Symbols of a Time Long Gone

“Out on the road today I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac
A little voice inside my head said
Don’t look back, you can never look back”

Don Henley — Boys of Summer

I’m old enough to know what a Deadhead sticker is. For those not old enough or mellow enough to recognize, it’s the logo for The Grateful Dead; an American rock band whose dedicated followers were known as, “Deadheads.” In another lifetime, I worked at an arena when “the Dead” performed three consecutive nights and it was quite an experience. Loyal Deadheads followed the band from stop to stop, some for a couple of nights, others for a month or more according to their means. Without regard to how wealthy their followers had become over the years. Standard attire was a tye-dye shirt, jeans, and sandals or flip flops. Many arenas require shoes for entry but once inside and past security, it wasn’t uncommon to kick off the footwear and run barefoot through the building. When the lights went down, the joints came out.

The lyric quoted above points to the incongruity of a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac; the very symbol of conformity and being part of the establishment. Owning a Cadillac is a statement that you’ve given up the indiscretions of youth. The Deadhead sticker is a tie to a time gone by.

There are other symbols that should be unrecognizable but are unfortunately quite popular in our culture and our politics. They include the Confederate Flag, the Nazi Swastika, and a newcomer, the red and white MAGA hat. MAGA is supposed to stand for Make America Great Again. But it becomes more clear daily it represents a return to some of the worst abuses in our history; with “Again” being the equivalent to a return to white supremacy.

After the death of founding member Jerry Garcia. The Grateful Dead has continued to tour under other iterations. Four of the founding members toured this summer as, “Dead and Company,” and can be seen next in Riveria Maya, Mexico on January 16, 2020. You can still buy Deadhead memorabilia but for the most part, it’s tucked away in a closet or dresser drawer, awaiting the next gathering of fellow Deadheads. Unfortunately, symbols of hate are on display daily, sometimes accompanied by racist chants like, “Jews will not replace us,” or, “Send her back!”

While the racist symbols of hate never actually went away. It took this President with both active and implied support for white nationalism and attacks on people of color across the world, to make it okay to remove the hoods and publicly announce ones hate. Steve Bannon recently told a European nationalist group that when called racist, “wear it like a badge of honor.” It’s illuminating that the more the President engages in race-baiting and attacks on people (mostly women) of color, the higher his ratings go.

Republican leaders went to Vice-President Mike Pence to try to get the President to distance the Party from the racist chant in Greeneville, NC where they chanted, “Send her back” referring to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar who Trump had singled out for attack. Trump’s disavowal lasted 24 hours before he praised the “patriots” in the crowd and renewed his attacks on Omar.

Would that these symbols and those who promote the worst of what they represent, simply fade away. Trump is betting that the more racist his language and policies, the greater his support will be among his base and those that secretly agree with him. He’s betting that racist America will support him and he will remain President after the 2020 Election. The rest of us, still a majority in this country (but by a disappointingly small margin) need to prove him wrong.

The White House is currently under occupation with a group comfortable with all those negative symbols. They retweet Neo-Nazi memes, support Confederate statues and flags, they ban Muslims and rip babies away from brown immigrants at our Southern border. They tell black and brown women to go back to their own country.

What we must do. What we absolutely must do is cleanse our high offices of those who promote or even accept the racism they proclaim in voice, deed, and symbols wherever they exist. When the Governor of Tennessee honors the founder of the Ku Klux Klan, there is no acceptable excuse, he must go. When lawmakers and even the Supreme Court support racial gerrymandering as long as you call it something else, they must go. And when the purported leader f the free world is the worst of them all, he too must go. At some point, those that seek the answers in their distorted view of the past must be made to look forward, accept that America was never white and therefore cannot be made white again. Time to move forward.

“A little voice inside my head said
Don’t look back, you can never look back”