Let me begin this by saying I am in no way comparing myself to the likes of Rosa Parks or John Lewis, who endured far worse than I did. I am no civil rights icon. Nevertheless, I took John Lewis’ advice to make good trouble, necessary trouble, in redneck Arizona. But, let’s get back to the beginning.
Last week, I shared that my preference for rural travel spots had not panned out well in Arizona. Against the advice of travellers I met in Nevada, I decided to leave the Silver State for Grand Canyon country. I stayed in Mohave County for the majority of my time, which is notorious for being Arizona’s most conservative hotspot.
Rednecks don’t scare me, so I decided to draw my own conclusions of whether I liked the area or not, while scoping out land in Golden Valley. When driving into the town, I was awe-struck by the mountains that surrounded the valley. At that moment, I felt sure this was going to be home, no matter what.
I changed my mind within 10 minutes, after I pulled into the RV park I had booked for the next 30 days. I entered the Tradewinds RV Park office with my mask on, left the door open, and maintained physical distance from the manager who wore none. She greeted me proudly with, “We don’t have a mask mandate here.”
I decided to give my future neighbours the benefit of the doubt by asking, “Is it because the cases have dropped so rapidly over the past few months?”
“No,” she answered. “It’s because we support individual rights and freedoms.”
“I see,” I responded, making a mental note to stay clear of all the shared areas on the property. I then checked the paperwork she handed me. I have never, in my life, had to sign so much paperwork just to stay at an RV Park — even for monthly stays.
One of these pieces of paper, however, has some significance to the rest of my story. It stated that I was personally responsible for reporting any behaviour I found inappropriate or offensive. I signed my life away on the dotted line, presented insurance documents for my rig, and then was escorted to my parking space.
The Unwelcoming Neighbours
One of the first things I noticed while I set up my RV was that there was no one outside. This was red flag number one. It was also the first and only RV park I have ever been to where no one came to help while I set up.
If you have ever been RVing before, you know this is insanely unusual. No matter how experienced you are and how many people are dying in a pandemic, your neighbours will come running to see if you need help. This is especially likely for women travelling alone.
I needed no assistance, but I filed this information away in the back of my mind. The lot was mostly flat and level, so I had very little work to do as far as levelling the RV. Everything was set up in no time and I was ready to explore the park.
During my walk, I saw a few people outside on the opposite side of the park. Some people immediately turned their backs to me as I got closer. Others looked right through me, like I wasn’t there. On two occasions, I said, “Good evening” and the person looked me directly in the face for about three seconds and then turned their backs to me.
I was undaunted by their reactions: so much so that I circled the park another two times to get my steps in. I only stopped because it started to get chilly and the sunset was so insanely beautiful. I had to get a picture. While I was outside, my neighbours on both sides came out. Both were fellow millennials; neither spoke to me.
While walking in the neighbourhood, I also discovered two things. The first was that one resident was flying a Confederate flag. The second was that the millennials to my left were somehow related to the one person flying a flag that said, “Trump 2020 | No More Bullshit”. I later discovered that the Trump supporter was my left-neighbour’s father.
The People In Town
The people outside of the park were no better. While in anti-mask Mohave, I tried not to enter shared spaces with its residents. When I needed groceries, I ordered them online and then drove 30 minutes to the closest Walmart to pick them up. However, one day, I realised I was running low on propane. When I called the office, they recommended a seller 10 minutes up the street.
I turned off the propane, unhooked it, set the cylinder down carefully in my truck, and drove to the outpost. I pulled in behind an old man who was getting several tanks filled. By some stroke of bad luck, while waiting on the attendant, he slipped, fell, and could not get up. I immediately rushed forward and offered my assistance.
This old man refused to let me help him. Instead, he waited for a White person to show up. The White person was unable to help him up alone, so I got behind him and helped prop him up. Once he was on his feet, he turned to look at me with a mix of gratefulness and surprise. He hadn’t expected me to help him after he had shunned my Black hand.
Even in Lake Havasu, a tourist hotspot, rednecks did their best to make me unwelcome. The friend who came with me was a Half-Latino with darker-than-tan skin. We both got really bad looks everywhere we went, particularly from old, White men. While hiking SARA’s Crack, for instance, an old man rounded a bend and saw a group of guys in front of us. He greeted them excitedly and wished them happy hiking.
When he fully rounded the bend and saw us about 20 feet behind these guys, he sneered at us and took off in another direction. My friend makes a point of greeting everyone, so he did say hello to the man. I’m not even sure he answered.
At Lake Havasu Beach, we got sized up by quite a few old, White men, while the Confederate flag flew in the breeze. It wasn’t unbearable, but it wasn’t comfortable either. It didn’t take me more than 48 hours to decide I could never live in Mohave County.
The Cali Couple
Those of you who followed my RV adventures may recall that I posted a lot less often while in Nevada, because I had a poor internet connection. Well, you can imagine how I fell behind on work, as well. My neighbours’ decision to ostracise me gave me the perfect opportunity to catch up.
But then, one day, purely by chance, I realised that the right-neighbours had California plates. You can say whatever you like about Californians, but I have never had a bad experience with one.
One afternoon, while I was struggling to figure out how to tilt my awning to block out the sun, I noticed the husband was outside and asked for his help. They had a similar RV to mine, so he figured it should work the same. It did not.
Ultimately, we gave up on it and accepted that the RV had outsmarted us. He was very friendly and immediately shared that no one spoke to him in the park either.
“They mean-mug us everywhere we go,” he said.
I pointed to his truck. “Yeah … it’s probably your Cali plates.”
He laughed. “You’re probably right.”
I met his wife soon afterwards. For two weeks, they were the only people in the entire park who spoke to me. One day, I came running back excitedly to share a new discovery. “There’s another Black girl staying in the park!” I told him. “You wouldn’t believe where they put her!”
“Where?” he asked, though he may have suspected my answer.
“Next to the one person in here flying the Confederate flag, of course,” I replied.
I never saw the girl outside again. She left about a day later. Unfortunately, the Cali couple were also headed back to Southern California for the holidays.
When they left, the husband brought me his wife’s recipe for a stew I had asked them about. I wished them safe travels, added them on Instagram, and resolved to return to my isolated life in Arizona.
The New Neighbours
Immediately after the Cali couple left — as in the very same day — the neighbours suddenly began to speak to me. Some were finally waving when I walked by. One or two walked right over to me while I was outside and struck up conversation. Things were so civil that, one day, I got invited hiking with another group of women RVing solo.
I discovered that some of the people in the park, who I had never seen before, identified as liberals. They confirmed that most of the people in the area were racist. Consequently, these self-proclaimed liberals celebrated their Biden win quietly inside their RVs with the blinds drawn. They feared that should their neighbours discover their political affiliations, they would face retaliation.
Then, along came my new neighbours. Tradewinds RV Park had thought it prudent to move the Confederates and put them next to me. It dawned on me, that as the only Black girl, I had the Trump supporters on my left and the Confederacy on my right.
The couple, who had plates from Utah, had always flown their flag on the right side of their RV. They now moved it to the left, so that when I exited my shower, sat down to eat, made dinner, and woke up in the morning, there was the Confederate flag flying outside my window.
Some of the other people in the park approached me to share their displeasure with the Confederate’s actions. They found it disrespectful and distasteful. But, beyond complaining to me in private, no one actually did anything about it.
The Office Complaint
On one of my routine trips to the office to get mail, I said to the manager. “When I first arrived, I signed a lot of paperwork. One of the documents asked me to report behaviour that was inappropriate and offensive. What is the park’s stance on the Confederate flag being inappropriate and offensive?”
The park manager, Sandra, looked at me for a second as if her eyes were about to pop out of her head. Finally, she reclaimed self-possession and said, “Well, you know …. we let people fly their flags here.”
“That doesn’t really answer the question,” I replied. “I am well aware of where I am, but I’m pointing it out because I find it inappropriate and offensive. I’m not telling you to fix it, but I am letting you know I take issue with it.”
She gave me one of those nervous little laughs people give when things have gotten awkward. “I will talk to the owner and see how they want to handle it.”
In my last two weeks at the RV park, I returned to that office several times and received no follow-up. At one point, the racist Utahans came into the office at the same time I did and she said nothing. Meanwhile, my emails were flooded with notices about dog owners not picking up their dog poo around the park. Apparently, at Tradewinds RV Park, dog shit was more important than racism and human decency.
The Flag Wars
After two nights of thinking it over and two days of no updates, I bought my own flags. My neighbours’ Confederate flag was one of those little ones you might fly outside a truck window. I bought flags that were three feet by five feet that you fly outside a house. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any good photos of them flying in front of my RV, but here they are on Amazon:
I also added this decal on the side of the truck that faced the Confederacy:
On the night of the election, I had already installed a Simplisafe alarm system, but I had opted out of installing cameras. I did, however, have WiFi cameras I had taken with me from Atlanta. I installed those on either side of my rig.
If the neighbours did retaliate, at least I would have evidence. I told my friends to let my parents know about the cameras in case I really did go missing, but I didn’t tell my parents about the flags until the last few days.
After the flags, I went back to being ostracised by most of my neighbours. Some of the people who had earlier voiced their agreement with the Confederate flag being inappropriate felt that I should accept racism more gracefully and talk about it less.
My refusal to do so allegedly earned me the fierce hatred of one of the women I had gone hiking with. She never actually said what her issue was, but she blocked me on Facebook and started to park her truck diagonally across her RV lot. The people I had met through her also stopped talking to me, except for two.
As is usually the case with rednecks, however, they were all bark and no bite. My preparations were for nought. Aside from being ostracised again, no one harmed me, threatened me, or made off with my flags. I got a few looks and that was about it.
The strangest reaction came from a fellow millennial on my street. One day, he drove by four times in two different cars, trying to see for sure what was on the flags, while the Arizona valley breeze had them waving madly.
When he finally got the chance to make out the donkey and the fist, his eyes almost popped out of his head. I was outside watching him. He met my eyes across the 30 or so feet of distance between us and waved. He seemed on the verge of trying to speak to me several times before I left, but he never did.
The Angry Arizonans on Social Media
Online, Arizonans were not pleased with me blasting the state for its racism either. They were more upset about me calling it out for racism than about the racism itself.
In fact, one Phoenix school teacher proceeded to tell me that I was the racist for bringing up race in the first place. When I restricted his ability to comment on my Instagram posts, he then slid into my DMs to continue his angry outbursts. I blocked him.
On Twitter, I ran into a few more idiots. When I posted that I was back in California, one redneck thanked me for leaving his state. I replied that I would be back whether he liked it or not. Another idiot responded to ask why I wanted to be in the state if I hated them so much. I replied:
Because most of the racists I came across are old. They will die soon. 🙃
The father of another one of the ladies who had randomly friended me on Facebook unfriended me the day I left. He did so after responding to this Facebook post with a crying emoji.
The Bottom Line
One of the greatest misfortunes of life in America is that racist White people corner off some of the most beautiful places in the country and then decide everyone else is unwelcome. I think it’s important to show up, to be present, and to challenge their ideologies. These people feel empowered to be racist, not just because of Trump, but because no one has ever had the balls to tell them to go f**k themselves.
The people who continually respond with, “We’re not all like that” are equally annoying. If your reputation is more important to you than racism, you are part of the problem. If hearing about racism makes you more uncomfortable than racism itself, you are part of the problem. If when people of colour share our experiences, you want to police how we should react to the situation, you are part of the problem.
How many White supremacists do you think it takes to shoot up a store in Texas because they’re tired of immigrants in the country? What about shooting up a Black church in Charleston? Or shooting Black Lives Matter protestors in Kenosha? It takes ONE. So, save your math for your echo chambers.
As for the self-proclaimed liberals who don’t have the balls to challenge their redneck cousins, I leave these words from Martin Luther King, Jr.
There comes a time when silence is betrayal.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
In the next few posts, I’ll be sharing the beauty of Mohave that rednecks are desperately trying to capture for themselves. If you ever get the chance to visit, I hope that you, too, opt to challenge their ignorance and archaic beliefs.
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