For Hagen Dickson, racism is a frequent experience.

September 12, 2017

Hagen Dickson

For Hagen Dickson, racism is a frequent experience.

#MasonCountyPeople.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

LUDINGTON — Hagen Dickson moved to Mason County with his parents when he was 2-years-old. Growing up, he really didn’t feel like he was treated differently because he was black, living in a predominantly white community. In fact, his parents moved to Mason County in the early 1970s because they discovered the area was quite tolerant of “non-traditional” families like theirs — a white couple with a bi-racial baby.

“My parents were from Oklahoma,” Hagen, 42, says. “When they adopted a black kid, they wanted to move someplace where they weren’t going to have a lot of difficulties. They were already having issues with their own families.”

Hagen’s father, Bob, was a librarian looking for a job. He had offers in Rochester, NY, and Scottville, Michigan, working for the Mason County Library (now known as the Mason County District Library).

“My parents and I came to Mason County to visit and my mother was in Kmart with me,” Hagen recalls. “Everyone was so kind to her and I. They talked about how adorable I was. They didn’t even check out New York because they felt the kindness and tolerance here in Mason County.”

The Dicksons moved to Hamlin Township and Hagen describes his childhood as pretty normal.

“Race was just nothing that was ever brought up,” he says. “I had a great group of friends.”

Hagen was homeschooled until he was in 10th grade, and then started attending Ludington High School. At that time, he started to experience some issues. But, he still didn’t really contribute it to racism but more for the fact that he kind of stood out because of his behavior.

“I think most of it was because I was a rocker. I had a mohawk for awhile then dreadlocks and wore a leather jacket.

“Right about the time I left high school I really started to really notice it, about 1992, 1993. It wasn’t bad, just the occasional ’N’ word here and there. I never really thought about it before.”

Hagen recalls the first time he was called the “N” word. He was working at one of the local libraries and a pre-teenage boy said it to him. “It was shocking but at the same time I wasn’t overly offended,” he says. “The mom apologized to me and she was just very embarrassed that her son would say that.”

Hagen moved away in his ‘20s and eventually made his way back to Mason County in the early 2000s.

“There seemed to be more ethnic animosity,” he says. “I had never noticed it before. There was a lot of distrust and dislike for hispanics and after 9/11, there was a major distrust for anyone who looked Middle Eastern. Well, though I am black, I look Middle Eastern. So I heard it quite a bit and still do.”

Hagen often wears a rastacap, a round, crocheted cap often worn by people with dreadlocks, but also worn for religious purposes as well (think Bob Marley). Though the hat really has little to do with Middle Eastern culture, ignorance often overshadows facts.

Which brings us up to modern times and American symbols.

Over the past seven or eight years Hagen says he has experienced and observed more incidences of racism. He works at a retail store in Manistee and is called the “N” word on an almost daily basis, he says.

But, what frightens him the most are the people who display what is commonly known as the “rebel flag.” The flag’s origins began as the battle flag for the Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by General Robert E. Lee during the American Civil War. 

He says he understands that there are many people who display the rebel flag because they are expressing their rebellious spirit or they are showing “Southern pride.” However, there are others who are displaying the flag because it has now become a symbol of so-called white supremacy, he says. “I really hate to use that term, because it’s just really racism. I have been assaulted physically and verbally by these racists, and almost all those times the rebel flag was present. I see it now and I am on guard. I have to be on guard for my own safety and for the safety of my family.”

Hagen says he has had been verbally assaulted many times by groups of people, mostly men, who are parked or driving a pickup that displays the rebel flag in some form.

“I know that not everyone who displays this flag is a racist. I also know that it is part of this country’s history and it is important that we remember our past, accurately, so that we don’t repeat it. I love history. But, unfortunately, this flag has become a symbol of hate by a select group of people and I don’t have the luxury of knowing ahead of time how I will be treated when I am in the vicinity of this flag. What is also unfortunate is that the racists associate themselves with anyone who flies the flag.”

Hagen says he has seen the flag being flown more often in the past few years and it has meant that he has to live defensively. “When I see the flag, no matter where I am at, I have to be on guard. If I’m not, and something happens to me or my daughter, then it’s my fault. Well, really it’s the racist person’s fault, but I don’t want to put myself in that position. I know that seems wrong but it’s just what I have to do.”

Hagen does not advocate any type of ban on the flag.

“This is a free country and we have rights. If someone wants to display the rebel flag because he doesn’t like people like me, well, that’s his right. It’s not illegal and I’m not going to stop him. I feel bad for that person and I feel worse for the people who wave that flag because of non-racist issues. Heck, I love the ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ and find it sad that TV networks have felt the need to not air the show because the rebel flag is on the car.”

He says he doesn’t really have an answer to the issue but wants people of Mason County to be more conscious of others who may not look like the majority.

“I have experienced racism, but I believe the vast majority of people who live here are not what I would consider ‘racist’,” Hagen says. “I love Ludington and the surrounding area and it’s been a wonderful, safe place to raise my daughter. I would like to keep it safe for everyone and that’s why I will continue to speak up about the adversity I face.”

This story is copyrighted © 2017, all rights reserved by Media Group 31, LLC, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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