The Dark Side of Long Beach (and Everywhere Else) When Racism Has the Spotlight

Photo of the Confederate Flag at 11th and Daisy in Long Beach by Morgan Wolf. Edited by Brian Addison.

For folks that grew up in rural areas or particularly the South, the Confederate flag is alarmingly ubiquitous. As a child, one gets used to it on the back of trucks, in garages, on gun racks… There’s no full comprehension behind it other than it represented some form of masculinity, of pride, of identity.

This was no different for me, having been born’n’raised in the small mountain town of Big Bear, during the last stronghold the Ku Klax Klan had on my high-altitude home.

In fact, Big Bear was the beginning of the Klan’s descent into California, when come April of 1946, they burned a cross on the mountain to announce that, despite civil rights efforts gaining steam post-World War II and Hitler, they were here.

The Script, Beverly Hills-based writer Rob Wagner’s weekly publication dedicated to typically covering film, wrote this about the event in its June 8, 1946 edition:

“Then, on a dark night in Big Bear, California, the KKK served notice that it had not been halted by anything so flimsy as a mythical boundary line. It announced its presence in California, in force, and ready for action. The flaming cross at Big Bear was its challenge to all those who disagreed with its principles.”

My family was not wealthy at all, largely supported by my maternal grandparents, and borderline white trash: on my father’s side, a long string of the lower whites who had no familial wealth, hunted to survive, lived paycheck to paycheck and, on my mother’s side, a much more privileged albeit immigrant existence when her parents arrived on the East Coast from Italy. (When I say white trash, I am being frank; the underprivileged dregs that were sent from Europe after the New World was discovered is largely where my father’s family stems from.)

We lived in the most rural part of the valley, Fawnskin, and daily, on our winding way to school, we would pass by the KKKabins, a small collection of red’n’white cabins that always held some secret allure despite the blatant name I didn’t fully comprehend. My parents, having moved to the mountain in 1979, were not fully shy about the presence but definitively not open about it; my mother quipped once, “Your Dad was asked to join but he kindly refused.”

And like many children of the rural part of America, it isn’t until your own identity develops—and in my case, it was the fact that I was a closeted queer—that you realize the powerful message that any symbolism of the Confederacy or fascism is. It’s a silently violent message, steeped in xenophobia and fear tactics.

Make no mistake: it’s fucking frightening.

And when rural folk like myself leave their homes, middle finger up, racing to get to a place that embraces diversity and cultivates culture, you try to forget how naive you were: a child, sitting in a yard, listening to drunken white men talk about the “filth of the fuckin’ beaners” with their guns on their laps, amused by some sense of superiority despite no economic strength.

This sentiment and behavior, strong in the 80s amongst Big Bear’s males, lingered (though not as heavily) through the 90s and somewhat hid its blatantness. Some of my so-called friends took on the racist lingo, leading to many fights between the conservative Latinos seeking a Catholic home in the mountain and whites who were largely poor, hateful, and misinformed.

Long Beach helped me forget that. It’s part of the reason I love it so much. I have met the most beautiful spectrum of folks, from lower income whites on assistance to successful black professors to hardworking Latinxs, to incredibly resilient Cambodians, to, to, to…

It was the precise opposite of where I grew up and precisely what I needed in my adult life.

So when Morgan Wolfe of Long Beach shared this photo of a Confederate flag hanging outside an apartment complex at 11th and Daisy, I was brought back to exactly that uneasy feeling I had in my childhood—but now, I understand that the displaying of such symbols isn’t just an odd show of power.

When I have Downtown guides tell me they’ve been openly called “nigger” on the streets of Downtown Long Beach, one which told me anonymously that, “I’ve never had such anger thrown at me randomly as I have over the past month. Been called a ‘nigger’ more times in the past month than my whole life.”

A friend even got called a “porch nigger.”

We have more hate groups this decade than we did in the 1980s, with California leading the way.

It’s extremely dangerous when any such imagery becomes normalized. It’s extremely dangerous when people idealize and romanticize times that were marred with terrorism, violence, hatred, and devolution. And make no mistake, Long Beach, we are not the perfect little microcosm of diversity and love. We have a professor at CSULB who strongly believes in racial segregation and I profiled him, the comments that appeared were frightening, including one that said, “What’s the problem? Whites are becoming a minority in California and need to have a race based coalition to represent their minority based interests as a minority in California. It is now the hispanics who should be considered racists for belonging to hispanic coalitions because they now or soon will be the majority of California residents. You can’t have it both ways.”

It goes on and on…

Of course, the flag was taken down; I am sure it drew the ire of the neighborhood. Most of the racists in Long Beach hide behind keyboards.

But the far more important part of this is that someone felt comfortable enough to hang it in the first place, in a place like Long Beach, and to not hide behind a keyboard. It’s almost too easy to say it was led by the election but it is too hard to dismiss the election.

So the next time a comfortable straight white male tells you or anyone that is marginalized, a person of color, a Muslim, an immigrant, or just outright different that they need to stop “overreacting” and “let Trump do his thing,” just remember that it is when this shit becomes normalized and we are unable to handle the guilt of the decision we willfully made, we will teach our children that the ash falling on their lapels was snow.

Editor’s note: this article originally stated that Mr. Wolfe’s photo was taken at 10th and Daisy; it was actually taken at 11th and Daisy.

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 16 nominations and two additional wins for Best Political Commentary for his work at KCET and Best Blog for Longbeachize, a section of the Long Beach Post. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.