“Smiling Faces, Terrible Racists: The Dangerous Culture of White Possession in the Carolinas”

By James Yeh, originally published on (2015)

Photo from Dylann Roof’s website

Just about every time I'm in the Carolinas, something racist happens to me.

A couple years ago, while I was visiting my sister in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, I had the nerve to honk at an SUV that almost sideswiped me. For this, I was chased down Highway 54 for a couple miles by an enraged man resembling Larry the Cable Guy, whom I could see in my rearview mirror, pounding on his steering wheel like a cartoon gorilla. As I pulled up to a stoplight, the man cut me off, stormed out of his SUV, and screamed at me through my closed window. "You think it's funny now, boy?" he shouted, his face purple, the tendons in his neck strained. "You think it's funny now?" He backhanded my window violently, returned to his car, and sped off.

My mother was sitting right next to me.

A few years before that, while I was eating with some friends at a Huddle House (a 24-hour diner chain) in Greenville, South Carolina, a man who also somehow resembled Larry the Cable Guy—orange goatee, squat stature, baseball cap—stood up from his table to yell out at me, across the restaurant: "Hey, you know karate?"

I lied and nodded. He gave me a thumbs-up.

Last summer, when I was walking in downtown Anderson, South Carolina—my hometown—I overheard the distinct sound of ching-chonging being directed my way, the same kind of "Chinese" sound I'd get from the other team whenever I played organized sports. When I went over to confront the guys making the noises, I discovered they were barely teenagers—15, even 20 years younger than me. One of them, the least remorseful, was sitting in a wheelchair. The thing is, as I told those kids, I'm from here. I'm about as South Carolinian as you can get.

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