If anyone doubts that attitudes toward race have improved in America, they should follow what is going on with the Ku Klux Klan. Being part black and from Alabama, I have been following this for awhile now. The Ku Klux Klan is so desperate for new members that many people in the KKK are trying to reach out to people who are not traditionally considered white. When my African American father was born in the South in 1925, the KKK had millions of members (back then the United States had a little over 100 million people). Today it only has between 5,000 to 8,000 members in a country of over 300 million.
It’s more difficult for the Ku Klux Klan to recruit today when support for interracial marriage went from 4 percent in 1958 to 87 percent in 2013, and some of the biggest Tea Party rockstars are African Americans such as Allen West and Ben Carson. Racism is certainly not gone today, and many people are joining sites such as Stormfront, but the violent rhetoric of white supremacist groups scares a lot of potential members away, so many white supremacists now advocate nonviolent solutions.
Many people who are drawn to white supremacist groups are what Martin Luther King Jr. called the “forgotten white poor,” which is why toward the end of his life he became an advocate not only for black people, but also poor white people. He believed that African Americans need to find common cause with poor white people in order to tackle the problem of poverty that affects all races (if only more poor white people realized how much they have in common with poor immigrants). Poverty and pain are the best recruiting ground for white supremacist groups, and if we continue to ignore the suffering of poor white people, we will continue to put our country at risk. I am half Korean, a quarter black, and a quarter white, and attitudes toward race in America are better in 2014 than in 1914 or 1814 (interracial marriage was illegal in almost all Southern states until the late 1960s). But will attitudes toward race be better in 2114 than in 2014? It depends on how well we wage peace.
According to an article on NPR:
“After some residents in a South Carolina county woke up last spring to find anti-immigrant literature on their doorsteps, a local Klan leader explained the group’s reasoning. ‘I mean, we can’t tell who lives in a house, whether they’re black, white, Mexican, gay, we can’t tell that,’ he said. ‘And if you were to look at somebody’s house like that, that means you’d be pretty much a racist.’ (Ahem.)”
“John Abarr, a Klan leader in Montana, is going even further. Last week, Abarr said his newly formed Klan group — the Rocky Mountain Knights — would not discriminate on the basis of race or sexual orientation. ‘The KKK is for a strong America,’ Abarr told a local newspaper. ‘White supremacy is the old Klan. This is the new Klan.’”
“[In the 1920s the Ku Klux Klan] was an incorporated entity with millions of members across the country. The Klan held huge marches in Washington, D.C., and its influence swung elections. President Warren G. Harding was often alleged to be a member, while Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black said he joined to further his political career. Of course, all this was happening as the Klan conducted or participated in hundreds of lynchings, which were themselves mainstream, heavily attended celebrations in many towns. It was as mainstream as terrorist organizations got.
Today, Klan groups are fractured and scattered — the Southern Poverty Law Center puts the number of Klan members across the country at between 5,000 and 8,000. That’s a far cry from the millions of Klansmen of the 1920s, or the tens of thousands the group boasted during the 1960s.”
“Today’s Klan groups have been riven by internal conflicts over territory and personality, and by operating in an environment much less welcoming to their political goals. But Cunningham said they’ve also been hurt by the many other groups encroaching on their ideological turf. Folks with strong anti-immigration views can find many more organizations to affiliate with today, both in the political mainstream and on the fringes. Given this expanded menu of options, there’s an ever-smaller pool of people who might be willing to hear the Klan out.”