The above phrase is a disturbing notion that a friend told me that they saw on a bumper sticker. What in the world is their intention by saying that? My thought is that they want to drive home the point that no matter what you think or feel, that if you’re shot, that’s the end of it all. There’s no equality, no sense of justice, just a cold hard fact-people who get shot will get hurt and sometimes fatally.
I mention all this because something happened to me that was much less serious this week at the Durham Fair. Part of my extracurricular activities is to be a member of the Durham-Middlefield Social Justice Team. We’re a loose conglomeration of people who are interested in promoting social justice in our area. One of our first efforts was to try and eliminate the confederate flag image from the Durham Fair. Some of you might remember a few years ago when a band called The Confederate Railroad played Center Stage. You, yourself might have had a conversation with a friend or relative about the confederate flag. The most common reason that I hear that people wish to display this image is because its “part of our heritage and history”. Well yes, there’s no erasing the fact that there was a moment when a whole contingent of people believed that they were better and more deserving of the wealth that this country could bestow on people and for the reason slavery was not only acceptable but necessary to make that belief prevail. And, I might add that the institution of slavery also laid the groundwork for all the other ways that people who believed they were better than anyone else could keep control of wealth, money, land and all kinds of other assets. An absolute embarrassement to look at, as we contemplate our past. These are facts that are impossible to refute. And the trauma of the past 400 years has never left the minds of POC. The confederate symbol will evoke and cause trauma. This is not unlike the Nazi Swatzika and its effect on Jewish people, all these years later.
Last fall, our group secured from the Fair Executive Committee an agreement that the vendor contract would include a warning that no confederate images could be sold or exhibited. Thank you to them for taking this stand. As the Fair drew closer, we decided that it would be important to monitor the vendors and make sure that everyone was following these guidelines. We also decided (and I subsequently ignored this. You’ll see in a few more sentences), that if we saw confederate images in any booth, that we’d not say anything to the vendor but get a message to the Fair President and see what they’d do to rectify the situation.
At my earliest moment, I was down in the Commercial Building and immediately discovered a vendor with a whole rath of confederate belt buckles. In spite of our groups agreement to say nothing at the time, I engaged with the woman behind the counter. For better or worse.
“You’re not allowed to sell confederate images here. Its in your contract.”, I said
“I didn’t see anything that said that. Are you a member of the Fair Committee?” Long pause here, while I contemplated telling her that I was. But, I’m committed to only telling the truth where ever I go, so I denied being a Fair Committee member. That seemed to make her feel that she was off the hook for a second. And then…
“Why would you even want to show these images?” Oh oh, now I opened my mouth.
“We believe that the confederate flag is part of history. You can’t erase history.” True, I thought, and at the same time thought of all those people racing to Board of Ed meetings who want to make sure that our history is taught in such a way as to not remind people of the injustices white people have inflicted on POC. This is part of Critical Race Theory, a simple concept with a lot of data supporting the notion that the mechanics of our society are designed in an insidious way to make sure that white people will always have the upper hand. So, its not like I want to erase confederate ways from people’s mind-just don’t think its ok to celebrate and legitimatize these values.
“Would you sell swastika, too?”
“No, that’s different.” But I never heard why it was from her. It was pointless. Kind of like arguing with someone about the vaccine. I’d never get anywhere. Then, wished her a good day and turned to another shelf of hats. Are any of these hats with confederate flags on it, I wondered. This was suddenly interrupted by a larger, younger than myself guy. He immediately got in my face (so to speak) and told me that I couldn’t be in his booth. Its private property and I can’t be here.
“Really, because why?”, I asked-even though I was beginning to figure this out.
“Because you harassed my wife”, he shot back. Really, I thought. Harassed? So does that mean if one asks questions and disagrees with another person, that that’s called “harassment”?
At this point in our conversation, I had many feelings. First, Just general confrontations can be difficult for me. And considering that this person was bigger and younger also made me feel intimidated. But of most importance, I was being denied to be physically present where everyone else in the Commercial Tent was free to roam. My rights were being denied. Ok. A small inconvenience. Nothing like being a black student blocked from entering college or a lunch counter or a seat at the front of the bus. But it was real and not in any way a good feeling.
To be very clear, my momentary loss of freedom sits almost no where in the injustices that POC experiences for centuries and up to this day. Nowhere. But it did give me a small window into what powerlessness feels like. This was a small crack in my white male privilege life.
Turns our that vendor must have read their contract after I left because I returned with friends later, who scouted out the booth and reported that the confederate buckles were removed. This isn’t the end of the story, of course. Just a tiny step to eliminate images that cause trauma in the world. It didn’t stop Demolition Derby from having a car entry with a confederate flag on the roof, imitating the General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard. Still, it felt good that we nudged the pile of crap that we call racism just one more spot from where it was.
Have a great week.