Image by Petr Kratochvil
Woah! The so-called alt-right ain’t so alt anymore is it? I can’t turn on my computer or television or radio without being blindsided by the sudden surfacing of a Steve Bannon or a Richard Spencer. It’s like I open my closet and a klansman leaps out and says “boo,” like a pointy-headed ghost.
They’re marching triumphantly in the streets. They’re celebrating like they won the World Series. And they’re invading Washington. But then again, why should should I be shocked and surprised that they seem to be all over the place?
Last summer I vacationed in eastern Tennessee near the Smoky Mountains. Every day we drove through a sleepy valley. The valley was full of churches. It seemed as if there was a church for every 4.8 valley residents. Outside one was a banner that read JESUS 24/7 & 365. (So I guess that means that every leap year on February 29, Jesus gets a hard-earned day off. He must really look forward to that.)
In this valley, every day we drove past a small house that looked kind of like a log cabin that had a picture window and a porch. And in the front of the porch, hanging down on proud display, was a Confederate flag. It was so big, I bet if you looked out of the picture window from inside the house all you would see would be the back of a Confederate flag with sunlight seeping through.
The sight of that flag really stunned me—kind of the way I’m stunned by the sight of those venomous, Bannonesque creatures slithering out into the sunlight. I’ve always considered myself to be a worldly guy. No, I haven’t water skied with the Pope or wrestled polar bears in the Antarctic, if that’s what being worldly means. But I’ve shaken hands with Fidel Castro and Marie Osmond. I’ve seen the Northern Lights and ocean sunsets. And of course I’ve seen lots of Confederate flags before. I’ve seen them on mudflaps. I’ve seen folks with Confederate flag patches sewn on their clothes.
How this one disturbed me made me think at first that maybe I wasn’t so worldly after all. This flag isn’t just decoration, it’s a declaration of values—white supremacist values.
But hold on a minute, I then thought. Why should I be shocked?
This was nothing new. I’d seen this type of racism before. I thought about where I grew up, on the all-white southwest side of Chicago.
I never saw a Confederate flag flying there, but I heard kids gleefully sing a derogatory song about “coons.” There was clause in my parents’ mortgage prohibiting them from selling their house to anyone who wasn’t white.
So maybe I shouldn’t be shocked by all the rampant ugliness I’m seeing these days. Maybe I should only be shocked that I wasn’t this shocked by it a long time ago.
Mike Ervin is a writer and disability rights activist living in Chicago. He blogs at Smart Ass Cripple, "expressing pain through sarcasm since 2010."