In Part I of “Suck Squeeze Bang Blow,” I discussed the history of Rebel Mountain, a middle-class suburb created as a Confederacy-in-miniature. You can read the history of Rebel Mountain from 1954 to 2020 here.
Now, we must deal with what you should do if you discover you’re living in one of America’s countless Rebel Mountains.
1 — Suck
Due to several desegregation orders from federal courts, Rebel Mountain High School busses in about fifty lower-income Black students from Southopolis. Rebel Mountain High School has 1500 students. Fifty are bussed in from Southopolis. Some Rebel Mountain parents are agitating the city council to stop bussing in these students. They say that the dispute is not about race; it has nothing to do with race. They don’t even see color. Some of their favorite coworkers are Black. They don’t see color but somehow they know these favorite people are Black; it’s a mystery. They say that the parents of these Southopolis kids don’t pay the high Rebel Mountain property taxes and thus, their children should not benefit from the schools those taxes create. This is a colorblind argument, but as we examined in “How Racism Survives Without Racists,” Rebel Mountain is not a colorblind place. It was designed to be an explicitly white supremacist place.
Rebel Mountain High School spends about $13,000 per student annually. It has one of the highest per student spending rates in the state. This includes salaries for faculty and staff, sports equipment, building maintenance, contracting, supplies, and so on. So, theoretically, these fifty students cost Rebel Mountain about $650,000 annually. The cost is obviously lower in reality because the grass will still need to be cut and the building will still need to be painted even if there are fifty fewer students.
There are 15,000 housing units in Rebel Hills. $650,000 in property taxes divided by 15,000 housing units amounts to $43 per year to educate these Black students. (Remember: the real amount is actually much lower.) $43 per year is how much it will cost. But this fight is not about cost; it’s about value. Is it worth it to the citizens of Rebel Mountain to spend $43 per household to give some Black kids a little piece of what they’ve got?
When this debate comes to town, you’ll find your coworkers, your neighbors, and your friends on the side of ending busing. They’ll pose colorblind arguments, but you know that Rebel Mountain is a factory purpose-built to create white supremacy. You can either save $43 and make Rebel Mountain a little whiter, or you can spend $43 to throw a wrench in the machinery. There is no middle ground. There is no neutrality. Rebel Mountain is not neutral ground; it’s the segregationists’ factory. An anti-racist would say the children are worth it. A non-racist says nothing and plays her part. You either work in it or sabotage it. Choose.
2 — Squeeze
Remember the name of the high school sports teams? The Rebels. The mascot is a Confederate colonel named Colonel Reb. It’s the same mascot once used by the Ole Miss Rebels. Eventually, some students at the school — Black and White students both — start agitating that the Confederate colonel needs to go. The school can still be the Rebels but the colonel needs to go and the treason flag needs to go with him.
Once again, your friends, coworkers, and neighbors are going to have colorblind arguments. They’ll never say “the Confederacy was a rogue faction trying to destroy the United States so that they could keep Black humans in bondage, and we like to honor that because they also had cool uniforms and we like to feel rebellious and independent.” They’ll argue the Confederacy was not created to enslave the children of God. They’ll argue the battle flag isn’t a symbol of the Confederacy so much as a symbol of the whole South. They’ll say they’re not racist and they like the flag, thus the flag can’t be racist.
They’re honest and passionate about their arguments, but Rebel Mountain is a factory designed to produce racism. The Confederate battle flag is the sign on the front of the building that says what is built there. It’s the sign that says who is welcome in Rebel Mountain.
If you argue the flag should be taken down, you’re going to end up fighting with your friends and coworkers pretty much every day. But you have to choose. In Rebel Mountain, there is no paid time off. You can continue building or you can go on strike. An anti-racist need only have a conversation with coworkers and neighbors about being more inclusive. A non-racist need only keep quiet. Either Black people are welcome in Rebel Mountain or they are not. Choose.
3 — Bang
Lastly, you are going to encounter some engineers, the ones who still say and do what most Americans accept as overtly racist. There are fewer and fewer of them left, but a 50-year old in Rebel Mountain in 2020 was born in 1970. His or her parents were the original architects of Rebel Mountain. It’s a rare person who learns nothing from her parents. They’ll probably never drop an N-bomb around you, and they’ll never express open hatred based on skin color, except for one scenario: teenage dating. The prospect of a romantic relationship, even one as doomed to failure as a high school relationship, between teenagers of different ethnicities has a way of bringing race home.
The kids of Rebel Mountain in 2020 are 50 years removed from the snarling, growling segregationists. They don’t have the same prejudices even of kids from Rebel Mountain in 2010. White kids in Rebel Mountain are going to date, go to church with, and go to dances with Black kids. Those coworkers, friends, and neighbors you have are going to show themselves in these moments. A good number of them, so many that it will hopefully shock and sadden you, will disapprove of interracial relationships. Some of them might try to hide it because they know that it’s not widely acceptable to hold this view anymore. Many of them, though, will openly state “I wouldn’t let my daughter date a black guy.” They’ll often justify this by saying “what would other people say?”
They’ll say they don’t hate anyone. They’re just not comfortable with it. If that ain’t hate, it’ll do ‘til the hate gets here.
When someone says something like this to you, you’ll have a choice. In Rebel Mountain, you cannot clock out. You can only create or destroy. If you say nothing, you might not be a racist but you’re no protection against the racists. The parts are rolling down the line. If you don’t stop the assembly line, the product will still be built.
Do you tell your friend how ugly their racism looks, or do you keep quiet because you don’t want to fight? Are Black kids equal to White kids or not? Choose.
4 — Blow
I grew up in Rebel Mountain. I went to Rebel Mountain City Schools from kindergarten through twelfth grade. I wore the little league uniforms, the high school athletics uniforms, won academic awards, won track meets, and generally prospered in Rebel Mountain. I was never knowingly kept from the economic and educational opportunities of Rebel Mountain. However, there’s always going to be the undercurrent that a Black kid is a guest in Rebel Mountain, an interloper tolerated as long as he plays his role. I was allowed to win track meets for Rebel Mountain, win scholarships for Rebel Mountain, boost the average ACT/SAT scores for Rebel Mountain, but I wasn’t allowed to step out of line. These are the first examples that come to mind:
In my freshman year at Rebel Mountain High School, a classmate relentlessly mocked me for my speech impediment. After telling him to stop, I shoved him. The vice principal brought in the school resource officer — a police officer assigned to the school — to arrest me. Arrest a ninth-grader for shoving someone. Is there an adult in America who made it all the way through high school without pushing someone?
I wasn’t arrested, though. The officer waited with his handcuffs in hand while the vice principal checked my grades. He saw my straight As and decided to give me Saturday school instead of jail. I was only as valuable as what I could do for Rebel Mountain. If I had been less useful, he would have thrown me away.
That’s the machinery that was built half a century ago.
Furthermore, I don’t know this to be true but I’ve long assumed that teenaged boys don’t get rejected very often when they ask a girl to go to prom. I’ve always figured promposals are like marriage proposals: you should only ask the question if you know the answer. In my senior year of high school, I was rejected three times.
First, I went on a first date with a junior in high school, a white girl. I drove my car. Her parents dropped her off because she didn’t have a car yet. After the movie, she had several missed calls from her parents. When she called them back, her mother shouted at her. She hadn’t told her mother her date was Black. This was a betrayal. Since she could betray her parents in such a manner, then she could just find her own way home. They wouldn’t be coming to pick her up. I drove her home. A few weeks later, I asked her to prom. We both were open about our feelings for each other, so I said something like “Do you think they’ll let you go to prom with me?”
I even went to dinner at her parents’ house a few weeks later. Her father wore a Rebel Mountain sweatshirt and folded his arms across his chest. Her mother drank grocery store white wine and ground her teeth. I thought I could win them over with talk of AP classes, track meets I’d won, the scholarship I’d received, an acceptance into Brown University. I was kidding myself. They were just humoring their daughter. Their dinner table was a kangaroo court. I had been born guilty.
The second girl I asked to prom actually said yes. The next day, in seventh period, she said that she actually couldn’t go with me. Her parents wanted her to go with the son of one of their friends. Later, I found out they looked me up on Facebook when she said who she was going with. They exercised their veto power.
The third girl I asked also said yes. That was some time in the middle of a school day. By track practice after school, she had talked to her sister. Their parents would never let her go with me.
There were roughly 400 girls in the 11th and 12th grade at Rebel Mountain High School. Had I somehow found the only three with racist parents? Were these the last six racists in Rebel Mountain? What are the chances of that?
That’s what it means to live in Rebel Mountain. Did those parents suffer any consequences for their bigotry? Not that I know of, because the Rebel Mountain assembly line is staffed by hundreds of people who say nothing. The assembly line is run by non-racists. Non-racists don’t protect Black kids, and if you will not protect children, what will you protect? Non-racists don’t make the world safer, kinder, and more just. Non-racists do nothing to bend the arc of the moral universe or draw us nearer to the Beloved Community. Anti-racists do that. To be an anti-racist is to build a more perfect union behind you and to repair any breaches in the wall before you. Anti-racists smash the machines that churn out injustice.
There are anti-racists doing yeoman’s work in Rebel Mountains all over America right now. You see, Rebel Mountain cannot survive sustained sabotage from anti-racists. In truth, the entire operation is remarkably fragile. You can dismantle it if you’re willing to get in the way every now and then, if you’re willing to get into just a tiny bit of good trouble.