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Posts Tagged ‘white supremacy’

Mother Knows Best: The Politics of White Christian Motherhood

I wrote this essay in March of 2012 for an online religion magazine, but it was never published. One of the editors was afraid that the comparison between the WKKK and Michelle Bachmann was “too dicey.” Just associating Bachmann with the Klan seemed like dangerous territory. The editor had me add a disclaimer about how I wasn’t calling Bachmann a racist or white supremacist, but rather I was just “comparing” their use of Christian motherhood as a political strategy. Even with the disclaimer,  the magazine passed on the article. Now, five years later, we are in a moment in which we can’t dodge the discussions of white supremacy and politics (politicians), so I thought I would publish this essay here at my site. It’s lightly revised with disclaimers and previous hedging about white supremacy removed. 

In 1924, Robbie Gill, the Imperial Commander of the Women of the Ku Klux Klan (WKKK), gave a speech entitled “American Women” at the annual Klonvocation (Klan speak for convention) of the Ku Klux Klan (1915-1930). She proclaimed:

We women of America love you men of America….We will mother your children, share your sorrows, multiply your joys and assist you to prosper in the way of this world’s good. In return, we expect you to recognize our power for good over your lives, and in the nation….We pledge our power of motherhood to America….Our knees can be the altars of patriotism to them.

For Gill, just as mothers parented children, they could also parent the nation. Maternity functioned as a claim to authority in public spaces, and she let Klansmen know that women as mothers could change the nation for the better. Gill, however, was not satisfied to let men (even Klansmen) dictate national politics and policies. (more…)

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…)

My Favorite Essays of 2016

Last year, I pulled together my favorite essays that I wrote in 2015. This year I thought I would do the same.

While some writers like to direct readers to their most popular essays of the year, I like to remind you of the essays that proved to be my favorites. Some of the essays listed are essays that I still can’t believe that I wrote. I read them and wonder how those sentences landed in that particular paragraph in that particular essay. They make me proud because they show how far I’ve come as a writer. Other essays are the ones that I’m proud to have written because they felt impossible to write. They required me to step outside of my comfort zone, required new skills, or were hard to write because of the vulnerability and emotion that they required.

What’s striking to me is how much things have changed for me in 2016, this dumpster fire of a year. I thought 2015 was bad, but 2016 proved to be both worst and better. Last year, I had applied to an MFA program. Hannah, our 15-year-old dog, died in March. She missed 16 by a little more than a month. She witnessed my life, so I witnessed the end of hers. Some day, I’ll write about what she meant to me, to us, but not yet, I can’t.

By mid-year, I received a rejection. Over the summer, I curated a series of essays on albums and our feelings, which was pretty damn amazing. By fall, I became editor of Women in Higher Education.  In November, Tr*mp became president, and suddenly, my work on white supremacists seemed relevant. After Thanksgiving, I even had an op-ed published in The New York Times, which led to white supremacist trolls calling me a race traitor (and much worse) on Twitter and in email. (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…)

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…)