I seldom have the opportunity to respond to a column from someone who I consider to be a friend. I have that opportunity today because of a recent op-ed by Stephen Gilchrist, the state chairman of Explore Offshore SC and of the S.C. Black Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Gilchrist, who decidedly leans Republican, doesn’t turn a blind eye to the racially divisive political tactics employed by the GOP, embraces an authentic civil rights agenda and isn’t afraid to call out those who promote racial bigotry.
Mr. Gilchrist recently took The Post and Courier to task for an article about offshore oil drilling that noted efforts to “sell” offshore drilling to the black community. He said that his organization - Explore Offshore - is bipartisan and doesn’t appeal exclusively to the black community.
I understand his thinking and his argument, but he was quoted in the article in question as saying that black unemployment numbers along the coast exceed the overall unemployment rate and that offshore oil drilling could bring needed jobs. That reminded me of how Mr. Gilchrist and I came to know each other two decades ago.
I met him when I was a pastor in Richland County, and he was spearheading an effort to sell school choice to a skeptical black community. We had more than a few spirited debates about whether school choice would benefit the black community or re-segregate public schools. The Post and Courier’s recent - and excellent - series on public education showed that “school choice” has indeed led to re-segregation and unequal opportunity in our public schools. I look forward to telling him that I was right.
Given our “history” and past debates, I believe that Mr. Gilchrist is sincere in his advocacy for offshore drilling. I also think that he’s wrong.
Offshore drilling is more than simply boring random holes in the ocean floor. Offshore drilling requires seismic testing to locate oil deposits - using explosives that could damage the ocean’s ecosystem and marine life.
The additional possibility of a major accidental oil spill cannot be ignored. America’s Gulf Coast is still recovering from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which led to catastrophic decimation of bird and marine life and left oil-soaked beaches in its wake. A similar oil spill off the South Carolina coast would devastate our tourism industry and the related jobs and eradicate a source of income for commercial fishermen of all colors, including those along the culturally designated “Gullah-Geechee Corridor” that runs along the North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia coasts and sea islands.
One specific and chronic African-American concern should also be noted. Most of America’s “Superfund” sites - areas that are badly polluted and have been poisoned by careless industrial enterprise - are located adjacent to black communities. Environmental racism is a reality. A coastal environmental catastrophe would have its most devastating impact on already struggling black communities, both in terms of economic impact and quality of life.
I agree with Mr. Gilchrist that offshore drilling would create jobs in and beyond the black community, but my concern about those jobs epitomizes something that’s become a matter of debate in the days of Donald Trump - the issue of “dollars over decency.” The Trump administration has diligently tried to roll back or eradicate environmental regulations, whether those regulations involve carbon emissions, clean energy, protection of public lands or offshore drilling for oil.
The Trump administration has tried, at every opportunity, to loosen environmental regulations so that the “rich can get richer” - regardless of environmental damage or public health impact - while ignoring our Creator’s admonition to be good stewards of the Earth, and ignoring the potential environmental impact on black communities that have traditionally been ignored and abused by the powers that be.
Mr. Gilchrist is right in noting the potential economic benefits of offshore drilling, but when it comes to the potential effect on our coastal culture, environment, present economic viability and quality of life, I agree with something that one of my preacher-uncles said when he was offered money to “sell” something that was politically dubious to those in his congregation: “Some money costs too much, and my community is not for sale.”
The Rev. Joseph A. Darby is senior pastor at Nichols Chapel AME Church and first vice president for the Charleston Branch NAACP.