These are connected musings about signs, signals and symbols in the New South. That was the thought that woke me up this morning, what have I noticed over the past three years? So I began thinking about what I've seen since being here in ATL. Here goes:
1) Symbol: My daughter and her family bought their first home about a year and a half ago. They are almost an hour north of Atlanta in the town of Cumming, GA. I have no rational explanation for the fact that literally weeks went by as I was going and coming in and out of her subdivision before I finally noticed it. It isn't like these homeowners were trying to hide it or anything.
Then one day I guess I slowed my New York-fast- roll, long enough to look, to see. There it was in the front yard of a small house, right across the road from the entrance to her subdivision, flapping in the breeze, proudly flying high, a confederate flag.
2) Signs: Slightly over two years ago while visiting family in Columbia, SC, heading merrily on my way to the mall to see what's what, I noticed what became one of my favorite bumper stickers. I was directly behind a big ass pick up truck waiting to make a left turn on a hugely busy street, (I know it already sounds enormously stereotypical, but I can't help it, I didn't buy the thing he did) and along with the gun rack and a couple of confederate flags, there was the bumper sticker. It read, "If I'd known it was going to end up like this, I'd have picked my own damn cotton." Really, it did. Clever, funny even.
3) Signals: Those of you who know me, know that I love good BBQ. And have tried BBQ from one end of the country to the other, and many points in between. (Well that might also be because we have lived on both ends and many places in between. LOL)
But I digress. At any rate, for years when driving into the Columbia, SC area there were these mega billboards advertising Maurice's BBQ. There were at least eight of these things surrounding the highways with a nice big picture of Maurice with tantalizing quotes from satisfied customers, and all the wonderful things you see on billboards, and- a confederate flag! Really, saw it with my own two eyes.
If you bet that we have never eaten at Maurice's, you're a seer, quick, head to Atlantic City. I have absolutely no desire to give Maurice my money. And I am under no illusion but that he would have smiled, taken my money and said, something to the effect, "Don't forget to come back now, hear." Not in this lifetime.
No, not my money when, clearly, he was nostalgic for the days of free labor, mint juleps, and cool breezes scented by magnolia trees, aided by the tired arms of said free labor vigorously fanning.
Then over the past year while my dad was in the final stages of his illness and it was beginning to feel like we could put the car on automatic pilot and it would navigate to SC on it's own, I noticed that Maurice's billboards no longer had the flag! Say what? And the house across the way from the subdivision in Cummings? No more flag!
This is good, right? I imagine that someone may have knocked on the door of that home one day and said, something to the effect, "Listen, we are trying to sell some homes here and your flag is causing a little bit of a problem. It's giving our community a bad name."
I hear that Maurice's BBQ had received numerous complaints over the years. Capitalism apparently trumped ideology? Finally, I guess, something pushed him to the edge, he reached the tipping point maybe, and decided to call off the dogs, or hogs and lay the flag to rest.
The guy with the pickup truck and the funny bumper sticker, haven't seen him again but, my response sitting there reading his bumper sticker that day, "I wished y'all picked your own damn cotton, too." Mind you, at the time I saw his truck, I don't think Barack Obama had even announced his candidacy. So that wasn't the trigger for the guys frustration. No, that was just his every day, "I don't believe this crap, where I am in my life and I want to blame someone," angst.
But I digress. See the point I really wanted to make here was that in a strange way, I preferred knowing that the flag was in front of the guys house, and on the billboard, because it sends a really clear and unambiguous message. I get it, and most folks of color, especially black folks in the South, understand.
So without the symbols, signals and signs, some poor unsuspecting unknowing person may show up at the front door of that house in Cumming one night, with a broken down car looking for a phone, or help with a tire, (Yes, I know that's not a good idea but they always do this in the movies so I thought I'd try it here, it's creative license) and end up with a rude shock.
Although my short term memory is shot to hell, I am blessed or cursed depending upon your point of view, my long term memory is great. And I remember the story of Yoshiri Hattori, an exchange student in 1992 who was shot and killed in Louisiana because he mistakenly went to the wrong address while on his way to a fellow students Halloween party. A twitchy homeowner "thought" the kid was there to do him harm. There was a big brouhaha, and a lot of hand wringing and outrage, but the kid was dead and the homeowner was acquitted.
Here's the deal, really, I want to know. If you have a loaded gun in every room, and two in the bedroom, and you really are prejudiced, then hang the damn flag, please. Hang the flag, put up a sign, even one of those "Protected by Smith Wesson," that people use instead of ADT or Brinks. Trust me, I will not knock on your door. And no, I still won't head to Maurice for BBQ while in Columbia. Same man, same restaurant, same food, with the flag in the back room somewhere. Pass it on to unsuspecting drivers.
What isn't okay is state sanctioned, government enforced laws that codify prejudice as was once upon a time in our not too distance past. The Maurice's of the world, flash your gang signs so that we, the rest of us, know who you are.
But I digress. :)