Growing up a young boy in the Lowcountry in the 1980s and '90s was different from many of our readers' childhood experience. Time had passed since Jim Crow laws, segregation and the civil rights movement.
Raised by Yankees (a father from Pennsylvania, a mother from New York City), my childhood wasn't consumed by black and white.
In our humble cul-de-sac of 11 houses, there were families of different races and creeds. For me, it was simply home.
The small sampling of houses included two dear friends. A white boy one year older and a black boy the same age as me.
We listened to different music, attended different churches. But the unifying aspect for the three of us was simple - sports.
Hours and hours, days and days of basketball, football and baseball dominated our lives. Sports transcended color and race. I didn't have a black friend or a white friend; I had basketball friends.
Never in my childhood did race become an issue. My mother wept, openly, when my black friend's mother died of cancer when I was in middle school, because the thought of a child, regardless of race, without his mother in such a precarious time in one's life was too tragic not to shed tears.
Unlike elected officials who later in life changed their minds on race - whether it was pure or political - the street from where I was raised wasn't fraught with tension. We got along, because we were people. The only colors that truly mattered were the pink hues of azaleas.
YES, A 30-YEAR-OLD WHITE GUY is writing about race. Bear with me.
Certainly, I cannot, and will not, describe or attempt to understand a black person's life. It's impossible. I haven't walked a block, or a mile, in those shoes. But in my young life, I've witnessed too much pain, too much insensitivity, too little regard for other people's feelings in regard to race. And it's tough for me to understand why, because all I've ever known is a life where color never mattered.
About a month ago, at a Calhoun Falls Town Council meeting, Keith Ashley said something he shouldn't have. And based on his comments later, after fellow councilman Charlie Tillman charged Ashley with making a racist remark, it seems he misspoke.
The allegation stemmed from a Sept. 29 meeting where Ashley, who has trouble restraining contempt for Tillman, told him he was "dumber than dark."
Tillman, during the meeting and in a subsequent interview, said he "thought it was a very racist remark."
Ashley countered that his distaste for Tillman's antics - he did get arrested and charged with a multitude of offenses and said, on a police video, "We'll burn this (expletive) town down tomorrow" - had nothing to do with race.
"It ain't got nothing to do with the man's color or skin," Ashley said. "I've told him straight in his face that I don't like him at all because he is himself. That's why I don't like him."
Ashley's feelings are fairly obvious during Council meetings. At times, he can be seen grinding his hands together when Tillman speaks. At one meeting I attended, Tillman cursed during his remarks and Ashley's eyes registered disbelief.
But at the end of the day, Ashley's remarks were wrong. Not because Tillman found them offensive, but because anybody could.
The solution is simple.
AT THE NEXT Calhoun Falls meeting, Ashley should address his remarks. He should be succinct.
He misspoke. He clearly meant "dumber than dirt." And he should apologize to anyone who was offended by his statement.
This isn't an indictment of Ashley; I sincerely doubt he's a racist.
But we've made far too much progress to let silly comments and misstatements detract from the good in this world.
South Carolina is often known as the cradle and death bed of the Confederacy, but deep-seated racism still permeates our culture. Old men still use derogatory terms. People still cross the streets in fear of an African-American. Our schools, our communities, our churches show shades of different color, but far too often are not nearly as diverse as they should be.
And yes, it goes both ways. Black and white people can both be racist.
At the end of the day, Ashley is a community leader in Calhoun Falls, and his words might have offended some. Words matter.
When we're all dead and gone, our words will remain. And we'll be judged upon them. So Ashley would be wise to clear up any misconceptions by simply apologizing to those offended.
When you're wrong, even if it's a simple mistake, you say you're sorry. And then you move on.
That's what we did on my cul-de-sac, that idyllic stretch of real estate where color didn't matter. Back there, we judged people by the content of the character and their jump shot.
And nothing else.
Bryan is associate editor of the Index-Journal. Contact him at 943-2513; email email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter at IJSCOTTJBRYAN. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper's opinion.