One of my fellow painters was Charlie. He was from North Georgia, which is not a good region of the country on account of the inbreeding, racism and general stupidity. Usually at lunchtime I ate in my truck and tried to read a science magazine or something to stimulate my brain cells. But one day I thought I might act a little more social and decided to take a ride from Charlie up to the gas station for a soda. It was just about a five-minute drive, and on the way there I opened my bag of muscadine grapes. Charlie told me, “Niggers eat those.” I thought, what the fuck is he talking about? I had picked those grapes myself from a farm near where I lived. They were really good. On the way back from the gas station, not more than three minutes after his first asinine remark, he pointed down a little side road and said, “Niggers live down there.” That was the last time I rode with Charlie.
When I moved back to Charleston in 1997, we lived downtown with my mom in a kitchen house on Wentworth Street. My daughter was starting second grade and so we checked out the local school, which was bright and sunny and the teacher was so nice. Surprisingly, when we went to school that first day, we discovered that Ariel was the only white kid in attendance. Apparently we didn’t get the memo that if you’re white, you send your kid to a private school. But one day Ariel’s teacher excitedly told us she was going to a book signing for her cousin (last name Ball) who had written a book called, Slaves in the Family. It was a big deal to say that. People in the south don’t talk about slavery, or admit your family had them, much less write a book about it. She added, “we’re all related anyway,” which was nice to hear.