I first see D.J. along the route of the Veterans’ Day parade, in Newnan, Georgia. He’s sitting in a plastic folding chair patterned with the American flag, next to a woman seated in an identical chair. I’m rushing to get to a ceremony nearby, but I can’t help noticing his appearance: long graying beard, a black vest covered with pins: one for the Marine Corps, one for the U.S. flag, one for the Confederate flag.
When I look at him, I think I know what I see. I think: Here’s the guy who will give me the white, redneck view of the South.
Quickly, I introduce myself. I tell him about my work, photographing people, and ask if I can visit him sometime. He tells me his name and number, and that he works at a local flea market. He gives me directions and says he’ll be there later that afternoon.
After lunch I drive out to the market, only a short distance from the center of Newnan, but the landscape becomes rural very quickly here. When I arrive I see D.J. in front of a little stall on the corner, fabricated out of corrugated metal and painted blue. I approach him and ask if he has time to talk. It’s been slow today, he says, and agrees to sit down with me. We drag two chairs over to the side of the stall.
I ask D.J. about the parade, and about his military service. He tells me he’s been in the Marine Corps, served during the end of the Vietnam War.
Wanting to get to the heart of the matter, I ask him who he supported for president.
“Hillary,” he says.
Surprised, I pause.
“I was raised by Democrats,” he says. “When I grew up, the Southern part of the country was Democrat – it switched to Republican probably in the ‘70s. So, when I was growing up, my parents and people, if they voted, they usually voted Democrat. But votin’ wasn’t a big deal back then. Everybody was too busy to vote. Most of my people were farmers, they were raising their own food. It’d be a long trip to town, too, to vote – in a beat-up wagon and mule, or my parents’ old pickup truck.”
I ask him about the Southern switch, from Democratic to Republican, which, as I understand it, had to do with the Democrats’ having embraced civil rights. “It was mainly because of what I would call the Bible Belt beliefs,” D.J. says. “Anti-abortion, anti-gay – all the stuff, stuff like that. I don’t believe in abortion, but I believe women – what I say is, you can regulate laws, but you can’t regulate morals. You can’t make a law because you don’t like the way I believe. This is the way I think of it.”
I ask D.J. now what he thinks of Donald Trump. “To me, he acts to me like a high-school bully,” he says. “He’s rich, and he thinks he’s better than everybody else… .
“It’s pretty obvious that he is anti-anybody but white,” D.J. says. “White-collar rich people making over two hundred thousand dollars a year – that’s all he has anything to do with. He doesn’t have anything to do with people like me and you, or blacks or Muslims or Spanish people, Mexican people. He just don’t like nobody. He likes his self, a model for a wife, and his kids. That’s the only people he cares anything about. And I’m not so sure he cares about his kids.
“I think that his hot head gonna get us into the biggest war we’ve been in since World War Two.”
I can’t bring myself to confess my initial impression of D.J., but I tell him that if any old Northerner were to meet him, they might assume he was a white racist, who’d supported Trump.
“No, I’m not nowhere near racist,” he says. “I was in the service with a bunch of guys, and I judge – I try not to judge people, period. But if I judge you, it’s because I know you. It doesn’t have anything to do with your color, your race, or your creed, or your sex, or anything. I don’t even have a problem with Muslims. Southern guys, they don’t like the Muslims. And some old school Southern people have a problem with blacks, and people who don’t believe like they do. But I don’t have a problem with anybody.
“My experience is, times I’ve been up North and Midwest, they’re more racist than the South. They’re more segregated than we are – in the big cities, the blacks all in one section, the whites in another. We blend together more than in other parts of the country.
“It just seems like they have more problem with the blacks than we do.”
Originally published March 21, 2017