Aside from the national media attention, what constructive outcomes/conversations can come from the recent sit–down between Jimmy Simmons a representative of the NAACP – Casper, Wyoming chapter, and John Abarr, a ‘kleagle’ of the United Klans of America?
There might not be a discernible answer to this question. Mr. Simmons requested the meeting after reports surfaced that KKK literature had been distributed in Gilette, Wyoming – some 130 miles away. That might seem far, but how many NAACP chapters are there in Wyoming?
The meeting itself produced little more than the spate of national and local news reports that covered it.
The two leaders convened at a hotel, under tight security and the most reportable outcome was that Mr. Abarr joined the NAACP Casper chapter and donated $20. Mr. Simmons’ call for the meeting came in response to the circulation of the KKK’s signature hate pamphlets at a time where police officials in Gilette confirm that their have been some hate-related crimes of harassment and other reports of black men being beaten up.
Allegedly the United Klans of America have exchanged their traditionally violent brand of hatred for a fierce commitment to white pride and patriotism. But according to their own site – which features a picture of Chris Lane, captioned: “we are all Chris Lane” – the UKA “shall ever be true in the faithful maintenance of white supremacy.”
Patriotism and white supremacy can be a combustible mix. The historical fact that Birmingham earned the nickname ‘Bombingham,’ or the more recent iteration of domestic terrorism, the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, are important reminders.
But white supremacy does not require bombs to terrorize or violently attack those people whom the ideology depicts as inferior. White supremacy can achieve its violence through policy – consider the data regarding stop-and-frisk or the racial statistics for the outcomes in homicide cases featuring the Stand Your Ground defense.
How about the housing crisis (i.e. the racially biased lending crisis), the prison industrial complex, the criminal justice system, income inequality, or unemployment rates? White supremacy and patriotism are the root causes for this nation’s immigration stasis – the deportation of hundreds of thousands of people of color; the dismantling of families of color; and the unwavering unwillingness to expose the corporate interests that profit from our undocumented economy.
Institutional racism is a feature of violent white supremacy and its impact continues through the 21st century. And like white supremacy, violence manifests in many forms.
Our best precedent for this ‘historic’ meeting between the NAACP and the KKK, is Marcus Garvey’s attendance at a KKK convention in Atlanta, GA in 1922.
Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), and the Black Star (shipping) Line, was an outspoken proponent of establishing a central ‘homeland’ for blacks in the diaspora. Garvey generally appreciated the transparency of the Klan’s racist white supremacist ideology. He preferred the blunt honesty of the Klan to the underhanded, less-predictable racism of white moderates and sometimes those moderates’ collusion with black folks themselves. Garvey was castigated by black leaders for attending this meeting and for even appearing to endorse the KKK’s ideologies of supremacy and separatism.
The NAACP’s very own W.E.B. Du Bois thought that Garvey was either a “lunatic” or a “traitor.” Surely such accusations have not been levied publicly at Mr. Simmons, but without any real substance, or any discernible outcomes from his recent meeting with the Klan, many will be left wondering if this was not after all just another publicity stunt.
James Braxton Peterson is the Director of Africana Studies and Associate Professor of English at Lehigh University and an MSNBC contributor. Follow him on Twitter @DrJamesPeterson