This week authorities and community leaders are urging residents of Dayton, Ohio, to be cautious and stay clear of a Ku Klux Klan rally that is set to take place in the area during Memorial Day weekend.
“Courthouse Square will be a powder keg on the 25th,” Rabbi Ari Ballaban, director of Dayton’s Jewish Community Relations Council, warned in a statement. “Not only will the KKK be present, but there will likely be thousands of angry counter-protestors there, many bused in from around the region.”
“I trust our local police to ensure Dayton not become the next Charlottesville,” he continued. “But I still wouldn’t recommend someone I loved place themselves in such a situation.”
While Rabbi Ballaban may trust Dayton police not to let things escalate into a disaster like the deadly 2017 incident in Charlottesville, some locals aren’t as confident. They are particularly nervous because members from the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, (a group denounced by the original Black Panthers as extremist), members of the Antifa movement and a host of other left-wing and anti-racist groups are also expected to show up.
When news broke that the Klan rally had been approved, the Montgomery County Board of County Commissioners issued a statement explaining, “We are troubled that an out-of-state group like this one has decided to come to our community. However, this is a constitutional issue. We cannot deny any group the ability to exercise their freedom of speech and assembly in a public space.”
To most people, having a KKK and a bunch of ultra extremist left-wing organizations all showing up to the same party seems like a recipe for unrest that could give any battle scene on Game of Thrones a run for its money. If I lived in Dayton, or any part of Ohio right now, I’d be on a plane out of there so fast you’d think I’d left for good.
But aside from the feeling of impending doom any reasonable person would feel, I also can’t help being suspicious about exactly what’s at play here.
The optics are off
First of all let’s look at the numbers. Although there are approximately 1000 counter-protestors expected to descend upon the Buckeye state this weekend, in stark contrast, the KKK is reportedly only sending 20 people to this rally.That’s it! Just 20 angry, racist white folks.
Given what I’ve seen of their previous demonstrations, a decent amount of that 20 will probably either be socially awkward incels or bloated middle aged guys convinced that ‘Merica is being over run by Blacks, jews and immigrants.
KKK, New Black Panthers and Antifa call rival rallies in Dayton, Ohio: "Potential danger will be high" https://t.co/MzxJgpe16m
— Newsweek (@Newsweek) May 22, 2019
Call me crazy but if this was truly supposed to be an epic confrontation, one would think there would be a much bigger presence of white supremacists on the scene. However, having only a couple dozen white guys holding court while hundreds of liberals scream at them tells a different story and creates a visual narrative where it looks as if the left wing counter protesters are actually the aggressors even though they’re not the ones boosting racism.
This subtle but clever manipulation of the optics isn’t just misleading, in the long run it could also prove to be incredibly dangerous.
Although it would be lovely if we lived in a world where only members of the Ku Klux Klan harbored fears and biases against people of color, the truth is many Americans, even ones we consider to be good people or friends have been taught to think many of the same things.
And before the 2016 election a lot of those people found themselves bristling during the Black Camelot that was the Obama administration. Being force fed 8 years of chatter about “Black excellence” and “Black Girl Magic” after centuries of Eurocentric thought, is enough to offend the most sensitive of white sensibilities.
So when Donald Trump became president the lid was finally taken off the pot of all that simmering resentment, emboldening many white people — yes, even those who hate Trump — to voice and explore the uglier parts of normalized racism.
Which is why I am low-key convinced that the true intention of the Klan’s rally this weekend, and of all those other meagerly attended (but heavily dissented) rallies, is to start feeding other white racists glaring visual reminders of what it looks like when a bunch of angry Black people are allowed to push them around, scream at them and take over their space.
These groups are counting on the primal, visceral reaction that white people who have spent the last two years walking on eggshells so as not to get “canceled” will have when they watch their more courageous brethren fighting on their behalf, only to get drowned out by a bunch of mouthy, complaining Blacks.
— submedia (@submedia) May 13, 2019
I sincerely fear these demonstrations are just another example of white men at the top of the food chain attempting to gaslight the rest of the white community into seeing themselves as “victims” rather than beneficiaries of hundreds of years of privilege.
And if you don’t believe me and think this is just some alarmist speculation… think of it this way: If you saw a young Black man, with gun in his belt, standing on a street corner surrounded by 20 cops yelling at him — even with the presence of a weapon on him, even if he was yelling back at the police, wouldn’t the optics make some small part of you fear for his life? Wouldn’t you wish the loud, angry, majority chilled the hell out and not put this boy’s life in danger?
Most of us would. And that, my friends, is how tribalism works.
Even when one of your own isn’t necessarily innocent, a lot of us can’t help but feel sympathy when we see someone from our own community, culture, or race, being outnumbered and targeted by an “other.” And in the case of Dayton, some of the “others” who plan to be in attendance are folks that even civically engaged Black people find too radical to speak on their behalf.
Given how social media and the rise of influencers has turned just about everything into a branding opportunity, I fear that the KKK and groups like them have found a new way to use our rage against us. They are repackaging our fight for justice into a marketing tool to attract even more disgruntled white people to their side, and it appears that a lot of us are falling for it even with the best of intentions.
How do we combat this foolishness? Honestly, that’s a whole other topic and article altogether. But if you live in Ohio, PLEASE play it safe this weekend. It doesn’t make sense to put your life in danger over what essentially amounts to a glorified publicity stunt.
Follow writer Blue Telusma on Instagram at @bluecentric