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Posts Tagged ‘Klan’

The Artifacts of White Supremacy

As I type, I’m sitting in the Atlanta airport waiting for my flight to Charleston, SC. I’m on my way to College of Charleston to visit some classes and give a public lecture, “The Artifacts of White Supremacy,” about the Klan’s use of material objects to promote their version of white Protestant nationalism. As I’ve noted before, it’s a weird time to be a scholar of white nationalism and white supremacy. It’s hard to feel good about what I’m writing when our present moment resonates so much with the historical moments I study.

As I was writing and revising this talk, something gave me hope: The stories the Klan wanted to tell about their objects and their vision of white Protestant nation were contested stories. The meanings that the order attached to their objects were not necessarily the stories that won out. What a powerful reminder as I watch folks offering up counter-narratives of what America is, in spite of the Tr*mp’s administration’s attempts to control the story.

The Klan hoped the robes and fiery cross told one story of their white Protestant nation, and now, those are symbols of racism and hate. The story that you want to be THE STORY doesn’t necessarily become the story we remember or tell. It’s a good reminder to all of us that we don’t have to assent to dominant narratives. We can challenge them, we can offer different stories, and sometimes, we can win. (more…)

White Supremacists and Racism

Updated on November 26, 2017.

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 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…)

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…)

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.

An interview and an Atlantic piece

Kristian Petersen, New Books in Religion, interviewed me about Gospel According to the Klan about a month ago. Happily, that interview is now available in podcast form for anyone who might be interested. This was a wonderful interview, and I highly recommend that other scholars jump at the opportunity to chat with Kristian. Here’s a teaser for the podcast:

In our conversation we discuss the importance of print culture, the communal act of reading, Jesus as the ideal Klansman, the symbolic meaning of the robes, cross, and flag, and the Women of the Ku Klux Klan (WKKK). We end our discussion by looking at the Klan’s legacy of exclusionism and conservatism as a widespread characteristic of American society and how this is manifested in contemporary culture through figures like Terry Jones, who gained notoriety with his call to burn the Qur’an. Kelly does an excellent job of encouraging scholars of religion to reexamine our subjects and tackle issues that make us uneasy and uncomfortable. These topics and individuals are as much a part of religious history as the figures we would want to sit down and have a cup of coffee with.

The interview happened to coincide with my piece for the Atlantic (!) about a Georgia Klan’s attempt to adopt a highway, the rhetoric of love and inescapability of the order’s legacy of hate. Here’s an excerpt:

Last week, a local chapter of the International Keystone Knights of Ku Klux Klan proposed adopting one-mile stretch of highway in north Georgia. The possibility of Klan members picking up roadside litter and getting credit on a highway sign provoked as much confusion as outrage. One reporter asked, “Is the latest effort to adopt a highway an introduction of a new era of a kinder, gentler Klan or merely an effort to gain attention?”

In public statements, the group’s leaders signaled that volunteer work was part of their message of love. “We love the white race,” April Chambers, secretary of the Georgia Klan, told a local television correspondent. “Why is that so hard for people to understand? But we don’t hate anybody!” In a quote at CNN’s In America blog, Frank Ancona, the imperial wizard of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan echoed that sentiment, portraying the Klan as “a fraternal organization” that commits “good works.”

Benevolence, love, and volunteering seem out of place with hoods, robes, and burning crosses. But what may surprise many is that these statements are consistent with the larger history of the Klan, wherein declarations of love are intimately bound to the Klan’s better-known gospel of hate. That paradox holds the key to understanding both the order’s past popularity and its continuing inability to halt its decline.

All-in-all, it was a pretty good end to last week. Now, if I can only meet my deadlines on other projects…