This fabled encounter is spun to grim reality on a summer night in 1999. The setting is the interior of Dereck’s grandmother’s garage in Bradley, Illinois. Jonette Avenue, just north of North Street.
A Britney Spears poster ironically graces the wall, tilt shifted inside of a joke of what we scoff about at the time as some odd, passing trend of white R&B.
Studying the liner notes of Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity, while a Braid 7-inch twirls on the phonographic turntable. With the garage door open we only intend on forever inviting the warm air.
Minding our own business: Dereck, Mark Mitchell and I. Forever got shorter.
Materializing in the driveway, a gangly looking white boy in purple shorts on a definitely stolen GT and an African American guy jumping off the back pegs. (1)
Enter the ever-disheveled duo.
The Black guy took the lead as they strolled in to our presence like they owned the place. Upon entering the garage the overhead yellow bulb, vintage and buzzing, cast a tainted glow over the dudes’ faces. As their silhouettes shifted, so did the narrative. The white boy looked like your average 1990s Midwest fiend of one sort or another. Burnt lips and messed up teeth. The Black guy, well, the Black guy had a giant swastika tattoo covering half of his face, cascading up over his forehead. (2)
Head shaved and Bic’d to the scalp it was your cliché tale. One as old as time. An African American neo-Nazi skinhead. A Black White Supremacist.
Within a split second of seeing him, my nineteen-year-old mind began an attempt to reconcile everything going on.
The mentality of getting a tattoo on your face really is a singular thing on it’s own. This might have been relegated to my footnotes, but instead, it’s part of this essay because of the statement. No matter what permanent devotion you’ve decided to scar on to your very profile, it is something you really need to be all in on. Commitment, man. I mean it’s going to be hard to find a job after that, even if it was just a heart tattoo or a dolphin or something. Even if you didn’t have a Charles Manson level of emblematic display on your goddamn forehead – any facial tattoo is an economic force with an afterthought: “Maybe…maybe I can be relegated to a shadowy job loading trucks in the back of a warehouse somewhere, like, in a phenomenal job market”.
I’m gonna be honest. I don’t think a lot of forethought was calculated.
What’s more, a facial tattoo of a swastika? That is a major level further, given the racist history and divisive meaning to say the absolute, very least. Correlation does not equate to causation, BUT – perhaps someone willing to get a facial tattoo would already be functioning somewhere within the general wheelhouse of someone who would get a specifically extreme tattoo in the first place. That part isn’t the most surprising, I suppose.
But the sheer size of the swastika spoke another volume. It was enormous! One might note that the size of a swastika tattoo is irrelevant given the meaning. I would argue that the bigger the size, relatively speaking, the worse the statement actually is. Not to mention the placement. My god, the placement! Listen, a giant swastika on your arm is just a lesser statement than a giant swastika on your face. Going out on a limb. (3)
To jump on yet another bizarre platform, most white supremacist symbology is reserved for white people. This is only because it’s inherently racist on multiple fronts. I don’t know. White appropriation of 90s R&B is one thing, but Black appropriation of white neo-Nazism was a twist I was not prepared for.
For an African American to actively get this gargantuan Fascist tribute tattooed on to his face? Personally I think it zooms right passed the idea of actual Hitler themed self-hatred. I realized quickly in that surreal moment that he was more than simply askew – in fact, he was completely imbalanced with a high probability of being potentially violent.
The psychology behind this is way beyond the scope of anything I have to offer. But I instantly knew this; he didn’t understand something. And you know what? From my experience, sometimes that idea is the most terrifying thing of all.
While I suppose the idea of being Black wouldn’t mathematically preclude someone from being a white supremacist, even though it should…it’s all just very strange. But you see, the Black Nazi never claimed to be upstanding pillar of society. On a certain level there was no actual contradiction. He was just fucking off the rails. After about three seconds of registration in my head, I became absolutely petrified.
This wasn’t a dude who was going to try to sit down and school us by producing literature he published on arguing for Hitler as a civil rights hero. This was a person – male, female, Black, or white…with a Nazi emblem etched on their head, who in my mind was more likely to pull out a box cutter and start slashing away rather than hearing us out on our ideas about apartheid. (4)
Of course. He reached in to his pocket. Of course he did, right?
I remember watching him fish around. I don’t remember everything but I remember seeing him go in to his pocket. What he pulled out what some sort of abstract weaponry in which, combining my entire whitebread suburban churchy naïvety, I had no tangible idea that this sort of thing really even existed until then.
“Here put this on”, the Black Nazi said in a raspy, surfer boy voice. He pulled out a cassette tape. “It’s White Power music”.
Dereck having all the balls in the god damn world responded, “Get that shit outta here.”
A sentiment I instantly agreed with, and felt proud of, yet felt afraid of at that moment.
The boy with the purple shorts, standing there, eyes cocked in two different directions, presenting an apathetic air of literally not knowing anything that was going on. Looking back, in the scheme of things, who could be more ideal for a Black white supremacist to actually hang out with?
White-white supremacists on average, I would think might shun him because he’s Black. Not to mention he probably had shunned the entire Black community by default because he was racist. My best guess is that there wasn’t another Black skinhead in the Kankakee County area. Even if there’s one, that doesn’t mean he necessarily wants to hang out.
White dudes like me, I would also assume on average wouldn’t be down with someone so crazy as a racist in general, let alone a racist skinhead. Also not to mention the ultra bat shit notion of a Black or a white Nazi with a giant swastika tattooed on his face. Look even if I was a racist, that shit is embarrassing, man.
So it made sense. He needed an also-crazy white kid to hang with. So, two crazies versus three sad and dejected artsy teens, with a mutant level of passivity, already heartbroken from all of our most recent, collective breakups? I mean we were listening to Braid while this all happened. We didn’t physically stand a chance.
I was concerned by that point. I saw a mentally deranged individual with god-knows-which armaments residing in his pockets next to his White Power cassette tapes. I started to scan about for something to use as a weapon. A tack hammer? A broken fishing reed? I don’t know.
Dereck held a bit of data that Mark Mitchell I did not.
Had I known Dereck had his finger on the trigger of his grandfather’s 357 magnum I may not have felt as anxious in the moment. His hand in the adjacent desk drawer, nozzle pointed directly at the dude the entire time like Han Solo in a Mos Eisley cantina.
Listen, nobody wants to see someone get straight Greedo’d, but if the guy were to pull a sharpened toothbrush with attempt to shank my eyeball like Odysseus, I’d be comfortable with him being laid the fuck out. (5)
I don’t recall too much after that but I probably just studied my new DC skateboarding shoes for a while. If smartphones existed I’m sure I’d have made a passive aggressive real-time Tweet about how I was about to die.
I felt a ton of relief when I could tell the terror tandem was rescinding toward the driveway and hopping back on the bike. The idea that the Black Nazi and to an implied extent, the boy with the purple shorts, were not able to sway us in to White Supremacy that night, thankfully was not a point to escalate things.
Looking back, it could have turned calamitous.
“Remember – I know where you live”, the Black Nazi casually and awkwardly mentioned as he mounted the bicycle pegs. Like Deebo on a squeaky beach cruiser, off to bully the next group of unsuspecting kids, the boy with the purple shorts jankily peddled them both off in to the darkness.
(1) You know – the type of young adults who didn’t even qualify for consideration to sit for an automobile drivers license test. Society bonding together, saying as an apolitical conglomerate with a unified voice, echoing across the aisles: “nah…we’re good”.
(2) I remember seeing the boy with the purple shorts hanging out in later months with this other dude I used to see at my church years prior. That guy seemed on the verge of complete psychopathy. Like a Michael Myers level temperament just sitting in the back row at youth group cackling and shit. Just one of those dudes where you have to assume they are currently institutionalized, if alive at all. But it made perfect, twisted sense they would find each other as friends back then.
(3) That pun was intentional. Also, Years later I would consider the heartbreaking idea that someone would actually take advantage of this individual’s mental state and literally give him that tattoo.
(4) Not that I had any ideas on apartheid. I mean if my highschool or church had told me about apartheid I’d have been against it. But I was way more worried at the time about the girl I liked paging me or not paging me, and making sure I had my 35 cents in my pocket all the time, ready to go find a payphone if the case were to arise.
(5) I understand the timing of these thoughts isn’t ideal, but I’m writing this now as a 42 year old man. I’m remembering the thoughts I had as a 19 year old child and attempting to portray this story through his point of view.
Photos by bolek_3d on Instagram