Primetime White Supremacy

Six years ago, I wrote about the portrayal of white supremacists on television for Religion in American History. What’s striking is that this essay still feels relevant today as I read headlines that suggest shock over white supremacists wearing suits, so I’m reposting a lightly revised version today.

In my Religious Intolerance class yesterday, one of my wicked smart students (this class is full of sophisticated, clever students, which makes me very lucky) made the fateful mistake of asking me what I thought about American History X, the 1998 film about white supremacy and what happens when you try to leave hate behind. They, of course, didn’t know that they tapped into one of my soapbox issues: popular representations of intolerant peoples (in this instance white supremacists).

This issue, which I have blogged about before, consumes me when I should be thinking about much more important things (like 1920s Klansmen and Klanswomen). My Intolerance class this semester, thus, revolves around popular culture and the media’s representation of intolerance, but the more I teach about this, the more I am interested not only how the victims of intolerance are portrayed but also those who are considered “intolerant.”

American History X‘s portrayal of white supremacists, particularly Neo-Nazis, strikes me as both stereotypical and novel. The Neo-Nazis, of course, read Mein Kampf, sport shaved heads, and ink their skin with white supremacist symbols and, of course, swastikas. They are dysfunctional, violent, backward, and uneducated (except the leader). They are members of a prison gang, and they hate African Americans as well as Jewish people. (More often than not, they are also Southern.) This is standard fare. Almost all television portrayals of white supremacists render them as burly, uneducated dudes whose looming physical presence should signal their racist agendas. See, the film says, we can easily identify the bad guys, and these types of guys are always the bad guys. (more…)

Nice, decent folks

Two days after the election, I was scrolling down a friend’s Facebook page. My friend posted an article about all of the hate crimes that occurred after Tr*mp was elected. Several comments down, a friend of my friend declared that voting for Tr*mp didn’t make a person racist or a bad person. The next thing I knew, there were people on social media (Facebook mostly) declaring that the election wasn’t about race or gender (I mean, what the hell). Some of these folks noted that our country should unite rather than protest. As the days passed by, I noticed more and more of this “we’re nice, decent people” rhetoric. Trump voters claimed that they weren’t racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, ableist, homophobic, and/or transphobic. News outlets urged us (I guess those of us who didn’t vote for Trump) to empathize with Trump voters, who were likely good and decent folks.

The refrain of how Trump voters were “nice” and “decent” bothered (infuriated) me. What was happening in this moment? What were people really saying about how they voted and what were news outlets trying to say? What were we supposed to overlook? Why did the calls to unity make me even more committed to not even attempting to unite?

Yesterday, I realized what bothered me (and tweeted about it). The emphasis on “nice, decent folks” regularly appears in the scholarship on the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist movements.

When I first decided to research the Klan for my dissertation, I pulled all of the books on the Klan that I could find. I was in a PhD program for American religious history, so I read  many histories of the Klan that covered specific states or regions. But, I also decided to read ethnographies about white supremacists to get a feel for white supremacist organizations were different or similiar to the 1920s Klan that I studied. (And I already knew that I wanted my supposedly traditional archival dissertation to incorporate ethnographic methods, so I reached for ethnographies too.) (more…)

Writing about white supremacy

On Sunday night, I received a notification from Facebook that someone had posted to my page for Gospel According to the Klan. I set up the page for my book before the book launched in 2011 to point folks to coverage, reviews, and events. When I noticed the notification, I had to suppress a shudder. These days, the only people who post on my poor book’s page lately are white supremacists who don’t realize the page is dedicated to an academic monograph or the occasional person who threatens to “beat my ass” for me being a Klansman (I’m not a Klan member or a man, but that’s often beside the point).

Sure enough, someone posted a racist meme with images of Donald Trump, hooded Klansman, a white Jesus, and Hitler. The accompanying text declared, “Join the Clan! Vote Trump! America Was Founded As A WHITE NATION! TRUMP 2016! It Is Not Racist To Take Back What God Gave Us!” I took a screenshot and deleted the post. I now have a file with screenshots of racist memes and threats from that page alone, just in case I need a record. I don’t want to think about what that just in case would include.

“I have to deactivate this page,” I tell my partner, “I can’t take this anymore.” (more…)

Track 19: The Alchemy of R.E.M.

The Alchemy of R.E.M

Chris Hutchison-Jones

 

R.E.M. is my favorite band. I’ve had fits, flings, and flirtations with other artists; some are even recurring long-term affairs. But I always come back to R.E.M. Depending on the day, the weather, my mood, and the phases of the moon, my favorite album by my favorite band shifts. But if I had to pick one to be with me on that mythical desert island, it would be New Adventures in Hi-Fi. I’ll sit up straight in my chair and loudly proclaim it as my favorite album by my favorite band.

That R.E.M. is my favorite band is no great statement. They’ve sold millions of albums and influenced any number of bands and artists that have become integral parts of my own musical life. But NAHF somehow tipped the scales for me. It had virtually no hits. It was a mishmash of live recordings and studio tracks. The first single (“E-bow the Letter”) was a broody, half-spoken folk rock dirge with eerie backing vocals by someone I’d never heard of at the time, Patti Smith. Not the typical makings of a favorite album. (more…)

Track 18: What Fades Away

What Fades Away

Katherine Anderson Howell

 

The baby was 3 months old.

I wasn’t happy.

***

I spin and spin around the living room. My head feels lopsided, like it does when I’m too tired, or when panic leaves me hollow. The baby is in my arms. The baby laughs. I spin. I bounce the baby. I force a smile, which becomes a slightly more real smile, which becomes a little laugh. “Shake It Out” plays on repeat. Florence Welch and I sing the old platitude,  “It’s always darkest before the dawn.” The baby doesn’t know darkness. He thinks I am sunlight.

(more…)