This weekend, Greenville, South Carolina reaped the benefits of North Carolina’s notorious HB2. The NCAA banned North Carolina from hosting tournament games and our neighbor to the south picked up the contests. It’s a dramatic reversal from the traditional roles the two Carolinas have played.
South Carolina has always been the one that the rest of the country questioned. From their fateful decision to secede from the union in 1861 to their reluctance to abandon fealty to the Lost Cause, the state has had pariah status with much of the rest of the nation. In particular, its obsession with flying the Confederate battle flag at the state Capitol held it back.
For years, the NCAA banned games in South Carolina because of their insistence on keeping the flag on state grounds. That changed in the wake of the massacre in Charleston. The legislature, led by Republican Governor Nikki Haley, took the flag down, acknowledging its divisive and hurtful legacy.
So when a photos of a Confederate flag apparently flying above the Greenville arena showed up on social media, people understandably questioned what was going on. It turns out that pro-flag protesters flew the flag from from the top of a parking deck next to the arena. The state can disavow the symbol of division but it can’t stop free speech. The NCAA also released a statement that they “are committed to assuring that our events are safe and accessible to all.”
Now, it’s North Carolina that’s become the pariah state. Prominent sporting events, entertainers and conventions are all boycotting the state because of HB2. Republican legislators are behaving like the ones in South Carolina did fifteen years ago when the NCAA first instituted their ban. They would rather stand on principle and proudly tout their discriminatory policies than attract revenue and jobs to the state.
There’s one big difference, though. When South Carolina defiantly stood by the flag instead of economic development, they were just reinforcing the negative perception the rest of the country already held. They were already seen as a backward state stubbornly holding onto discriminatory history.
When North Carolina Republicans started promoting discriminatory policies like HB2, voter suppression laws or allowing public employees to opt out of performing gay marriages, they upended a carefully cultivated reputation. Since the 1960s, North Carolina has worked hard to present itself as an open and welcoming state, particularly in contrast to our neighbors to the south. In just a few short years of Republican governance, we’ve lost a reputation that took decades to build.
South Carolina is quickly becoming the sane Carolina. They’ve got a ways to go to catch up after a century of regressive policies but they’re making strides. They’ve rejected the Confederate flag as a defining symbol. Led by the Governor and the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, they fought off an attempt to implement a law like HB2.
The flag incident at the NCAA shows there are plenty of people in South Carolina who would prefer their old reactionary reputation to their new open one. The state government, though, is controlled by people more interested in making money than continuing to be the butt of jokes. In North Carolina, the majority of people want to put HB2 and other discriminatory legislation behind us, but leaders like Lt. Governor Dan Forest are content to take South Carolina’s place as the backward Carolina.