Three reasons why #Blackkklansman rules-and two reasons why it is irresponsible.
As a white woman, I write this response to Blackkklansman out of love and conviction that we must unite to end racism in our county.
In order for us to move forward, we have to face the truth about ourselves and our racist history, and I think Blackkklansman is a powerful teaching tool.
I highly encourage everyone to see it, although there are some very problematic aspects to the movie.
Blackkklansman is based on the true story of Ron Stallworth, a Black police officer in Colorado Springs, Colorado who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in 1979, and also contains some fictionalized storylines.
The truths Blackkklansman tells are extremely important, but the fictionalized parts of it are deceiving and harmful, and I’ve written this essay to make that distinction clear.
Three reasons why Blackkklansman rules:
1) Blackkklansman succeeds in drawing a straight line between white people, white supremacy, and the election of Donald Trump, and does so in a very powerful emotional and unforgettable way.
Many white progressive Americans thought that the election of Barack Obama invoked a post-racial era in America.
But as people of color know, every step forward comes with backlash.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his last book before he was assassinated,
“Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn. The reality of substantial investment to assist Negroes into the twentieth century, adjusting to Negro neighbors and genuine school integration, is still a nightmare for all too many white Americans. White America would have liked to believe that in the past ten years a mechanism had somehow been created that needed only orderly and smooth tending for the painless accomplishment of change. Yet this is precisely what has not been achieved. [….] These are the deepest causes for contemporary abrasions between the races. Loose and easy language about equality, resonant resolutions about brotherhood fall pleasantly on the ear, but for the Negro there is a credibility gap he cannot overlook. He remembers that with each modest advance the white population promptly raises the argument that the Negro has come far enough. Each step forward accents an ever-present tendency to backlash.”
- “Where Do We Go From Here?: Where Are We?
From the beginning of his campaign, Americans of color and white Americans who feel threatened by demographic change could hear Donald Trump’s appeals to the fears of white Americans.
The National Rifle Association, the Ku Klux Klan, and the religious right endorsed Trump. The only two national unions to endorse Trump were the National Fraternal Order of Police and the Border Patrol Council.
But for a good long while, Trump’s dog whistle remained inaudible to many white progressive Americans, who were shocked by his victory, and tried to explain white Americans voted for Trump because of “economic anxiety.”
The Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017 and Trump’s commentary on it was when many white progressive Americans finally woke up.
Blackkklansman, released on the one year anniversary of Charlottesville, forcefully holds white people accountable for the election of Donald Trump, evincing a very strong emotional response, particularly among white people.
2) Blackkklansman dispels the myth that the Ku Klux Klan is exclusively Southern.
When you picture Colorado, what do you envision?
Mountains, skiers, weedsmokers- but likely not white hooded cross burners, until now.
Although not widely known, Colorado has ALWAYS been a hotbed of white supremacy. I was born and raised in Colorado, about 120 miles due north of Colorado Springs, the town where Blackkklansman takes place.
I got the hell out after I graduated from high school.
Colorado is rooted in toxic white male gun culture, racism, and massacres.
A volunteer Colorado militia of white men massacred, mutilated, and desecrated hundreds of peaceful unsuspecting Native American women children and elderly at Sand Creek in 1854 in an act of barbarism so atrocious, even the Federal government condemned it.
The Colorado National Guard and Colorado Fuel and Iron Company guards shot into a camp of 1200 striking miners and their families in 1914, killing two dozen people, including women and children, in Ludlow, Colorado.
A few years later, “The Birth of a Nation,” a black and white movie that portrays the Klan as a heroic force and dehumanizes Black people, was tremendously popular in Colorado and inspired many white people to join the Klan in the 1920s. (Birth of a Nation is the film shown at the Klan induction ceremony in Blackkklansman).
There were never a whole lot of Black people in Colorado, so in addition to Black people, the Colorado Ku Klux Klan villainized Jews, Catholics and anyone who was not white and Protestant.
And 8000 Japanese Americans were imprisoned at Camp Amache in Eastern Colorado from 1942–1946.
The Ku Klux Klan chapter in Colorado Springs- the town where Blackkklansman is set- had 2,500 members during this period.
Not only did the Klan rally in Colorado, they got elected and appointed to policy making roles on boards and commissions, and their influence lasted decades.
The Mayor, Governor, Chief of Police and majorities of the City Council and Colorado House of Representatives were all members of the Ku Klux Klan.
Now Walker Stapleton, the great grandson of five term Denver Mayor Benjamin Stapleton, is running as the Republican nominee for Governor. Mayor Stapleton was a Klan leader instrumental in popularizing the Klan in Colorado and helping Klan members seize political power.
Ku Klux Klan members elected as Mayors and City Council members succeeded in creating Sundown towns throughout Colorado.
Sundown towns are communities where local ordinances and violence prevented Black people and other people of color from renting, owning, or staying overnight, they had to be out of town by sundown.
Colorado is but one state where Birth of a Nation had a tremendous impact in popularizing the Klan in the 1920s.
From only about 100,000 members in 1920, by 1923 the Ku Klux Klan boasted 1.5 million members in 39 states, and found particular support in small cities like Denver, Dallas, Indianapolis, Portland, OR and Portland ME.
Long after the Ku Klux Klan members were no longer in office, the ordinances and practices they established continued to affect communities.
Their intellectual heirs enacted redlining and opposed school integration, resulting in residential and educational segregation- and a racial wealth gap- that persist to this day and is itself a root cause of racism and racial inequality.
Ku Klux Klan members elected to school boards throughout Colorado during the 1920s made curriculum and teacher hiring decisions that continued to impact communities decades later.
I am certain that the white washed, Republican version of US history I was taught growing up was a direct result of Klan influence on my school decades later.
There were only 2 Black students in my high school, and I graduated in 1987.
Who wants to be the first Black family to move to a sundown town?
Klan political power and membership waned after the 1920s in Colorado, but other organizations took off- such as the John Birch Society, Federation for American Immigration Reform, and the National Rifle Association, and the Republican Party.
#Blackkklansman dispels the stereotype that white supremacy is primarily a Southern institution. It’s popular in the East, North, and West, too.
3) Blackkklansman exposes White Women’s Role in White Supremacy on the big screen for the first time.
Just as when we picture Colorado, we envision mountains, skiers, weedsmokers-
When we think of Klan, we tend to think of men.
Turns out that’s wrong, too.
The Klan’s surge in popularity after the Birth of a Nation movie coincided with white women gaining the right to vote.
Just as the National Rifle Association does today, the Klan then used the trope of Black men raping white women as a recruitment strategy.
Women held power in the Klan, disseminating the Klan’s ideology through family, religious, and social events and passing it on to their children. Klansmen elected to school boards ensured their wives were hired as teachers.
Today, white women continue to uphold white supremacy.
Blackkklansman draws scrutiny to white women and our role in upholding white supremacy.
I hope that it leads white women to look ourselves in the mirror and hold ourselves to account for changing our beliefs and behaviors.
But- and this is a MAJOR but- for all the good it does, Blackkklansman also is seriously flawed in the way it whitewashes police infiltration of movements and police generally.
This warrants SERIOUS conversation, because I already see so many non-Black people watching Blackkklansman and proclaiming they are now “woke,” but the way the movie portrays police is harmful, inaccurate, and irresponsible.
Kudos to Boots Riley for his analysis, to Leslie Mac for calling Blackkklansman “#copaganda,” and to the “Young People of the Charlottesville Attack” for holding Spike Lee accountable for Blackkklansman’s irresponsiblity.
Two reasons why #Blackkklansman is irresponsible:
1 Blackkklansman portrays Officer Ron Stallworth’s infiltration of a Black power student group as benign, when in reality police infiltration of the Black power movement was immoral, unjust, and destroyed peoples’ lives and the movement.
His first opportunity to do so was by wearing a microphone to a lecture by Kwame Ture at Colorado College. Kwame Ture was the author of Black Power: The Politics of Liberation and a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Black Panther Party, and the All African Peoples Revolutionary Party.
The first head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover, who abused his power, viewed the Black Panthers, the Young Lords, and other Black Power organizations as a threat to America and created a program called COINTELPRO to infiltrate these movements with undercover agents to sow division.
COINTELPRO harmed innocent people, destroyed trust, and decimated movements.
That was exactly why Stallworth was sent on this assignment, but instead of exploring this angle, the film fictionalizes a relationship between Officer Stallworth and Patrice Dumas, the President of the Black Student Union at Colorado College who organized the lecture, also a fictionalized character.
In some ways, I appreciate Spike Lee adding Patrice as a fictional character, because she is a strong Black woman leader, and we see too few characters like this in movies.
The storyline of the wife of a Klansman’s fixation on harming Patrice is great for demonstrating the conflict between white women and Black women throughout American history that continues to this day. We need more movies that explore characters like these.
But I wish instead in this movie, Spike Lee would have explored how police infiltration of Black led movements was immoral, racist, and devastating.
And then make the biopic Angela Davis so richly deserves!
Instead, we have a totally implausible plotline that Patrice finds out Stallworth is a cop and is cool with it. A woman like Patrice would have NEVER done that!!!
Yet because Blackkklansman succeeds on so many levels described above, many viewers will leave with the impression that Stallworth is some kind of social justice hero.
Anyone who worked to decimate the Black Power movement is no hero.
That story needs to be told, and Ron Stallworth’s true story would have been a great entree into that conversation.
2 Blackkklansman takes another completely implausible plot twist at the very end, wherein “good cops” unite with Patrice to take down a “bad apple” racist cop, Master Patrolman Andy Landers.
It is harmful, inaccurate, and irresponsible to portray cops this way.
Not only did this not happen to the real Ron Stallworth, actions like this NEVER happen.
This scene is deceiving, fictionalized, completely implausible, and totally unnecessary.
Spike Lee and Jordan Peele, please just delete that scene! You have a much better movie without it!
Many people watching Blackkklansman will leave with the impression that cops are generally good, with a few bad apples, and they police themselves and weed the bad ones out.
THIS IS A COMPLETE LIE.
Cops do not weed the bad ones out, they protect the bad ones.
Cops are sui generis racist institution that began as runaway slave patrols and militias to kill Native Americans. They can never be reformed, because they have no incentive to change, and racist violence is a principle of their organizational culture.
This is part of the reason why for all the people killed by police, only a handful result in any accountability by officers.
In conclusion, #Blackkklansman is a very important movie, and I hope many people will see it- and I hope they will also read Boots Riley’s essay on what is wrong with it.
I also hope they will see Sorry to Bother You, Boots’ movie, which is ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT
My greatest hope is that #Blackkklansman prompts not only a long-overdue national conversation about racism, but also leads white people like me to become accountable and actually change our beliefs and behaviors and pay reparations to the people we have harmed.
Thank you for reading to the end, and I welcome your thoughts and reflections (unless of course you’re going to drag me, in which case, I hope you remember I’m human too :) ).
Karen Fleshman, Esq. is the founder of Racy Conversations.
Her mission is to inspire the first antiracist generation in the United States.
43% of Millennials are people of color. 47% of Generation Z are people of color.
When we flip 10% of the white people in those generations- and 10% of white women- to antiracism, we will have a majority antiracist generation that will be transformative.