The detail that completely caught me by surprise in Politico's rather unsatisfying post "Want to Meet America’s Worst Racists? Come to the Northwest," was not the Pacific Northwest's ugly "racial legacy," nor that the region is the home to "virulent online racists" the Northwest Front (a group apparently admired by the man accused of killing nine black Americans in a Charleston church, Dylann Roof). Nor did it surprise me to learn that the NF wants to make the PNW a country as white and pure as snow. No, the thing that I didn't see coming is that the leader of NF, Harold Covington, wants the PNW to be "a Rhodesia regained."
I was born in this man's paradise, Rhodesia, a country that is now called Zimbabwe. The transition from Rhodesia (ruled by whites) to Zimbabwe (ruled by blacks) was made possible by a brutal war that ended in 1980. But here is the thing: When I moved to the PNW in the 1990s, I had it in my mind to leave old Rhodesia and new Zimbabwe in the past. The future for me was Cascadia and its capital by the bay. And that's the way it's supposed to be. When you go west, you do not look back.
Then in 2005, I had an experience on a Victoria Clipper that made it very clear that my past was here to stay. Not long after the boat left downtown Seattle, two middle-aged white women sitting in front of me pulled out of their bags mbiras (a traditional Zimbabwean instrument—also known as a thumb piano) and began to play the kind of ancient melody that communicates with the ancestors of black Africans.
Outside the speeding Clipper: the cold waters of Puget Sound, low and cold clouds, dark-green islands, signs of whales.
Inside the Clipper: two Americans behaving like musicians on a black-packed chicken bus heading to Chitungwiza.
And did it not end there. In Victoria, I came across a marimba band performing traditional Zimbabwean songs in front of the Fairmont Empress Hotel. As they played with such relish, I recalled that the father of a good friend of mine, Evan Salt, played marimba in Bellingham malls. Indeed, the community of mbira and marimba musicians in this region is so considerable, thanks to the influence of the late master musician Dumisani Maraire (the father of Tendai Maraire—one half of Shabazz Palaces), that it is fair to call traditional Zimbabwean music a part of the PNW's sound.
While a lot of white people in this region are dreaming of black Zimbabwe, others are apparently dreaming of its opposite, white Rhodesia. Politico explains Covington's relationship with Rhodesia:
In 1972, while a member of the U.S. Army, [Harold Covington] wormed his way into his first neo-Nazi organization. He soon found himself in Bulawayo, Rhodesia (a nation whose colors [Dylann Roof], coincidentally, didn’t hesitate to sport). While there, Covington managed to start both the Rhodesian White People’s Party and the South African Friends of the Movement. But Covington quickly outstayed his welcome, and his screeching anti-Semitism soon saw him deported from one of the most racist regimes extant.Covington was deported from white Africa (he was too racist even for that racist regime), settled in the PNW, and saw in the Douglas-fir forests, the snow-capped mountains and volcanoes, the thick and low clouds a place to revive a racist society that once roasted under a copper sun.
It seems I left my country only to be surrounded by so many innocuous and toxic fantasies of my country.