Recently The Root posted the following article:
Someone Thought a High School Play With Students Wearing KKK Uniforms Was a Good Idea
It’s a good article, and Michael Harriot has gained a follower.
HOWEVER, I think his logic, and the logic of many posting on his Facebook page is wrong.
This is a bit long, but… READ FOR COMPREHENSION.
Anyone who responds rudely will be summarily blocked without any engagement.
First, let me introduce myself: I am a Professor of United States History. My Master’s degree focuses on Military History, the History of Repressive Regimes, The Mongol Empire, and Slavery, including its legal history and the criminality surrounding it (i.e. the Klan and their ilk).
About three or four months ago, I came out of the office, walked over to the second-floor railing, looked down at my wife and said; “Fuck! I’m becoming a civil rights historian.” She looked up from messing with her fish tanks (she’s into Betas) and said; “No shit! It’s what you’re passionate about.” What she meant is that it’s what pisses me off the most…. And it is.
Sorry guys, but… many of you are simply looking at this the wrong way. This was not done too SUPPORT the KKK. This play treats the Klansmen as evil.
If we can’t represent these sorts of things for what they are, in plays, books, movies etc. without having a knee-jerk reaction to it. Without being able to see the value in NOT dumbing down things for those who are stupidly offended. Then we are dumbing down history for the sensitivities of the parents, students, etc. and giving hate, bigotry, and racism a safe harbor!
Our history SUCKS. American history starts with the enslavement of the Taino people by a Genoese mercenary for the sake of the Spanish Crown. What then followed was 373 years of ever increasing bigotry and slavery – bigotry ENGINEERED to look the way it looks today – in what would become the United States culminating in a Civil War to “end” slavery. Notice those quotation marks? Slavery still exists in this country today, both illegal and legal. 526 years later…
If we, for lack of a better term, whitewash our history because it offends some, then we ARE doomed to repeat it.
WE ARE DOOMED TO REPEAT IT.
Let me say that again in another way – let’s take the KKK out of this play… now there’s one less portrayal of the KKK as the evil bastards they were (ARE!). Not a big deal, right. Feelings are ameliorated, everyone breathes a sigh of relief. The kiddies are protected (more on that later). The easily offended can rest easily.
Congrats! You’ve destroy this example of evil. But, then evil grows by an infinitesimal amount. Now do that to 10,000 times. A single drop of water, applied over and over again can create the Grand Canyon.
THIS is why we never learn from history. THIS is why 60% (60%!!!) of high school and college teachers teach that the Civil War was about anything other than SLAVERY!!! This is why until the past 20-ish years or so, the high school text books could get away with treating SOME Klansmen as roguish heroes and not the monsters they were (are!). This is why there are Confederate Monuments honoring traitors that only recently have we begun to remove them and put them in their proper places.
I LOVE that the teacher had the COURAGE to represent the KKK as they are.
When Owen Musser, the racist county property inspector, plans to oust Betty and convert the lodge into a meeting place for the Ku Klux Klan, it is important that the audience understand COMPLETELY who and why this is happening. Racist is ONE thing, member of a terrorist organization is another.
It would be like having a play about Osama bin Laden and only mentioning that he is Muslim while ignoring that he’s also the leader of Al Qaeda. Would THAT be acceptable?
Presenting the Klan as the villain is most certainly one way to do that. Doing so with humor is most certainly one way to do that! Have you ever seen “Oh Brother Where Art Thou?” If not, you should. It’s a great film, one of my favorites. The KKK is depicted in it. In the end, you laugh at them as their leader is vanquished. But that doesn’t mean they were any less reprehensible.
Is there any mainstream play that presents the KKK as the heroes???? I’m not talking about something you’d find reviewed on Stormfront, I’m talking about something on or off Broadway. If there is, I don’t know of it. If it was in the prime-timeline (that is, our timeline), something like that could be offensive, but I can think of examples where it wouldn’t be. Kind of a Edward Norton in American History X sort of thing??? The Neo-Nazi turned good(ish). Dunno. Be interesting to write an alternative history where the KKK were rabid abolitionists and equality universalists akin to John Brown or Thaddeus Stevens. But that’s another topic.
NOW, if the problem is that these are high school students…. I call bullshit on you treating your high school student like some kind of doll who can’t handle the truth. I’ve been teaching high school students for all of one semester now (normally I teach college) – These kids are tough. Tougher than they let on. But people don’t see that because so many people want to protect them. The rules that these kids live under, tactically for their protection, get damned silly. They’ve talked intelligently about the problems we have today (In fact, this semester, I’m only failing 2 out of 93 and those 2 simply refused to work – fine, not my problem).
That is a BIG problem with kids today, they’ve been protected, not out in the world. The world is a fucked up place. But I’ve had students talk about shootings in their apartment complexes as if it were no big deal. And others be all like, “Yeah, that’s a bad place.” Two of my students were downtown (Houston) this last weekend and they were accosted by one of our very special indigents (it’s better than when I was working downtown but do still have a few people in dire need of psychiatric care – and the Hoovervilles are growing!). The girl had a pocket full of change and threw it on the ground and ran away… Fuck! That’s smart!
But we protect them from their own HISTORY!!! That is a sin! You have NO IDEA how many of my student’s minds are blown because they’ve never been properly taught that the Emancipation Proclamation had less to do with freeing slaves and more to do with keeping the Brits and the French from helping the Confederates, they are often AGOG when they find out that Abraham Lincoln did NOT support race equality (pro-abolition does not equal pro-equality!!!), or …and this lesson fucks their heads up big time (which means they are learning!), how many slaves were related to their masters.
Some of you talk about “insensitivity”… really? So what you really want to do is brush this evil under the rug and then… like Naziism today, let come back so we have to deal with it again? By not portraying these characters as what they are, you are being sensitive…not to your audience…but to the KKK who would love it if people just viewed them as a social club who merely promoted pride in being white.
As a white man who grew up in a Klan town – Pasadena, Texas – we had a KKK bookstore on Redbluff Rd. (I shit you not). They were out there every single weekend in their little dress… uh robes I mean with their signs. “Be a MAN Join the Klan!” “Once you go black, you can’t go back!” “Take a Stand! Joint the Klan!!!!”. I don’t understand ANYONE’s desire to treat the KKK with anything other than a barbed wire wrapped baseball bat (either literal, or figurative).
Part of this form of media, all media, is to instruct on behaviors that are acceptable and those that are unacceptable. By presenting the KKK as racist, violent bigots, I’d say this teacher did more for everyone watching this play than just about ANY news agency has done in the past two years in their lackluster portrayals of the Tiki Torch crowd. This is exactly what media is supposed to do!!!
WE MUST PRESENT EVIL IN ITS TRUE FORM!!!! Otherwise we merely serve evil’s purpose.
As an United States History Professor, I would argue that the wearing of Klan robes to represent the evil that they are, on stage, in movies, as a protest, is ABSOLUTELY critical to the continued assault by sane, freedom loving people on racism, bigotry, and hate. By doing so, we make wearing one in the streets unacceptable.
Nigger Jim? HELL YES! If we can’t teach why NIGGER JIM was called Nigger Jim by Mark Twain, if we are so damaged that we can’t realize that Twain named him that intentionally to show that Jim, in spite of society’s judgement on him because of his race did not let it affect his own morality, and that morality affected Finn, then we should shelve the books entirely and admit that we don’t actually give one shit about teaching historical truth. Twain’s naming of Nigger Jim was a direct attack on the racism and bigotry of the South (and the United States, and, well, the western world really).
There are those who argue that the word itself is damaging. I agree. But unless we use the word and understand why it is offensive (and I’ve had to explain that to several students from AFRICA, including Nigeria no less!!! Sadly, I’ve also had to explain that Africa is not a country…sigh). I know, I know, “Use N-word” BULLSHIT. That’s pure unadulterated intellectual cowardice. I agree with Mr. Harriot that Nigger Mike is utterly unacceptable, it had no value other than to denigrate Mike. Some people need punching. But I tell my students that we must use absolutely accurate language in the classroom and in our research for scholarly purposes. But that often, that language we use in exploring issues is utterly reprehensible on the street.
I had one student submit a proposal to write a research paper on The First Amendment Aspects of NWA’s “F**K The Police.” I told him NO. If he couldn’t write the word fuck, he couldn’t write the paper. He was not CENSORING himself in a First Amendment paper… FFS. Also, It’s “Fuck Tha Police”…get it right. Do not dis Dr. Dre like that. (It’s always funny the first time students hear a professor curse – worth it. Also, how does this old white boy know who NWA is?). It turned out to be one of the better papers that semester. But only because I did NOT let him water it down.
But the instant we water down the language used by the unreconstructed to describe an entire race of people; nigger, uncle, auntie, monkey, jigaboo, sambo…. this list is really long… Wikipedia has a great list of ethnic slurs, it makes for some interesting reading; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ethnic_slurs_by_ethnicity.
We CANNOT understand and undermine the psychology behind racism without confronting it honestly. This teacher confronted racism and terrorism HONESTLY. Why should that be punished? Punishing honest and open criticism of evil is something to be punished now??? Wow.
I have the privilege of being born white. Being dismissed because of that pisses me off just the same as being dismissed because you’re black, Hispanic, female, etc would piss you off. How is any of that not bigotry?
That said, I’ve never been discriminated against that I know of – although I am Pagan, I’m also fat, I’m also a progressive in Texas, so maybe it has happened, just not to my face – Bring it. When cops pull me over, I don’t worry that I’m going to die. I have no issues confronting the cops either. Though I do NOT recommend doing that – you see, I smell like cop (10th MP Bn, 304 Army Security Agency 1984-1986). In fact, the conversation often turns to what kind of gun I carry (Ex-MP, licensed P.I. etc. Black guys… MAKE THEM disarm you, DO NOT reach for that gun, we’ve seen what happens, and it’s bullshit! But, that’s another issue) and the last three times (I suffer from lead foot disease), I’ve gotten warnings. Never mind the time I was selling a rifle in a public parking lot and the Constable was staring at us from behind his car (I called him over, turn out I knew him – again, I’m WHITE – if you are a POC, DO NOT DO THIS).
In fact, the only time I think I’ve ever been profiled was by a black cop who thought I was driving strangely – it was a bad part of town. Mine is a distinctly different experience than many of my black friends, students, and co-workers. That is wrong.
Part of the reason this disparity is that we are willing to give the Klan (and their ilk) a pass when it comes to accurately portraying them in media. This teacher deserves a medal. I wish ALL teachers had this sort of courage.
Alright, I apologize… Lincoln once said; “I could write shorter sermons but when I get started I’m too lazy to stop.” Which is funny coming from a man whose most famous speech is notoriously short.
WE MUST stop being knee-jerk offended at all offensive imagery. SOMETIMES that offensive imagery serves a purpose. Tiki Torch toting racists chanting “Jews Will Not Replace Us” is offensive. Guy walking into a church and shooting it up because it’s a black church? That’s astoundingly offensive. The Nazi flag flying in the United States??? Offensive.
But a play presenting Klansmen as evil bastards???
I would think that the only people that would be offensive to would be Klansmen.
Again, if you want to respond intelligently, please do, I think this, and many other things need to be talked about in this “Post Racist America” 😐 in the age of Trump.
But if you just come back with inanities and insults? I have no interest in talking to you, you make yourself look bad and play into the hands of those who treat you as less than equal.