Originally posted in the Moxie section of the Post & Courier on June 27, 2011. This was my first article posted in this newspaper!
A dear sister-girlfriend and I went into a store that I had driven by a million times. Since we had just spent too much money downtown, we justified the excursion by leaving our purses in the car. As we rummaged through the cornucopia of items outside the store, my imagination exploded thinking about how I could incorporate several of the items into my living space.
I saw a stunning piece of ironwork. I was determining if I wanted to go to the car and get my purse to purchase it, and then we saw it — the swastika.
I immediately put the piece back on the rack. Then we spun around, seeing several similar pieces. Our mouths fell open. Yet somehow we silently rationalized it and continued admiring other items.
Inside the store, I stumbled upon the very thing that I had been looking for to put over my bed. It was an iron candleholder with elegant scrolling and places for three candles. The price was $12.
OK, it was obviously not designed or handcrafted by Philip Simmons, but I was happy. Happy until we saw more swastikas.
My dear sister-girlfriend and I quickly moved on, and I still held my bounty tightly in my hands. We kept walking and saw many signs stating “Colored only” and “Whites only” on tables alongside Confederate flags. That is when I really started having difficulty breathing, yet my grip was still firmly holding my prize.
I remembered hearing the stories of separate water fountains and restrooms. My grandmother had to use the “colored only” Laundromat in Wedowee, Ala. I have been to the civil rights museums. I have seen the documentaries on television. I had never, ever in my life seen those signs in real life other than in a museum.
I was frantically searching for the disclaimer stating that the content in the store did not necessarily represent the views of the owner. I did not see one. But if they did not represent the views of the owner, would they be sold in the store? I was still clutching the iron piece.
I am sure somewhere in the back of my mind I realized that those were just signs and now I can drink from the same water fountain and use the same restroom as anyone else.
I have the right to walk through the front door of an establishment and not use the servants’ entrance. I do not have to sit in the back of the bus or give up my seat to someone of another color. I can eat in any restaurant and sleep in any hotel I can afford to patronize.
I do know all of this. And yet, for some reason, part of me wanted to bolt in disgust from the store. That part of me wanted to boycott it. That part of me wanted to scream about the injustices in the world and wonder how the owner dares to in good faith allow those items in the store.
Yet I was frozen. I honestly did not know what to do. Wasn’t it my duty as an American to declare outrage? Wasn’t it? Part of me wasn’t so sure. I do know that what I did not do was let go of the iron piece. In the end, I bought it.
Yes, I went to my car and instead of getting in and taking my business somewhere else, I grabbed my wallet and paid for the piece. Am I a hypocrite? Did I condone the message of the offensive items by buying something in the store? Isn’t the bigger issue that those symbols of hatred are not sanctioned by law anymore? Shouldn’t I be thankful that they were for sale because they are useless pieces of junk?
I am still not sure.
All I know is that a part of me feels like I sold out because I bought something. Even now, days later, although I like the iron piece above my bed, I am wrestling with mixed feelings and am still not sure I did the right thing. I got what I wanted, but at what cost to my soul?