#KKKorGOP and historical narratives in America
At this point, I think most would agree that on the night of the GOP’s presidential candidate debate, Black Twitter was arguably the best place to be to watch the event. Per usual, the sarcasm, wit and general Twitter skills were unmatched. Mixed in with the #GOPDebate tweets was another segment of tweets worth looking at — #KKKorGOP. The hashtag, a coordinated effort by activists working with Black Lives Matter, was meant to encourage viewers to approach the contents of the debate with a more critical lens.
To participate in #KKKorGOP meant to engage in a conversation about the way white supremacy manifests in the Republican Party’s campaign rhetoric and sits comfortably within the party’s politics. In true form, the Dream Defenders took the conversation to Instagram during the debates and shared a series of impressive graphics highlighting the comparison. But the next morning, we woke to find the Dream Defenders’ entire Instagram profile deleted by IG moderators.
Instagram officials eventually apologized and restored the page after a couple of hours — and after plenty of tweets from frustrated users who saw the vanished profile as an intentional step taken by corporate interests to silence dissenting voices. And to be honest, I wouldn’t put it past them; the graphics were damning, indeed — not because of the images themselves, but because the material they used were direct quotes from the Republican Party’s 2016 presidential candidates and you actually couldn’t tell from those quotes if the speaker was a candidate or a Klansman. One graphic even revealed that the leader of a conservative white supremacist group — the same conservative white supremacist group that inspired Dylann Roof’s racist manifesto — has frequently donated to Republican Party candidates to the tune of over $65,000. And although candidates returned the donations, it’s far more worrisome to me that the leader of a white supremacist group that inspires anti-black domestic terrorism found several Republican Party presidential candidates worth financially investing in at all.
The work of #KKKorGOP is one that forces us to position contemporary forms of white supremacy next to the age-old racist tropes we were told no longer exist, and then try to tell them apart. It’s an effective and unnerving exercise. The way history is generally taught, we’re to believe the most blatantly violent forms of American anti-blackness were relegated to book-ended years in our nation’s history. We’re supposed to take comfort in the fact that men in white sheets don’t kidnap black people and hang them from all manner of tree branch or wooden post or bridge anymore (as if violence can’t transform itself into another masked tradition, as if we don’t mysteriously find black people hanging anymore, as if we should wait for weekly lynchings to become a norm before deciding to fight for our lives).
White supremacy is alive.
Not stubbornly, as some would have us believe, but plainly and healthily by rebranding and renaming itself to maintain across generations and political climates. The most wretched form of racism, the arrogantly and maliciously anti-black, is also the kind that disguises its own recast form as issues of criminality, morality, deviance and the like. Thug. Suspicious. Etc. The most wretched forms of racism and white supremacy have also adjusted themselves to our sharpening public analysis, learning to make claims of everything from “reverse racism” and the incredibly irritating, pseudo-intellectual “PC Police” argument, to sweeping blanket statements about national security and the need to protect “our children” from all the black and brown things that could harm them.
The language, in some cases, might have changed, but the impact of white supremacist values on black and brown communities, both nationally and globally, hasn’t. While I would argue this has implications for the Democratic Party and (neo)liberals as well (*cough* Netroots 2015 *cough*), #KKKorGOP is clearly asking us to reconcile this country’s history of racism with, specifically, the Republican Party’s political platform. To me, the perceived distance between the two ideas is evidence of the problematic ways we teach and passively consume lessons of legacy. Likewise, it’s also evidence of the ways intentionally mis-remembering history can center revisionist narratives that prop up oppressive systems of power.
What happens when we remember history in less passive ways?
It’s the difference between saying that a given country was colonized and recognizing the massive amounts of bloodshed and generations of trauma “colonized” encompasses. It’s the difference between saying a given university implemented its Black Studies program in 1969 and acknowledging the hours upon hours of student and faculty organizing and resistance work that preceded “implemented.” It’s the difference between dismissing a candidate’s use of “illegals” in multiple interviews and actually understanding the clear justifications for violence and dehumanization wrapped up in that term (along with the irony of naming a people illegal on a land many of their ancestors are indigenous to).
And, in addition, what happens when we remember history in less static ways?
America’s evolving relationship to anti-blackness and white supremacy begins to take shape, even as it morphs between decades. Racism becomes less fixed. Slavery becomes sharecropping becomes convict-lease system becomes mass incarceration and the war on drugs. Slave patrols become Klansmen become police departments that hyper-police black neighborhoods across the country. The system and its history become illuminated. And once you know how a thing was formed, you can start working seriously to dismantle it.
As a nation, I think it’s fair to say we have a pretty limited memory capacity, making the business of legacy work that much more significant. The U.S.’ affinity for amnesia makes our commitment to reinvestigating and re-telling historical narratives and our insistence on complicating our understandings of history in a way that reflects rigorous attention to voice and power that much more necessary. Our nation’s complicated relationship to white supremacy and anti-blackness requires that legacy work be an ever-evolving and constant obligation. #KKKorGOP is certainly part of that commitment, and if the conversation continues, it could lead us into a (nuanced) national dialogue that illuminates the long-reaching shadows white supremacy has undoubtedly cast on the upcoming 2016 presidential election season.
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