Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Calling All White People!

By Phil Campbell

JANUARY 12, 1998:  Wake up, white people! The Ku Klux Klan is coming to Memphis.

Black civil-rights activists are calling on African Americans to ignore the Klan. From their perspective, these activists are right to do so. The KKK isn’t the black person’s problem. It’s the white person’s problem. Perhaps blacks should indeed stay at home while we whites go to the KKK rally on the courthouse steps on January 17th. We would, after all, be there to confront ourselves.

The Ku Klux Klan is our public shame. It’s an organization created out of racism, and, though its numbers are smaller than in decades past, it continues to exist based on a racist ideology. Jeffrey Berry, the national Imperial Wizard for the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, says his is not a “white supremacist” group but a “white separatist group.”

What’s the difference? In this country, whites – male, Christian heterosexual ones, in particular – still hold the most political and economic influence in America. If whites were to “separate” themselves from minorities, whites would be in control and the others would not. Racism is about whites denying non-whites the opportunity to share in the American way, and that’s what the KKK stands for.

How can we as a nation have a dialogue on race if whites can’t agree on something as simple as the KKK? True, in many ways, the Klan has become marginal to other, far more complicated issues in our increasingly diverse, race-conscious society. For example, the Confederate flag, for many, is a symbol of racism, yet that issue is clouded by the South’s distinct regional identity and by some neo-Confederates’ canny bumper-sticker slogan of “Heritage, Not Hate.”

Some illustrations of what I mean by “clouded” issues: Affirmative action? Few whites want it when it gets labeled as a “quota.” Poverty? Drugs? Welfare? Illiteracy? The disproportional number of blacks sentenced to die by the state each year? Can’t go there. These issues have been semanticized, structuralized, or individualized beyond recognition. Most whites would never allow the blame for these problems to be pinned on them.

Then you get to the KKK, and suddenly things are more clear-cut.

The KKK is not about politics. Anybody who takes an anti-immigrant, pro-Christian-family stance can give to and participate in any number of conservative organizations in the U.S.

The KKK is not about religion. Jesus wasn’t of European descent, he never wore a sheet over his head, and he never told his apostles that the best way to love your neighbors is to burn a cross in their front yard.

Finally, the KKK is not about the South. Though it was founded in the South the first time around by Nathan Bedford Forrest, then re-established again in Georgia, the KKK coming to rally this month in Memphis is from Indiana, the state that once boasted the highest Klan membership.

Many whites say the KKK should be ignored, that they’ll go away if you close your eyes long enough. Well, it’s been more than 100 years now, and they’re still around. If you don’t wipe the mold off your bathroom tiles, does it go away, or does it continue to grow, making it difficult, if not impossible, to wipe it out when you finally come around with the disinfectant?

Racism, however, isn’t destroyed by merely trying to avoid it. It must be countered with education and tolerance. And (peaceful, legal) action.

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