A year after poet Nikky Finney wondered who South Carolina’s people would be after the removal of the State House’s Confederate battle flag, an advertising campaign at Columbia Metropolitan Airport gave her an answer that brought her to tears.
Finney, a Columbia resident, was returning from West Virginia on Sunday, when she spotted a billboard-sized ad for FN Manufacturing’s retail store in the concourse area at Columbia Metropolitan Airport. The ad shows eight firearms and in black, bold letters touts, “Yeah, we carry.”
“I’m still,” said Finney of her reaction. “I don’t look away from it, because I am so appalled at the obscenity of what I’m seeing. I can’t believe somebody would put that on the wall that is welcoming travelers, visitors in South Carolina.”
Both airport and FN Manufacturing officials dismissed questions about the sensitivity of the ad campaign, and instead highlighted FN as having been part of South Carolina for more than 30 years.
“The airport’s advertising program provides an opportunity for community partners and local businesses such as FN to tell their stories,” according to a statement released by the airport. “We are proud to support our local businesses by giving them this opportunity through our advertising program.”
The statement did not include a response to when FN Manufacturing purchased the ad campaign, which includes two large banners in the concourse area near the gates and a promotional video at the escalators. No one has officially complained about the ad.
The Richland-Lexington Airport District approves all advertisements, including their text, content and graphics,” according to the terms and conditions of their advertisement agreements. “Advertisements shall not contain material which RLAD deems is inappropriate, immoral, offensive or objectionable.”
Nearly 20 percent of the airport’s travelers are military personnel, the ad’s target audience. Finney theorized that it’s likely why one of the banners touts that FN’s weapons are built in Columbia just like “the world’s finest soldiers.”
“If you want to say this is marketing brilliance, fine, you can say that,” Finney said. “But it does not help a community nurture or take care of itself to put these images out in the world a year after a young man hides a weapon in his jacket, sits and listens to people in prayer, pulls it out and massacres them.”
State Sen. Marlon Kimpson, who represents the district in which the killing of nine at Emanuel AME church in Charleston happened, allegedly at the hand of Dylann Roof of Columbia, questioned the airport’s ad approval process and the campaign’s sensitivity.
“While, legally, they may have a right to advertise in the way that they did, it is inappropriate and sends the wrong message as a welcome to our capital city, particularly in light of the recent occurrences in our nation and state,” said Kimpson, a Columbia native.
Sylvie Dessau, of Columbia, also questioned the sensitivity of the ad, while acknowledging “there is no law against insensitivity.” The message, she said, felt “threatening.”
“This ad is really in your face,” Dessau said. “Welcome to South Carolina, we carry these types of weapons that look like military weapons designed to kill a lot of people? It’s not a very welcoming message.”
Dessau is the S.C. chapter leader for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a gun-control group that calls for keeping firearms out of the “wrong hands.” She said she would expect to see a banner like that on a military base. But at the airport was “borderline provocation.”
After the Charleston shooting, Dessau said she was expecting South Carolina to address gun violence, because the tool the killer used was a gun. But gun control legislation at the State House – much of it sponsored by Kimpson – failed to gain traction during the 2015 Legislative session.
Finney, who teaches at the University of South Carolina and whose father was the first African-American chief justice of the S.C. Supreme Court, also cited a more recent example, the slaying of 49 at an Orlando nightclub, as a reason why something needs to be done to stop the proliferation of guns.
“I asked a question, ‘Who are we now?’ ” said Finney of the poem she wrote a year ago for publication in The State newspaper.
“I realized I don’t know where I live anymore,” said Finney, after seeing the ad. “I realized if this is who we are, then I am on the outside; I am no longer the South Carolinian I thought I was.”
A New Day Dawns
IT IS THE PEARL BLUE PEEP OF DAY. All night the Palmetto sky was seized with the aurora and alchemy of the remarkable. A blazing canopy of newly minted light fluttered in while we slept. We are not free to go on as if nothing happened yesterday, not free to cheer as if all our prayers have finally been answered today. We are free, only, to search the yonder of each other’s faces, as we pass by, tip our hat, hold a door ajar, asking silently who are we now? Blood spilled in battle is two-headed: horror and sweet revelation. Let us put the cannons of our eyes away forever. Our one and only Civil War is done. Let us tilt, rotate, strut on. If we, the living, do not give our future the same honor as the sacred dead – of then and now – we lose everything. The gardenia air feels lighter on this new day, guided now by iridescent fireflies, those atom-like creatures of our hot summer nights, now begging us to team up and search with them for that which brightens every darkness. It will be just us again, alone, beneath the swirling indigo sky of South Carolina, working on the answer to our great day’s question: Who are we now? What new human cosmos can be made of this tempest of tears, this upland of inconsolable jubilation? In all our lifetimes, finally, this towering undulating moment is here.
9 July 2015