If you wanna know who a man is in the Deep South, look at his back window and bumper stickers.
Editor's Note: You might know Bun B as the Texas–based rapper, professor, and activist who's one half of the legendary Houston duo UGK. He's also VICE's newest political correspondent, reporting on the ground from the campaign trail of the strangest presidential election in recent memory.
The trill has landed in South Carolina, a.k.a. South Cakalaka to the locals, and I've been through these parts before many times. I feel like one of them. The people here are Southern and proud of it. So am I. Andwhy not? The South has a deep and rich cultural history. Music. Food. Art. Sports. Some the best who ever did it did it here. For most of us, Southern Pride is worn like a badge of honor.
But there's a part of Southern history that very few of us down here are proud of. From slavery to Jim Crow to last year's shooting at a black church in Charleston, racists have been rearing their ugly heads in these parts for centuries. Some wear suits and ties. Some wear badges and judicial robes. And some wear white sheets and hoods. But they all have the same hateful blood pumping in their veins. It's the world we navigate as people of color down here. Welcome to the South.
Being black in the South varies from city to city, in terms of style and grooming, but dealing with racism is pretty much the same across the board. I grew up in Port Arthur, Texas; our neighboring town, Bridge City, has had basically zero black residents for my entire life. It's the same in Vidor, another suburb, which was a KKK haven for years. James Byrd Jr. was dragged less than 100 miles from where I grew up. I've seen racism and its effects in my life and the lives of those around me. I'm sick of it. But that's the South.
Our first stop is in Walterboro, where Donald Trump is having a rally Wednesday before South Carolina's Republican primary this weekend. Normally, I wouldn't go this deep into the country without my pistol because shit pops off in the woods. Trust me. Small towns in the South operate differently than other places—what happens here stays here but not in a cool Vegas way. But we have a camera, so if something happens, at least there'll be proof. My Raiders jacket doesn't help me fit in, but I don't wanna fit in. I want it to be very clear who I am and what I represent.
On the drive out, we see several Confederate flags on the highway, but that's not a surprise. If you follow the news at all, you know people down here care strongly about the flag. And I get it. For many poor white people in the South who either don't have or don't claim foreign ancestry, it's pretty much the only history they have, and they're holding on like GI Joe with the Kung-Fu Grip.
As we close in on our destination, I see a truck with not one but two American flags on the back, along with the Don't Tread On Me flag you see around South Carolina. We meet the owner, Larry Johnson, and it turns out Larry actually has five American flags—and also five Confederate bumper stickers. That's right, five. If you wanna know who a man is in the Deep South, look at his back window and bumper stickers.
Larry tells me that he and I have the same history, and while I agree that as Southerners our pasts are intertwined, I let him know we stand on very different sides and shoulders. He says the Civil War wasn't about race but about business; when I argue that the business was slavery, he starts talking about Egyptians having white slaves. I want to let him know that by acknowledging that fact, he's admitting black people were the first people to walk the Earth, but I don't wanna see his head explode, so I simply state that a huge part of the Confederate fight was about owning people as property to harvest goods under constant threat of abuse or death. He then informs me about his "black friends, white friends, and yellow friends." Yellow friends? Who the fuck are his yellow friends? Big Bird and Bart Simpson. I smile and move on.
We're mad early because everyone wants a front row seat to the Trump show, and I don't how long before they find out what type of shit I'm on and run me off. There are still two hours to go before the man shows up, and already there's a line about 100 folks deep to get into the event. Most of them are over 40, but they have the urgency of teenage girls at a Taylor Swift signing. The first lady in line tells me she's already seen Trump speak twice before, but that she's never had such a great view. She talks a little bit about how he'll change the country, but her eyes seem to say, "He's just so dreamy!" As we talk, the doors open, and the crowd rushes at them like a Black Friday mob.
There's a lot of camo here, and it ain't Bape. It's more of the hunting sort. There was a little bit of that vibe in New Hampshire last week, but here in South Carolina, it's literally part of the build out. The entire stage backdrop is camo, behind 18-wheelers packed with fresh cut logs and a podium that is literally made out of bales of hay. My Raiders starter draws some small talk from sports fans in the crowd. It also gets me some hard stares, but to be fair, it might be more than the jacket that bothers people here. I'm sure most of crowd would assume I'm against Trump. Which I am, but that doesn't necessarily mean I'm against them.
And the more I talk to people, the more I realize that these supporters are more anti-Obama and anti-liberal than they are pro-Trump. Their decision to back Donald seemed to have little to do with whether he's the best Republican in the presidential race, or even the most conservative candidate. These people are so upset by the current administration that some of them are willing to compromise their values if it means that the other side loses.
The rally isn't all hunting vests and trucker hats, though. There are many people who don't fit into the typical image of a Trump supporter. You can tell by their clothes, their hair, and of course, by their skin color. Traditionally, the political assumption has been that black people are a monolith, collectively aligned in ideals and values. But while some elements of the black experience are similar, each individual is unique. For some black people, whether its for geographical or financial reasons, color has never been an issue. For others, it's the only issue.
We talk to Dolphus Pinckney, a black father who's brought his young son Hunter here because he likes how Trump speaks, how he says what's on his mind. It's a sentiment I've heard from almost everyone at these rallies. And it's a bit troubling, to be honest. People, by nature, gravitate to the loudest voice in a room. Except right now, the room is our country. And while Trump may be the loudest voice, he isn't actually saying anything. He's just promising to "win so much you're gonna get tired of winning!"
But Trump wins no matter what. For a capitalist like Trump, winning the Republican nomination will be like pulling off the ultimate moral Ponzi scheme; losing simply means more speaking tours and book sales. In the world of politics, where lies and deception are currency, Trump is even richer than in real life. The only real losers here are us. He's specifically targeting people who are upset with their station in life and looking for someone to blame—and giving them something to point their collective finger at.
When I hear the opera strains coming out over the speakers, I know Trump is close. Then comes the Rolling Stones, which means Donald is about to take the stage. The Walterboro rally is outside, so there's nowhere for the campaign to play its usual intro propaganda film, but the people here don't really need to be swayed. They know who they want, and they are just looking to be part of the show. The campaign herds us into the press staging area and back to the cage we go.
The Lowcountry Sportsmen, the official hosts of the rally, take the stage and talk about how they wouldn't say the things Trump says, but they're glad he's around to say them. They also talk about how an AR-15 is a great gun for a young girl because it doesn't kick. What the fuck a young girl needs an assault rifle for I have no idea. Then, on the count of three, they all chant "Build that wall!" I assume that means the wall Trump plans on building on the US-Mexico border.
As Trump takes the stage, complimenting the sportsmen who introduced him as "very rich and very nice," I get it. This isn't about politics. This is about a famous person from television coming to town. This election isn't really about the issues at hand—it's a popularity contest, made for reality TV. And this dude is the Honey Boo Boo of this political pageant.
The tone of Trump's speech is the same as it always it is, except this time, he's leaning on the Second Amendment like an armrest. This is Lowcountry—guns are like a sixth finger or a third arm for people here. He goes on for a while about how conservative he is about Common Core and immigration and this and that, and for the first time, I see a person or two giggle. They know this guy isn't a conservative. But they don't give a shit. It sounds good, and that's all that matters to a mob.
Trump finishes talking, and the people applaud him as he exits. But I'm done with this bringing America back shit. This guy is Mussolini. He's Dr. Evil with hair. Shit, even his hair is evil. So evil it won't even listen to him. It has its own separate agenda. But we can't leave. No one is allowed off the grounds until Trump is gone. Trump's team informs us that if we leave the press cage for any reason, the campaign will pull our credentials for good.
We play it cool, but at this point, I've endured more dirty looks and side-eye than I can handle. Every time I talk into the camera people take pictures and record from the sidelines, waiting to tattle on me to Trump staffers. The crowd is no longer on its best behavior. The unspoken message from the silent majority is crystal clear: We are not welcome here. That's cool. I was on the way up out this bitch anyway. You ain't gotta love me. My momma do. Peace.
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