Spike Lee’s new film, “BlacKkKlansman,” tells the story of Ron Stallworth, the first black officer hired by the Colorado Springs, Colorado, Police Department. Stallworth, with the help of a white officer who posed as him, managed to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1970s.

In one scene from the movie, which I saw last weekend, Stallworth tells his white sergeant that America would never elect a man like David Duke president. Posing as a white man, Stallworth had just finished talking on the telephone with the Grand Wizard of the KKK. The sergeant responds, “For a black man, you’re pretty naive.”

Stallworth wasn’t alone. Liberal Americans, whether they were Democrats or independents, were shocked by the election of Donald Trump.

Trump has no connections with the Klan. But he embraced the moral low ground when he responded to the violent white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year.

“You had some very bad people in that group (the white nationalists),” he said. “But you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.”

I have many concerns about our president. I suspect he has racist tendencies. Why is he so willing to cozy up to Vladimir Putin? His rallies, in which he exhorts attendees to shout epithets at members of the media, whom he calls “enemies of the people,” are something out of a dictator’s playbook.


Trump’s slogan, “America First,” was first used by World War II-era Nazi sympathizers such as Charles Lindbergh, and later by the KKK.

I am alarmed, but his base continues to support him.

I had been spending way too much time trying to understand this phenomenon. Then I saw a meme — you know, an image with hopefully humorous text attached that is passed around on social media. It said, in effect, that the 2016 election reflected the lengths to which some Americans will go to have a white, male president.

Ah. I hate to admit that a meme opened my eyes, but there it was. Never Hillary. Never again Obama. That’s strong motivation for some folks. Strong enough for them to overlook Trump’s authoritarian tendencies. Legitimizing racism, and hate talk in general, are essential authoritarian tools.

Data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, who has studied trends in Google searching, was recently interviewed on NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

“When I initially started doing the research, I was pretty shocked by how many people search for racist jokes, and most of that is for jokes mocking African-Americans,” he said. “And it’s searched in great frequency, as frequently as searches for, you know, ‘Lakers’ or ‘economist’ or ‘migraine.'”


This is who we are when we think no one is looking.

Yes, there are a few steps between looking for racist jokes and attending a white supremacist rally. But it is a slippery slope, that first OxyContin that leads to an overdose. Decent people would never think of looking up racist jokes, never mind consider telling one.

Violence and hatred toward minorities are ingrained in our history, from smallpox-infested blankets to lynchings to “arrested while black.” Some people are so afraid of “the other” they are willing to follow extremists. I don’t know that there’s a way to heal the anger that some feel toward people of color, and desperate immigrants, and journalists trying to do their job — except, perhaps, to exhort them to use some common sense.

When you live in a climate of hatred, no one is safe.

Martin Niemöller was a German pastor who spoke out against the Nazis and spent seven years in concentration camps. He said: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”

The Klan once had an unprintable slogan that described their targets: Blacks, Jews and Catholics.

It’s no coincidence that “BlacKkKlansman” was released near the one-year anniversary of Charlottesville; it ends with footage from that event. White supremacists planned to mark the anniversary, too, with a march in Washington, D.C., but they were far outnumbered by counter-protesters.

The greatest antidote to racism is people who speak the truth: Those who take to the streets out of hatred for their fellow human beings are not “fine.” They never have been; they never will be. History shows us that those who chose to believe such people are “fine” do so at their own peril.

Liz Soares welcomes e-mail at [email protected].

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