About US is a new initiative by The Washington Post to cover issues of identity in the United States. Look for the About US newsletter launching this fall.
When Page Braswell heard that someone in her North Carolina community had hung a Nazi flag in front of his house, she had to see it for herself.
“Hey, what’s up with the Nazi flag?” Braswell asks the homeowner, Joe Love, in a video that she posted on Facebook of the Sunday afternoon encounter. Love, standing in his driveway in Gaston County, about 25 miles west of Charlotte, is not pleased with the question.
“What’s that g‑‑d‑‑‑ flag got to do with you?” he replies.
After a two-minute exchange, peppered with a few curse words and a middle finger from Love, Braswell got back into her car and drove away. But that wasn’t the end of her one-woman protest: The video has been viewed more than 698,000 times and has more than 11,600 shares.
“A Nazi flag? In my neighborhood? That’s unacceptable,” said Braswell, who is white, in an interview this week. “It’s abhorrent anyway, but for someone to fly that, especially after Nazis just killed someone and attempted to kill others?”
Braswell was referring to the rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville last weekend, where one man drove a car through a crowd of counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. While there were plenty of Nazi symbols at the rally, another kind of banner was frequently waving above the heads of white supremacists and other demonstrators — the Confederate flag.
But as a lifelong Southerner, Braswell said that symbol — while often used to convey racial hatred — doesn’t give her the same sense of horror and disgust as the Nazi flag.
“I don’t know why,” she acknowledged. Around town, she says, “there are plenty of Confederate flags. … You see as many of those as you see the [U.S.] flag.”
“There shouldn’t be a distinction between the two,” she continued.
Love told the Gaston Gazette that he hoisted the flag bearing the Swastika because his Confederate flags kept disappearing. “I put three different flags out here, which were all Confederate flags,” he told the paper. “Every one of them got stolen. I put this one up, nobody wants it.”
Had Braswell happened to pass by Love’s house when he was flying the Stars and Bars, she wouldn’t have gotten out of her car and into his face.
“For some reason, a Nazi flag just crawled all over me,” she said, but she did note that “anytime I know someone that is posting a [Confederate] flag or talking about a flag, I do call them out personally or on Facebook.”
During their brief argument, Love told Braswell that he is not a Nazi, then said, “This is Nazi f‑‑‑ing America!”
Braswell said she doesn’t regret the encounter, although she could do without the publicity. Her father is furious because he’s been inundated with phone calls from friends and acquaintances asking about her unannounced visit to Love’s house. The incident was first reported by the Charlotte news website Qcitymetro.com.
What she wants people, especially other white people, to take away from her encounter with Love is that they have a responsibility to confront racism because “we created this mess.”
Although Braswell often marches and participates in rallies, and she has escorted women past protesters at an abortion clinic in Charlotte, she said she is not in the habit of rolling up to people’s houses to confront them. But she had been shaken by the violence at last week’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville that left Heyer dead.
“White Americans are 100 percent responsible for the racism in this country,” Braswell said. “This country was absolutely built … literally on the backs of slaves, after driving native people off the land and stealing it from them.”
“I’m a white woman. … This is our mess to clean up,” she said. “Nothing is going to change until more white people speak up.”
Braswell, 44, is married with children. She said she used to own a construction business but now is a consultant. She recalls just one Asian family in the middle-class neighborhood where she grew up and “maybe a dozen people of color” at her suburban high school, but she said she didn’t learn racial tolerance at home.
“Honestly, my family is part of the problem. I love them and I care about what happens to them,” but she described them as “very old-school Southern.”
Charlotte is a destination Southern city, home to several Fortune 500 companies and one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country. Despite the newcomers, including an influx of people of color, Braswell said, “it’s still a very racist area.”
“Racists are a dime a dozen here,” she said, referring to Gaston County. “They want someone to blame, and rightfully so, but they’re angry at the wrong people. The biggest welfare queens are corporations,” she said.
Braswell said she wasn’t afraid during the encounter. “I look at it like this: Minorities in this country are afraid a whole lot of time and rightfully so — walking while black, driving while black, minding your own business while black, sitting in a car while black,” she said. “I can’t be afraid to confront Nazis,” she said, adding: “Racists should not be comfortable in today’s society.”
More from About US: