by Nick Taylor
Many people are afraid in Donald Trump’s alt.right America. His appointment of Breitbart News chief Stephen Bannon, first to chair his campaign and now to advise him in the White House, legitimizes white supremacist rhetoric and attacks and harassment of people who oppose it.
People of color, people whose dress or name signals their religion, people who speak English haltingly or not at all, same sex couples, women who don’t take shit, and people who accept and embrace those people — we’re all targets.
Thousands have filled the streets to protest this vile eruption. But a lot of others just want to lead their lives. They need to do their jobs and raise their kids and pay the rent and put food on the table.
What are they to do? Some spent years disguising who and what they are before leaving the shadows to join a society that until November 8 had begun to seem more tolerant. Now racist and religious and social vigilantes are on the prowl again. How can their targets avoid their attention? Not many of them can do what I did years ago.
Let me say first that I’m a white man Donald Trump’s age. I grew up in the South, unlike him not rich but like him, I experienced white privilege. Only once did I feel the need to put on a disguise. It haunts me still.
I was a college junior in 1966 when I joined some friends on a drive to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. We set out from Western Carolina College in Cullowhee, North Carolina, quartered through Georgia and entered Alabama where the road signs announced Opelika and Auburn up ahead.
Our college had integrated peacefully two years earlier. We took it for granted, but not everybody did. Alabama was ground zero for the civil rights movement, then in full swing. Alabama State troopers had beaten voting rights marchers in Selma just the year before. Television coverage of “Blood Sunday” showed the nation just how far Alabamians would go to protect the Jim Crow status quo. They were especially suspicious of outsiders.
We were five white boys, but our driver was from Florida and his car had Florida plates. A car, not a pickup truck, but a new Dodge hardtop with a 426 hemi V-8 engine. Those plates and that car marked us as outsiders. We felt pretty sure that we’d entered a place where we weren’t wanted and would be there for the next 250 miles.
Then we’d be in Mississippi, and if any place viewed outsiders with less charity than Alabama, it would be it’s western neighbor.
We decided to camouflage ourselves, to go from outsiders to insiders. We pulled into the first roadside stand we found that offered souvenirs. And among the rebel flags and firecrackers on display we found what we were looking for. The license plate bore the requisite stars and bars and the words: “If your heart ain’t in Dixie, get your ass out!”
We propped this edifying sentiment up in the Dodge’s rear window and drove on to the Big Easy confident in our disguise. We drank and caroused at Mardi Gras, deployed our camouflage license plate again on the return drive, and ditched it the minute we didn’t need it any more.
Looking back, our camouflage was also a cop-out. We escaped undesired attention, but we did it by flying the colors of the people we most opposed and feared. I wonder if Donald Trump has any idea what it’s like to live, for any time at all, as somebody you’re not.
Today’s outsiders in Trump’s America can’t hide as easily as white boys in a fast car driving through Alabama in 1966. They can’t, they shouldn’t have to, and those of us who can hide shouldn’t. We need to shed our camouflage and stand with them.
The license plate I’d buy today would say, “America is ALL the people!”