The Men Who Email Me

As I was driving home today from dropping off children at school and preschool, my mind drifted to the men who email me about my writing. I’m not quite sure why I decided to think about these men, who I’ve never met but who chose to contact me anyway. Perhaps, I thought about these men because of the discussions surrounding the #MoreThanMean video, in which men read the harassing tweets that other men send to women sports writers. The catch is that they read the tweets out loud to the writers. Some of the men can’t say what was tweeted aloud. The campaign hopes to bring attention to the online harassment of women in sports. Of course, online harassment of women writers is not just a problem for women who write about sports, but women who write about anything (and women on the internet more generally). I know this factually as well as intimately because it has happened to me.

In 2007, I started blogging at Religion in American History. When I began writing more about racial violence and white supremacy, commenters were not nice. When I wrote about the murder of George Tiller, a commenter threatened my life. I shrugged off the threat; my partner did not. After my book was published in 2011, I started receiving emails from men who read my work and expected me to respond to their criticisms. A Son of the Confederacy emailed to let me know how wrong I was about Nathan Bedford Forrest being a Klansman. He accused me of harming Forrest’s legacy. A man claiming to be the Second Coming of Jesus wrote me a letter, in which he called me “honey” and told me that I was wrong about the Klan, race, religion, and well, everything. If I only would visit him at his home, he would explain what was really happening in the world. I declined his invite. I laughed off the letter; a member of my department told me to contact the FBI.

On the Facebook page I created for Gospel According to the Klan, men have called me a racist, threatened to beat my ass, and promised to hunt me down and show me how wrong my racism is. None of these men seemed to recognize that I’m a historian that studies the Klan, not a member of the order. I took screenshots of their messages and reported them to Facebook. I tried to find humor in the situation.

These emails and messages were anomalies in my life that I tried to make into funny stories about the weirdness of being a scholar in the internet age. When freelance writing became my career, these were no longer anomalies but realities. I’m a woman who writes on the Internet, which means men email me to tell me what they think of what I’ve written whether I want to know or not. My attempts at humor are long gone.

This morning, I found myself thinking about all these men, who are strangers to me, and the routine similarity of their emails in tone, style, and content. 

The men who email me tell me that I’m wrong. I’ve made the wrong argument. I’ve missed the essential issue or the salient details. I’ve made errors and mistakes. I didn’t use data. I used too much data. They assert that gender is not as big of an issue as I make it out to be or that I don’t realize how hard it is to be a man. They assert that I can never be anything but wrong. (more…)

Albums: A Call for Submissions

Certain songs conjure strong emotions: love, hate, joy, despair, comfort, envy, sadness, frustration, hope, or grief. You hear the first notes of a familiar melody, and the music transports you to a moment long gone but still overwhelmingly present. Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” makes you remember the awkward rhythms and furtive glances of a middle school dance. Any song by Creedence Clearwater Revival evokes riding in a black Toyota truck with your stepdad behind the wheel smoking stoically as you talked about your day. Missy Higgins’ “Where I Stood” became an unintentional lullaby that soothed your collicky infant who refused to sleep more than 20 minutes at a time. Beyonce’s “All the Single Ladies” was your anthem for quitting a shitty job. “Carry on My Wayward Son” makes you think of the Winchester brothers of Supernatural. Matchbox 20’s “Hang” punches you in gut even now, 20 years later.

An album reminds you of a breakup, a first concert, a funeral, a road trip, a wedding, a divorce, or one of those ordinary moments that make up our days that we seem to forget until a song lodges their memory free.

This first essay series at Cold Takes is about albums and our feelings about them. How exactly do albums transport us through time and space to the moments long gone but never quite forgotten? What album becomes significant (or maybe even insignificant) in your life? What album forces you to stop and pay attention? Which one makes your days better and gives you hope? Which one do you rely on even now? What album do you find yourself listening to over and over again? What albums do you avoid listening to?

I want to read and publish your essays about the albums that changed your lives in ways, big and small. I want to know how music guides you through life’s transitions, successes, attempts, and failures. I want to find out what music you react to and why. I want to uncover whether that album was on record, tape, CD, 8-track, or mp3. Tell me what album impacted you, but more importantly, show me how. Narrate what the album makes you feel and what particular time it evokes. Bring me your best story about a particular album.

Submissions:
Please send a pitch rather than a full essay to kellyjbaker (at) gmail (dot) com. Give me a paragraph or two about an album and why you want/need to write about it. Include a short bio and a clip or two that shows your writing style. There’s no requirement on genre of music or time period, but you can’t write about Matchbox 20 because I’m going to.

The full essay should be between 500 and 2000 words.

Pitches are due by April 30. If your pitch is accepted, we’ll set a deadline for the essay together. The completed essay will appear on Cold Takes. Unfortunately, this is not a paid opportunity, but I offer my time and editing to make your essay the best it can be.

Reading Essays

Some days, I want to read essays rather than make them. I yearn to linger in the words, sentences, paragraphs, and pages of other essayists. To lean in close and let their words wash over me. To listen carefully for the patterns of their language, their idiosyncrasies, flourishes, and routines, rather than the familiar sound of my own. To step into the worlds their essays create for a little while. To feel what they want me to feel. To learn something I didn’t quite know. To see how they build a narrative or resist one. To hear how they tell a particular story in a particular moment on a particular page. To experience the conjuring of a world rather than being responsible for it.

Reading essays allows me to stop thinking about mine. I ride along the currents of their essays for hundreds or thousands of words. I savor the beginning and the end of the ride. I start and finish another essay and another. I’m seeking knowledge of our shared craft of essay-making. I’m looking for secrets or possibly hidden wisdom. I’m reading their collections and searching for community. For a few minutes, I feel like I belong.

I’m an essayist too, I want to say to the printed pages. I write essays too. I know that it can be a solitary existence that consumes waking and sleeping hours. Being an essayist means always looking for essays and often finding them. The day starts with essays percolating in my head. The day ends that way too. I rifle through topics picking some and discarding others. While walking the dog, I can hear the opening line. I repeat it again and again to remember it, to remember that this can be an essay. I write essays in my head and sometimes, they make it to the page.

Being an essayist colors my existence. Daily events appear to me as essays. I test out their resonance on me before I test them out on other people. Parts of my life offered up as fodder for my craft while other parts remain protected from my writing. I interiorize the world to recreate it on the page. I seek a narrative, a story arc, the meaning or lack thereof to guide the essay. Mostly, I resist the urge for familiar narratives because I want to see how a story unfolds rather than direct it. (more…)

Interviews and Award

Last week, two interviews with me about Gospel According to the Klan went live. (Can you believe people still read and want to talk about this book? So awesome.)

The first was a previous interview from 2013 with A. David Lewis on the Klan and zombies, which is now available as a podcast from the Religious Studies Project. Here’s their description:

Many of us only know about the white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan through film and television, and much of what we see blurs fact and fiction. Distinguishing each side of that messy divide is the prolific Kelly J. Baker, exploring how media portrayals of the hate group have influenced audiences and, in turn, fed back on its own members. This previously unaired interview conducted by A. David Lewis from 2013 sketches out the rise of the KKK on the large and small screen, its relevance to discussions of religious terrorism today, and perhaps even a link to Baker’s other work on zombies in popular culture.

The second is a part of Richard Newton’s lovely Broadcast Seeding podcast. Richard and his Spring 2016 Ethnicity, Gender, and Religion Seminar students asked some great questions about my Klan book (and even some questions about my tattoos that didn’t make into the interview). Here’s the blurb:

Historian and freelance writer Kelly J. Baker joins us to discuss her compelling research on the Ku Klux Klan. Baker shows us how this group’s success in the 20th century speaks volumes about the racist underpinnings of American Protestantism.

And finally, the BTS Center’s Bearings‘ series of essays on racial justice, Standing for Justice, won a DeRose-Hinkhouse Award of Excellence from the Religion Communicators Council. My essay, September 11th, was a part of the series. I’m so glad Bearings editors, Elizabeth Drescher and Alyssa Lodewick, continue to let me write for them.

Wrenches at Your Insides

Last week, I binge-watched Scream Queens, a show that is a send up to the slasher films I mainlined in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I was a horror buff: Michael Meyers, Freddie Krueger, any random serial killer, killer children, monsters that lurk in the shadows, humans becoming monstrous, and my beloved Scream (which I watched on repeat). Not only did I watch any film I could, I mastered in Stephen King’s novels. His ability to make me care about his characters and then viciously destroy them was as fascinating as it was disturbing. Horror showed me how bodies could be unmade. How bodies were maimed, cut, shot, tortured, and killed. How a body’s hurts could be physical and visible. How blood splattered on the floors and walls was a sign that things had come undone. Horror showed me the consequences of violence, physical and psychic. It stood as a warning of how terribly wrong things can go.

I was a horror buff, until I wasn’t. Maybe, I outgrew horror. Maybe, horror outgrew me. It is hard to say. I drifted away from these movies after I made the mistake of watching The Ring on the big screen and wasn’t able to sleep for days. I was convinced that the scary little girl might climb out of television to hunt me down. This film was not realistic horror, but supernatural. Yet, it disquieted me. A child comes back from revenge because of how she was treated. Supernatural vengeance was not a comfort. I locked myself in my bedroom of my barely two-room condo with Hannah the dog and Belle the cat to create a sense of distance between me and our TV.

Scream Queens evoked something familiar with a new twist, the sorority girls of Kappa Kappa Tau fight back against the Red Devil who hunts and kills them. I started watching Scream Queens in the fall, but couldn’t keep up with the show each week. I wanted to see how it ended. Who was the killer? What were the plot twists?

Life got in the way.

Last week, I started watching Scream Queens again to escape. Hannah, my now elderly dog, is dying. I can do nothing about it, but bear witness. Chris was out of town. The kids dutifully attended school and preschool. I felt helpless and alone as I checked on my old dog throughout the day and night. I turned to a television show that was as far away from life as I could muster. I was never in a sorority. I was not a rich kid. I avidly refused to pledge because I feared the money it would cost to join. I was never a mean girl like Chanel (Emma Roberts) with her disdain, cruelty, and casual racism. I watched Scream Queens to chase mortality from my waking thoughts. This show understands the importance of theatrics in horror. It dwells in the spectacle of death and the ability of bodies to be unmade. It evokes terror and makes fun of it simultaneously. (more…)