Matthew Rozsa discusses the concept of honor… and how we should use that concept to truly understand why the KKK is so repugnant.
Let’s discuss the concept of honor. More specifically, let’s explore the version of that term as it was once described by Socrates:
“The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be.”
Bearing this definition in mind, it’s important to understand the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in our news cycle (more on that in a moment) as more than just a troubling setback in American race relations. Indeed, considering the explosion in right-wing extremism that accompanied Barack Obama’s election in 2008 (which I discuss in greater detail here), it’s hardly surprising that the KKK is making headlines right now. That said, the Klan isn’t your run-of-the-mill racist operation; it is one of the most notorious hate groups in American history. Founded after the Civil War to physically intimidate the newly-freed slaves and maintain white supremacy in the South, at the height of its power the KKK successfully thwarted the nomination of a Democratic presidential candidate due to his religion. To this day, the burning cross and white hood are instantly associated with racial, religious, and other forms of oppression.
Now the KKK is organizing a protest rally on July 18th to express their displeasure with South Carolina’s decision to remove the Confederate flag from their statehouse. “It broke all of our hearts that they made a decision, the government, instead of being for the people and what the people want, they take it upon themselves to make the decision for us,” explained Amanda Lee, KKK Imperial Kommander [sic]. Some of those protesters have already admitted that they will be carrying concealed weapons, likely in anticipation of the presence of black counter-protesters.
So that’s what the KKK pretends to be, an organization that is upset at the lowering of the Stars and Bars because the decision ran athwart the will of the people. Now let’s see who they actually are… and to do that, we need look no further than their response to the event that prompted that decision, the shooting of a black church in Charleston by white supremacist Dylann Roof.
“The KKK would like to say hail victory to the young warrior in South Carolina, Dylann S. Roof who decided to do what the Bible told him,” declared a recorded message on the KKK’s phone line. “If we had 10,000 more men like this young man, America would not be in the shape that it is in now.” One Klan branch, which distributed flyers with candy door-to-door only days after the shooting, told men and women who called its hotline that “we in the Loyal White Knights of the KKK would like to say hail victory to … Dylan S. Roof who decided to do what the Bible told him. An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth. They [black people] have spilled our blood too long. It’s about time someone spilled theirs.” One grand dragon in North Carolina summed up their response to the lowering of the Confederate flag in South Carolina rather succinctly: “It’s a racial war against our people. The more the media pushes multiculturalism down our throat, the more you’re going to see killings like this.”
Now why don’t they say this when planning their protest?
“Due to prevailing norms of equality, most Whites attempt to avoid appearing biased in their evaluations of Blacks, in part because of a genuine desire to live up to their egalitarian standards, but also because of concern regarding social censure,” observed a study from the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology by Eric Hehman of the University of Delaware. “As a consequence, Whites’ prejudice is more likely to be expressed in discriminatory responses when these actions can be justified by other factors.” While Hehman was writing about the Tea Party and other groups that find indirect ways of supporting racist policies, his insight can easily be applied to the KKK here: Because the Klan knows that they will lose supporters if they frame their protest as an overt act of hatred, they’re characterizing it to the media as being a rally in favor of democratic principles.
Except we know the truth. We know it from their own words, we know it from their organization’s history, and we know it from common sense. So when they claim that they’re protesting the lowering of that flag for any reason other than vile bigotry, we know they’re lying. They can’t even claim that the protest is courageous, since their courage to stand by their convictions apparently ends where the possibility of social censure begins (hence the hoods).
In other words, they lack honor. And every so often, that sort of thing needs to be pointed out.