By Robine Jean-Pierre
The other night, during my week away for Thanksgiving, I sat down with my two sisters and cousin to watch a brief BBC documentary on Netflix called “KKK: The Fight for White Supremacy.” When my cousin first recommended it, I had felt a bit hesitant and reluctant, not wanting to go to bed with angry, uneasy thoughts swimming around in my head. Seeing as it was only fifty something minutes long, and the only complaint anyone else had was “it probably won’t teach us anything we don’t already know,” I gave it my mostly undivided attention.
The interviewer, Dan Murdoch, spoke to active members of the Ku Klux Klan, namely the Loyal White Knights chapter. (To be honest, every time I write “KKK” I feel like I’m writing a curse word or “666” or something. I almost expect the Internet to report me or highlight it.) There is a lot I could say about the interesting remarks they made. What stood out to me the most were the blatant contradictions the interviewees made. All of their comments revolved around a central theme of preserving their heritage and expressing pride in their white identity. This sounds so innocent, at first; after all, other races are allowed to do this without being questioned. No one has a problem with Latino Pride or Black Pride. However, this changes once you hear their outrageous claims about Black people being savage and uneducated, bringing drugs to the community and increasing the crime rate. The interviewer asked different members whether they considered themselves to be racist, and nearly everyone said no, even after making explicitly racist comments. It makes me wonder what they believe racism is.
The textbook definition for racism is:
“A belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement,usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.” (Dictionary.com)
With increased travel, globalization, and education, racism is something we are becoming more socially aware of, and it is becoming more publicly condemned. Most people, even those who are unwittingly racist, identify racism as something negative, something undesirable. “Racists are bad people, and I am not a bad person,” they think to themselves. Very rarely do people want to admit that they are racist, even when it is clear that they are. That is why you can have some members of the KKK say that they are not racist, when we know that the KKK is entirely race-fueled. Part of the problem is a heavy, surreal ignorance clouding many of the secluded towns where the KKK thrives. In these communities, White people could go most of their lives without ever seeing a Black person, let alone talk to one. It’s extremely easy to make an enemy of the unknown.
People in general have this self-preservation instinct that is not just physical, but psychological as well. We will do just about anything to defend our opinion, behavior, emotions, etc. One defense mechanism we use all the time is wordplay. We begin to scrutinize words, change the definitions to suit our standing, create all these technicalities and nuances in order to weasel our way out of responsibility. Many of the members of the KKK justified themselves by doing just that. One person said of a ritual they practice, “We don’t burn crosses, we light them, to represent that Jesus is the light of the world.” (I could go on a whole sidebar as to why this statement is so problematic. To keep it simple, Jesus Christ is supposed to be a pure, righteous figure, so of course, putting his name into anything would supposedly validate their actions.) Making that distinction between “burning” and “lighting” is also a way of making what they do sound less threatening.
The climax of the documentary was a KKK parade, where a Black-power group was also determined to make their presence and cause known. The KKK members were alright with using racial slurs against Blacks since even before the parade, earlier in the interview. Their excuse was a common case of “fight fire with fire”: “If they can call us ‘cracker,’ then we can call them ‘n***er.’” One of the Loyal White Knight leaders explained how he had been called many harsh names in a mostly Black school growing up.
By no means do I have the cure for racism, but what I can say is that we need to take some responsibility on a local level. Stop blaming the other side, whoever that “other” may be; stop focusing on the past; stop playing word games and beating around the bush. To coin Shakespeare, racism by any other name would smell just as rotten. We need to be honest with each other, facing head-on those residual, stale beliefs passed down by experience and our ancestors, if we could ever even hope to change our world.
“Let them be just that, our ancestors beliefs, not ours. Let them be something we read about in textbooks and not what we see in the news.”
–Samantha P., blogger for The Buzz