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Cotton and the Flag

Updated: Apr 23, 2018

The American Flag flying proudly through patriotic neighborhoods.

When house shopping you notice things like that. You notice the homes that are flying the flag. You, think maybe they are a military family. Or maybe it is simply pride. But what if the flag meant something else? What if the flag was a reminder to where you were. A kind of, hey you we love America.

Let me be perfectly clear, I love this country and the freedom it allows me. But as a black real estate professional who finds himself in and out of neighborhoods all day I must be aware. I must be aware of seeing an American Flag flying on one house and 2 houses down you see a Confederate Flag flying. After you have been in communities where you see this as a neighborhood trend, you must be aware.

I’m going to be completely honest, there are communities that I find myself in, where I feel unwelcomed. As if I don’t belong and I didn’t get the memo. I’m not even talking about the subdivisions that are named after the Confederacy, those I can handle. Those neighborhoods are often older, great communities for first time home buyers and are surprisingly diverse. People wave or smile as we are viewing a home with our clients, there isn’t any overt get out. Speaking of Get Out, the neighbors are just as friendly and engaging as the people in the movie Get Out.

But there are those moments where being a black real estate professional and entering peoples home reminds you of where you are. I have a specific example of this.

You are driving through a lovely subdivision. The yards are freshly cut, flags flying from post to post and you even get a smile from a woman walking her dog. The home you are about to see is under budget and the pictures look great. As your GPS says the home is 300 ft away, you see a Confederate Flag at a home down the street. You don’t pay it any mind because, hey this is Virginia. The excitement is building as you pull into the driveway of this gorgeous home for sale. You step out of your car look around and see your neighbor has an American Flag flying also and there is a county police car in the driveway. Your first thought is, wow this neighborhood is like a movie and I bet it’s safe. Then you open the door.

As you walk through, you notice the pretty hardwood floors and the freshly painted walls. Like most homes for sale many of the personal things like pictures are gone. So, you aren’t sure who owns the home. At this point all you know is that the house is nice. As you go into the kitchen you see granite countertops and stainless-steel appliances. So far this house is a winner and you can't wait to see what's next. Then you happen to notice a nice bouquet of cotton on the kitchen table. Not cotton balls, real cotton. A real cotton plant where it is soft to the touch and will prick your finger until you bleed at the same time. You touch it just to make sure it is real. Yup it's real and ouch! You scratch your head and think okay and you keep looking. Then in the living room you see more cotton. The master bedroom even more cotton. Now you know something is different. But still, you like the house. As you continue looking you notice books laying around about the Civil War. You read the titles Stonewall Jackson, Jeb Stuart, AP Hill and General Lee. You even see newspaper clippings on the strength of the rebel yell. Now you know for sure who owns this home.

But you are a professional so you keep quiet and let your client look. Then you hear you client say, okay let’s go now. You exhale and become thankful that you can leave. With no words spoken and only the “what the hell” and leave as fast as you can.

Leaving you see the police officer neighbor waving goodbye, you see the American Flag blowing in the spring time breeze, you see the neighbors sitting on the porch drinking a glass of water and you see the sweat dripping from your ancestor’s foreheads as they pick cotton day after day until their fingers hardened.

You drive off trying to process what you saw. You think of the red flags in and outside of the home to better protect your client during the next showing. You wonder how you can ensure your client’s experience will be better next time. You have no choice but to feel the pain of having to acknowledge the only red flag you saw was the American Flag. You cringe because you know that flag was connected to cotton and civil war memorabilia.

What are you supposed to do? Do you begin to view the American Flag as a marker for you don’t belong? Do you create a rebuttal for what your client has experienced? Do you laugh it off as a one time experience? Do you call the listing agent and address the racist home decor? Surely the agent knows right?

No matter what you decide to do, there are a few things that are evident. Flags show pride and that pride can go either way. It can be inclusive or exclusive. Buyers of color in Virginia understand what it all means. All you can do is ensure that your client is buying the right home in a community where they can flourish.

Our client decided that they will not view homes that hang American Flags.

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