the article on Columbia, S.C.

I liked that there's a lot of great information about the interactions that happen in the downtown area because of the University and the state legislature being in close proximity, the culture of Greek life at South Carolina, and some of the history and mainstay venues in the town.

However, starting and ending the article on Sen. Strom Thurmond and his legacy for S.C. as a focal point (both the good and bad) combined with the implications that both the title and the ending brings (complicated but changing, "transforming") would lead a reader to believe that Columbia, and South Carolina as a whole, is still largely populated by uneducated bigots and racists who are resistant to any form of change. (But that it's gonna be OK! "Columbia's transformation is underway!") It continues a narrative about South Carolinians that simply isn't true and perpetuates an unfair image that the state has earnestly and honestly been trying to shed for many, many years now. It's even explicitly stated near the end of the opening "There are still traces of the old South here, but attitudes are shifting and memories are fading."

Let me be honest, here: It's obvious racism still exists in the South — just as it does everywhere in the world (such is the history of the human race). Yes, the South was the center of much of the blatant hatred and bigotry that existed during the Civil Rights era. However, if I was writing an article for "The State" in Columbia, S.C. about Columbia, Mo., and the history of Mizzou — what would happen if I started or ended the article by mentioning the multiple incidents of blatant racism that have happened on Mizzou's campus (the fliers, the graffiti, etc.) or something that's obviously a touchy and controversial subject about Missouri's past, and then followed it up with "They're transforming"? What kind of theme does that set for the story? There doesn't exist a single place on this earth that doesn't have some sort of skeleton in the closet or dark history it wishes would be laid to rest.

If your intention was to introduce the people of Missouri to the people of Columbia, S.C. then it's my opinion that — instead of opening and closing with Sen. Thurmond — you should have opened and closed with statements about THE PEOPLE of South Carolina, the down-to-earth, cheerful, warm, polite, fun-loving and charming group of individuals of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities that I've known to live there all my life. Things like what they like to do with their free time, the long standing traditions of South Carolina, the culture, and then work in ol' Sen. Strom Thurmond — how he obviously was well respected despite his shortcomings as he is viewed as a product of his time — somewhere other than the two most important and read parts of the article.

Columbia, S.C., isn't really transforming in terms of culture any more or less than the next large city in the U.S. Most people there embraced the past and moved on long ago, and the outspoken fringe groups continue to make headlines and perpetuate this false image of "the backwards South." Black or white, red or blue, liberal or conservative — South Carolinians treasure their unique culture that's risen up out of the ashes of conflict and inequality. It's why the Palmetto tree and crescent moon have been the lasting symbols of the state since revolutionary times — it's a reminder of the state's unwavering commitment to the values all American citizens treasure as a whole: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Please, please, please can the press move on from this beaten horse. It's doing far more harm to everyone involved than good — much of the reason why it seems so many Southerners distrust "news" and "media" is the result of both the intentional and unintentional harm that is done when news organizations come off as "attacking" or polarizing issues in the south through misleading and/or unrepresentative reporting (I am not accusing the Missourian of doing this, though. Just that I have issues with the way the information was structured and presented.)

Thank you for reading this lengthy post, and I hope to encourage more discussion about this. (Also, even though I love my home state and am a long-time Carolina fan — Go Tigers!)

Thomas Barclay is an MU student. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.