Because I feel it’s becoming a deliberate diversion from the deeper conversation about systemic racism, I don’t have much to more to say about the confederate flag — except thanks for possibly allowing me space to suspend my S.C. boycott and get a coffee table from Palmetto Peddlers next week. But I will say this. It’s for those who fall somewhere short of the “heritage not hate” crowd. The casual supremacists who probably don’t see themselves as such, but don’t get why the flag is a big deal to anyone (the supremacy is that casual.) There are probably a few of you lingering from middle school or you’re friends of friends and this will show up in your feed.
When I was a little girl in Florence, there was a store on… I think it was Evans Street. Kinda near the Winn Dixie and the post office. Where it was located is kind of nebulous because I was never allowed to go there and I was deathly afraid of it. I can’t even remember the actual name, but the store was well known — it was owned by some old white man, probably one of y’all’s cousin — and notorious for the prominent sign on the front door that read “NIGGERS AND DOGS NOT ALLOWED.”
Now, I joke that Florence is podunk but it’s like… an actual city. It’s not some Heat of the Night shit with wells and outhouses. We have an airport. It’s the county seat of the largest county in the state of SC. And I’m 30 years old. This was in the 90s.
Nor was this store/sign some secret lore whispered in hushed undertones. I distinctly remember it being talked about on the local evening news a couple times. It was just there. You’d drive by it and the sign was just there.
But it’s not like I ever got a close up view of the sign because we certainly never stopped the car in front of it. Or drove into the parking lot for a better look. In fact, that’s why the existence of that store haunted my childhood, while I still get chills driving by the location where I remember it being. Because the instruction to never, ever, for any reason go anywhere near that store, ever was the sternest warning I ever remember my Grandaddy giving me. It is the only time I ever sensed fear in him. My Grandaddy is fearless. This is a man who I watched dress down racist white men in public without a flinch. Who spent his adult life forging steel. He literally built Disney World. The Epcot ball? He made that shit. My Grandaddy is a superhero.
And this place scared him. Him.
Think about how fucked up that is. Black people, don’t take your mind there because we know how it is. But white people who have the luxury of being and doing all that you wish — think about that for a second. Being scared of a store. Not like you’re scared of going to the Family Dollar on Boulevard or a convenience store on the westside of Charlotte because there are a lot of black people there and you’re scared you’re gonna get robbed. Not like you’re scared of the trap — because y’all ain’t scared enough to not flip a house back there.
I mean there is a public place of business that pays taxes and shit with a sign on the door saying you, specifically, are not welcome. And you know without a doubt that if you go there anyway, the proprietor will motherfucking kill you. And give no fucks.
Well, when I was in 6th grade, a classmate’s uncle walked into that store. The details are fuzzy. No one will ever be sure what happened. The store owner claims he was trying to rob him. His family asserted that he wouldn’t have robbed anything and he was unarmed. The fact remains that the proprietor motherfucking killed him.
He was never charged with anything. Never investigated to my knowledge.
The store remained open for several more years until the owner died.
What does that have to do with the confederate flag? Nothing really. Not directly. Except that it’s rare that I ever feel that same sense of deep, sickening dread in a public place. That ball in the pit of my stomach that screams at me, “get the fuck out of here.” That I ever truly feel like if any part of this situation goes south, someone might motherfucking kill you. I feel it whenever I walk into a gas station with a section of proudly displayed confederate t-shirts, headbands and cigarette lighters. I felt it at my job — at my fucking job that I loved — when an entire family decked out in confederate gear asked for help with a broken iPod. I felt it when a truck full of teenagers with stars and bars bumper stickers followed me down Park Rd. trying to run my car off the road. I don’t like being afraid. I rarely am, in that way, anyway. I’m lowkey a superhero.
But even I know where I’m not welcomed or allowed.