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…)