I recently stumbled into the best relationship of my life, and we are an interracial couple—he’s black, and I’m white. The racial category dimension of our relationship comes in and out of focus when we’re at home. It’s not the main thing, but it’s never far from consciousness either. But when we’re out in the world, it’s always front and center. In Ohio, where diversity is often limited to a black/white split, we rarely feel comfortable outside of our homes. But we’re both children of Ohio. We love our communities, and we want to be able to live here. So, for now at least, we trundle along.
Among my partner’s passions is a love of environmental stewardship and simple living. He’s currently attending Earthship Academy in Taos, NM! In preparation for that, he and I recently visited Ohio’s only Earthship, Blue Rock Station. It’s located in Philo, OH, near Zanesville. The area is rural and lovely. The tour was limited to 25 guests—24 white people and my partner. It was a hot day, and many of the people on the tour wore hats. Among the hats was a confederate flag hat, worn backwards by a burly and bearded, young-ish Ohioan who lived nearby and had volunteered at the site for years.
At first I felt surprised to find this symbol of the slave age among presumably progressive folk, but then again, I’m from here, and this is not really surprising at all. It’s actually normal. We have lots of oddly placed confederate fervor and other incomprehensible expressions of intolerance. So, while I noticed the hat, I didn’t think much of it. It’s become a normal part of the landscape for me (and seriously, on my part, how messed up is that?).
The tour was fascinating, and the guy with the flag hat dropped to the back of the group as it went on. Aware that he stood out among all these whites, I kept what I imagined to be a helpful eye out for my partner. After the event, I went so far as to mention that because he kept his sunglasses on for much of the tour and others in the group were unable to connect with him. He nodded but did not seem blown away by the insight.
As we reflected on the tour that evening, he asked me whether I had noticed the KKK hat that a different white guy was wearing. What? There was a KKK hat? My partner said he was pretty sure that it was the main KKK patch worn on the white robes. We Googled it to check. I was like,
“What am I searching for? KKK patches? I don’t even want this in my search history.”
He interjected that I should do an image search, but I had already clicked on the top result, Wikipedia. He started saying that it might be hard to find that way, but nope. The very first image on the KKK regalia and insignia page was the symbol—red, white and black, a large cross with a drop of blood at its center.
My jaw dropped. He laughed, “That’s it!” Then we both laughed. At everything. The fact that I hadn’t recognized this very prominent symbol of terror against black Americans. The fact that Google did not suggest “KKK patches” as I typed it into the search bar (which serves to obscure not only paths to understanding, but also the very existence of the problem). That fact that someone on a tour of an Earthship was wearing a KKK hat in 2018. The fact that a confederate flag hat seemed to be the normal uniform of a regular volunteer of the place. And the fact that nobody—not a single one of us nice, white folks—said anything about any of it.
I got up from the couch and put my arms around my partner.
“I can’t believe I missed that. If you understood it right away,” I reasoned out loud, “it would be intolerably uncomfortable. It might make you… keep your sunglasses on a little longer.”
Before I met this remarkable person, this partner, I was happily working toward becoming a single parent. Meeting him transformed my plan into something new. Now, we like to imagine our baby living with us in an inclusive, green and diverse community; however, incidents like this one give us reason to doubt that Ohio could be a safe place for our child of color. We don’t know where we will ultimately build our life, but we do know that Ohio is made up of people who make up its culture through their daily actions. And we hope that our home state will progress rapidly so that our kid can feel rooted, safe and like he or she belongs in Ohio, too.
To that end, everyone should know this symbol. Memorize it. Learn what it means. And figure out your thoughts on the matter so you are ready to be the person you want to be when you encounter it.