I’ve never been part of an organized effort to pick up trash along a highway, much less ever wanted to hang around a stretch of “adopted” roadside while 4,000-pounds of steel flash past at 70 mph a few feet away while I’m hunched over picking up a Taco Smell wrapper.
A Ku Klux Klan chapter in Georgia, however, has decided that part of being an upstanding civic organization is doing just that.
Thus, they’ve decided to do the only decent thing—apply to “adopt” a stretch of highway in Union County, Georgia.
In a CNN.com story written by Nick Valencia, the KKK chapter’s secretary, April Chambers, insists that the publicity stunt isn’t a publicity stunt.
“We’re not racists,” Chambers adds (of course). “We just want to be with white people. … It’s all right to be black and Latino and proud, but you can’t be white and proud. I don’t understand it.”
Yeah, sure. You’re not at all racist and you can’t understand why anyone would think otherwise.
That’s why you choose to align yourself with the group and symbolism most closely associated with lynching and the most horrific racially motivated hate crimes in American history.
That’s why you rock bed sheets and dunce caps at your meetings.
Klan no anachronistic footnote
During research for Better Off Without ’Em, I interviewed active Klan members in the South—even visited a shop in South Carolina where you can pick up your full-on Klan get-up for $125, including robe, hood, insignia and snazzy rope belt. (See picture on my homepage gallery.)
The depressing part of all this isn’t that the Klan is still around, it’s how predictable its continued existence is.
Lots of people in Dixie answer Yankee criticism of the South by falling back, intentionally or not, on historian Howard Zinn’s argument that by using the South as a whipping post to damn the most repugnant societal behavior, northerners are really just trying to shift blame for their own sins upon a group they take comfort in viewing as inferior.
By casting shame on the South, so goes the argument, the in-denial North is really just trying to absolve itself of sins that belong to the entire nation, North no less than South.
I don’t buy it.
Who is responsible?
In my two years of interviewing southerners of all stripes, I found individuals reliably quick to deny culpability and distance themselves from stereotypical southern pathologies.
The South is different now, they insisted.
We aren’t crazy religious—that’s just a small percentage of southerners who you’re thinking of.
We aren’t dedicated political obstructionists—that’s just a small percentage of southerners who you’re talking about.
We aren’t the ones who have a problem with gays—that’s just a small percentage of southerners who the media unfairly fixates on and uses to vilify the rest of us.
We aren’t racist—that’s just a small percentage of southerners who have a problem.
All of these statements may be true. The majority of southerners are not loud-mouthed, uneducated, redneck fuckwits flying Confederate flags from the backs of their KIA and Mercedes lynch wagons.
What the majority of southerners are, and have always been, however, is willing to allow the most strident, mouth-breathing “patriotic” firebrands among them to remain in control of their society’s most powerful and influential positions, be they in the realms of religion, politics, business, education, or just basic day-to-day civic operations.
Just as it was southern zealots who pushed the country into the Civil War, it was southern zealots who, while the rest of the South turned its back, were allowed to construct and maintain the legal foundations of Jim Crow; who were allowed to turn the Scopes Monkey Trial into a humiliating circus; who were allowed to subvert federal laws protecting downtrodden laborers; who were allowed to circumvent Brown vs. Board of Education and school desegregation by calling out the National Guard and building segregation “academies”; who were allowed to resist Civil Rights with dogs and water cannons; who are still allowed to sidestep equitable school funding and proclaim without ridicule that a black president’s birth certificate is fake and throw secessionist balls and insist that slavery had nothing whatsoever to do with the Civil War.
Maybe the fanatics do represent a minority. It’s still an extremely potent minority the rest of the South enables—or succumbs to—or aligns with—or votes for—year after year, decade after decade, century after century.
Theirs are the voices that perpetuate the agenda because theirs are the voices that ring with the most sincerity, that are most bereft of apology, that in their bellicosity resonate as the most authentically “southern.”
That’s why South Carolina U.S. Representative Joe Wilson can shout “You lie!” during Obama’s State of the Union address and get re-elected by a landslide. It’s why South Carolina state senator Jake Knotts can call Obama and then gubernatorial candidate and current governor Nikki Haley “ragheads” and remain in office.
That’s why that stupid fucking slave days flag is still venerated.
If there’s one thing about the South that hasn’t ever changed it’s the hypnotic influence of the crusader.