3 Reasons Why #BlacKkKlansman Rules And 2 Reasons Why It Is Irresponsible
As a white woman, I write this response to “BlacKkKlansman” out of love and conviction that we must unite to end racism in our county.
In order for us to move forward, we have to face the truth about ourselves and our racist history, and I think “BlacKkKlansman” is a powerful teaching tool.
I highly encourage everyone to see it, although there are some very problematic aspects to the movie.
“BlacKkKlansman” is based on the true story of Ron Stallworth, a Black police officer in Colorado Springs, Colorado who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in 1979, and also contains some fictionalized storylines.
The truths “BlacKkKlansman” tells are extremely important, but the fictionalized parts of it are deceiving and harmful, and I’ve written this essay to make that distinction clear.
Three reasons why “BlacKkKlansman” rules:
1) “BlacKkKlansman” succeeds in drawing a straight line between white people, white supremacy, and the election of Donald Trump, and does so in a very powerful, emotional and unforgettable way.
Many white progressive Americans thought that the election of Barack Obama invoked a post-racial era in America.
But as people of color know, every step forward comes with backlash.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his last book before he was assassinated:
“Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn. The reality of substantial investment to assist Negroes into the twentieth century, adjusting to Negro neighbors and genuine school integration, is still a nightmare for all too many white Americans. White America would have liked to believe that in the past ten years a mechanism had somehow been created that needed only orderly and smooth tending for the painless accomplishment of change. Yet this is precisely what has not been achieved. (….) These are the deepest causes for contemporary abrasions between the races. Loose and easy language about equality, resonant resolutions about brotherhood fall pleasantly on the ear, but for the Negro there is a credibility gap he cannot overlook. He remembers that with each modest advance the white population promptly raises the argument that the Negro has come far enough. Each step forward accents an ever-present tendency to backlash.
From the beginning of his campaign, Americans of color and white Americans who feel threatened by demographic change could hear Donald Trump’s appeals to the fears of white Americans.
The National Rifle Association, the Ku Klux Klan, and the religious rightendorsed Trump. The only two national unions to endorse Trump were the National Fraternal Order of Police and the Border Patrol Council.
But for a good long while, Trump’s dog whistle remained inaudible to many white progressive Americans, who were shocked by his victory, and tried to explain white Americans voted for Trump because of “economic anxiety.”
The Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017 and Trump’s commentary on it was when many white progressive Americans finally woke up.
“BlacKkKlansman”, released on the one-year anniversary of Charlottesville, forcefully holds white people accountable for the election of Donald Trump, evincing a very strong emotional response, particularly among white people.
2) “BlacKkKlansman” dispels the myth that the Ku Klux Klan is exclusively Southern.
When you picture Colorado, what do you envision?
Mountains, skiers, weedsmokers — but likely not white hooded cross burners, until now.
Although not widely known, Colorado has ALWAYS been a hotbed of white supremacy. I was born and raised in Colorado, about 120 miles due north of Colorado Springs, the town where “BlacKkKlansman” takes place.
I got the hell out after I graduated from high school.
Colorado is rooted in toxic white male gun culture, racism, and massacres.
A volunteer Colorado militia of white men massacred, mutilated, and desecrated hundreds of peaceful unsuspecting Native American women children and elderly at Sand Creek in 1854 in an act of barbarism so atrocious, even the Federal government condemned it.
The Colorado National Guard and Colorado Fuel and Iron Company guards shot into a camp of 1200 striking miners and their families in 1914, killing two dozen people, including women and children, in Ludlow, Colorado.
A few years later, “The Birth of a Nation,” a black and white movie that portrays the Klan as a heroic force and dehumanizes Black people, was tremendously popular in Colorado and inspired many white people to join the Klan in the 1920s. (Birth of a Nation is the film shown at the Klan induction ceremony in “BlacKkKlansman”).
There were never a whole lot of Black people in Colorado, so in addition to Black people, the Colorado Ku Klux Klan villainized Jews, Catholics and anyone who was not white and Protestant.
And 8000 Japanese Americans were imprisoned at Camp Amache in Eastern Colorado from 1942–1946.
The Ku Klux Klan chapter in Colorado Springs- the town where “BlacKkKlansman” is set- had 2,500 members during this period.
Not only did the Klan rally in Colorado, they got elected and appointed to policymaking roles on boards and commissions, and their influence lasted decades.
The Mayor, Governor, Chief of Police and majorities of the City Council and Colorado House of Representatives were all members of the Ku Klux Klan.
Now Walker Stapleton, the great grandson of five term Denver Mayor Benjamin Stapleton, is running as the Republican nominee for Governor.Mayor Stapleton was a Klan leader instrumental in popularizing the Klan in Colorado and helping Klan members seize political power.
Ku Klux Klan members elected as Mayors and City Council members succeeded in creating Sundown towns throughout Colorado.
Sundown towns are communities where local ordinances and violence prevented Black people and other people of color from renting, owning, or staying overnight, they had to be out of town by sundown.
Colorado is but one state where Birth of a Nation had a tremendous impact in popularizing the Klan in the 1920s.
From only about 100,000 members in 1920, by 1923 the Ku Klux Klan boasted 1.5 million members in 39 states, and found particular support in small cities like Denver, Dallas, Indianapolis, Portland, OR and Portland ME.
Long after the Ku Klux Klan members were no longer in office, the ordinances and practices they established continued to affect communities.
Their intellectual heirs enacted redlining and opposed school integration, resulting in residential and educational segregation- and a racial wealth gap- that persist to this day and is itself a root cause of racism and racial inequality.
Ku Klux Klan members elected to school boards throughout Colorado during the 1920s made curriculum and teacher hiring decisions that continued to impact communities decades later.
I am certain that the white washed, Republican version of US history I was taught growing up was a direct result of Klan influence on my school decades later.
There were only 2 Black students in my high school, and I graduated in 1987.
Who wants to be the first Black family to move to a sundown town?
Klan political power and membership waned after the 1920s in Colorado, but other organizations took off- such as the John Birch Society, Federation for American Immigration Reform, and the National Rifle Association, and the Republican Party.
#BlacKkKlansman dispels the stereotype that white supremacy is primarily a Southern institution. It’s popular in the East, North, and West, too.
3) “BlacKkKlansman” exposes white women’s role in white supremacy on the big screen for the first time.
Just as when we picture Colorado, we envision mountains, skiers, weed smokers, when we think of Klan, we tend to think of men.
Turns out that’s wrong, too.
The Klan’s surge in popularity after the “Birth of a Nation” movie coincided with white women gaining the right to vote.
Just as the National Rifle Association does today, the Klan then used the trope of Black men raping white women as a recruitment strategy.
Women held power in the Klan, disseminating the Klan’s ideology through family, religious, and social events and passing it on to their children. Klansmen elected to school boards ensured their wives were hired as teachers.
Today, white women continue to uphold white supremacy.
“BlacKkKlansman” draws scrutiny to white women and our role in upholding white supremacy.
I hope that it leads white women to look ourselves in the mirror and hold ourselves to account for changing our beliefs and behaviors.
But- and this is a MAJOR but- for all the good it does, “BlacKkKlansman” also is seriously flawed in the way it whitewashes police infiltration of movements and police generally.
This warrants serious conversation, because I already see so many non-Black people watching “BlacKkKlansman” and proclaiming they are now “woke,” but the way the movie portrays police is harmful, inaccurate, and irresponsible.
Kudos to Boots Riley for his analysis, to Leslie Mac for calling “BlacKkKlansman” “#copaganda,” and to the “Young People of the Charlottesville Attack” for holding Spike Lee accountable for “BlacKkKlansman”’s irresponsibility.