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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

White Supremacists and Racism

*Some people seem ready to listen to what I have to say about white supremacists.*

For 12 years, I’ve been writing about white supremacists, white nationalism, and the Klan, but 2016 seemed to be the first year my work appeared to have wide cultural relevance. I’m still unsure how to feel about this.

In 2016, after all, a Klan endorsed the Republican nominee, Donald Tr*mp, who will become the 45th president of the U.S. The alt-right, a white supremacist movement that the press had a hard time calling a white supremacist movement, rose to national attention. In March, I told my partner that Tr*mp’s candidacy would make an interesting contemporary afterword for Gospel According to the Klan, when I still didn’t imagine he could win the election.  The University Press of Kansas decided to publish a paperback version of Gospel this fall, and they moved up the publication date from mid-March to late January and added a Kindle version, due to the “relevance” of my work.

This continues to be a weird moment for me. I’m proud of my Klan book. I’m glad folks continue to read it. I’m happy and surprised professors continue to assign it in their classes. But, at the same time, my joy is tempered by the knowledge of why my book is relevant right now. White supremacist organizations appear visible now in a way they haven’t in years (partially because folks quit paying attention to them), and so many of us are worried about their impact on the new administration and our country.

In November 2016, I felt like I’ve only been writing and tweeting about white supremacists. Interest in white supremacists shifted in and out of the news cycle in 2017. After Charlottesville in August, my inbox was stacked up with requests for interviews to talk about white nationalism again. I did as many interviews as I could and interest waned because it always does. The relevance of my work feels temporary at best. Some people seem ready to listen to what I have to say about white supremacists, but only after a rally, a tragedy, or Richard Spencer’s most recent attempt to speak on a college campus. I mostly refuse to pass up that opportunity to speak up about my years of work on white supremacy.

I refuse to be silent, but I’m not sure that most folks are really listening. (more…)

The perils of writing about white supremacy

*I research Klan newspapers; I’m not supposed to appear in them.*

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…)

This essay

*This essay is shaping into its own creature.*

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…)