Join my newsletter for updates about new writing, books, and more.

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

This essay

Sometimes, I make big plans for an essay that I’m writing. This essay becomes THE ESSAY, the important one in which I say all of the things. It emerges as the most important essay I’ve ever written. It comes to define who I am as writer, but also as a person. I start thinking about this essay for days, then weeks, and then a month (or months). I might pitch this oh-so-important essay to an outlet familiar with my work. I might even have a deadline. I tell myself that this essay will be easy to write because it is THE ESSAY. Plus, I already know what I want to write (or at least, I think I’m sure that I know what I want to write).

In my head, this essay begins a life of its own. It becomes groundbreaking and earth-shattering, smart and analytical, lovely and true. Most importantly, it becomes SIGNIFICANT and CRUCIAL. It starts to gain mass before I’ve even put words to the page. Its weight becomes heavy, veering closely to unwieldly. This essay appears more and more significant. (more…)

Feminist Resolutions

I know it’s June. (Related, how is it already June?) Six months into the year seems an unlikely time for New Year’s resolutions. (You make resolutions in January, not June, Kelly!) But maybe now is the time to re-up those resolutions about making yourself a kinder human being and to forget any resolution that only makes you hate yourself. Here are my suggestions of a few quality feminist resolutions. This essay first appeared in Women in Higher Education’s February 2016 issue. I’m returning to these five goals now to remind myself to be a better person than I often am. I hope you enjoy. Also, never forget to act like mediocre white men when you need that extra shot of confidence.

It’s February, but I’m thinking about New Year’s resolutions. The start of the new year is a moment to review the year before, decide what you want to accomplish for the next year, and figure out what bad habits to drop. It is time for fresh starts and new beginnings. Anything seems possible at the beginning of the year.

Every year passed without a new me, who equated happiness and success with my weight and how much academic work I completed. At the start of 2016, I decided I’m over that noise.

New year…same resolutions

For years, my own resolutions revolved around weight, goals, feelings, and career. On January 1st, I would resolve to lose 10 or 20 lbs, find a tenure-track job, or finally be happy.

After the satisfied glow of resolving wore off, I felt worse about myself than I had before. When judging myself by society’s vision of success, I felt like a failure. I critiqued my body and mind, and found myself wanting a different body, brain, and life. (more…)

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…)

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.