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.”

And I do plan to deactivate the page soon, after I retrieve any thing that I’ve posted in the last five years that I want to keep. The page has to go because I’m tired of being threatened. I’m tired of all the racist garbage that people want to post to on my page. I’m tired of what happens when you study and write about white supremacists. I’m just tired.

And yet, I assumed a racist meme would be the end of it. I was wrong.

On Monday night, img_4304a friend texted me this image from a segment on The Rachel Maddow Show about the Klan in 2016. The article on the screen, “Trump Candidacy Moving Dialogue Forward” is from the Klan newspaper, The Crusader. The first two words of the article are my name.

The author took issue with my article from The Atlantic, “Make America White Again?” The author writes about me, “she mirrored the very typical anti white sentiments of the Jewish media. Anti racist is truly a code word for anti white.” I’m not Jewish, and I’m a freelance writer and scholar of the Klan, not part of some large media conspiracy.

When I first looked at the image, I couldn’t decipher what was going on. People send me images of Klan ephemera all the time; it’s one of the hazards of studying the Klan. And then, I slowly realized that my name appeared in Klan newspaper from today. My. Name. My name in current white supremacist media. I research Klan newspapers; I’m not supposed to appear in them. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel. I tried to find humor in the situation, but I couldn’t. I tweeted about it to show I wasn’t bothered. I told concerned folks that I was fine. “I’m fine,” I said to them as much as I was saying it to myself. But, I wasn’t fine. Instead, I felt nervous and afraid. A contemporary Klansman read my article and printed my name in The Crusader.

Fine had seriously passed me by. Anxiety gripped me and wouldn’t let go. I tamped it down as best as I could. I would be brave, even if I didn’t want to be. This was no different than the garbage I routinely deal with as a woman who writes on the internet. I would be fine, I chanted over and over. But still I wasn’t.

To be honest, I’ve been more frightened to write about white supremacists with every passing year. Writing about the Klan (and now the alt-right) in 2016 makes me more nervous than I ever have before. I’m committed to my work. I’ve spent years researching and writing about white supremacy and racism. But writing about the Klan in the age of Trump feels particularly dangerous. Writing about the Klan now as a woman feels even more so.

As soon as I filed my recent essays on white supremacy, I’ve wondered if I should let them be published. I wondered if it would be better to kill the articles. I wondered if I should have taken the assignments at all.

I’m not worried about the reception, shares, likes, or tweets, but what kind of threats and nastiness await me in email, direct messaging, and on my damn Gospel According to the Klan Facebook page. I’m worried that what I write could endanger me. I’m worried about whether I should continue to write about white supremacy at all. I’m worried about the toll that this kind of writing takes on me to research, write, analyze, write, and edit. I’m worried about what happens as soon as these essays get published. I’m worried that I am no longer cut out to do this type of work. I’m worried. I’m worried. I’m worried. I’m worried.

Worry is a malaise that’s settled on me and won’t go away. I check email, Twitter, and Facebook with grim determination. Always waiting for the next terrible thing someone will say to me. On Tuesday, I learned that terrible appears in unexpected places like Amazon reviews that attack me as a person with no reference to my work. I feel like I’m always on the lookout for terrible, and I’m tired.

Maybe this type of writing is just not worth it. Maybe I should give writing about the Klan altogether. But, I can’t imagine abandoning this work either. Writing about white supremacy and racism feels like work that’s too important to give up. I have support and encouragement from so many lovely people that helps me keep writing. I try to remember all of the lovely people when I have nasty emails (or Amazon reviews)  from the not-very-nice people. It is getting harder and harder to remember only the lovely people, which is sad and unacceptable. I expect terrible, and terrible is so easy to find.

But, this current round of unpleasantness has taken a toll, and it’s not even as bad as the harassment other writers face. (I know that, in the same way that I know that there’s always another round of terrible up ahead.) The constant worry and low level harassment affect me. I’m having trouble sleeping. My temper is short. I’m cranky. The people I love most are suffering through my terrible mood because of strangers. Strangers who want me to feel like shit. Strangers who threaten, demean, and abuse. Strangers who just want me to shut up already. Strangers who make me want to stop writing about these topics because I’m so weary of dealing with them.

I’m not acting like the person I know myself be, which makes me wonder yet again if writing about the Klan is worth it. I’m increasingly less sure. For now, I’m taking a break from writing about the Klan and white supremacy.

For now.

I’ll return when I feel ready. That’s not today.


Update: I shut down my Gospel According to the Klan page on November 12th after someone posted a comment begging for the Klan to come after Black Lives Matters activists. I refused to let a page that I managed for five years become a place where people could spew hate, so I deactivated the page.


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