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The Ku Klux Klan: The Phoenix of Racist Ideology
Wherever you go, anywhere, there are people discriminating against others. There are those who judge them for their sexual orientation, by the way of dressing, for how they behave, for their skin color. It is this last point that occupies us in this writing. This type of discrimination has a name. It is called racism.
Racism is not a new topic. Since man began to evolve, hierarchies have been created. At the top we find the white, European man, with money and power. Below are the rest of the people. Using Zygmunt Bauman’s metaphor, we can say that the world is a garden. And a garden needs someone to take care of it1. Our garden has long since has a gardener, who is responsible for keeping weeds at bay and that everything grows according to their conditions. Because those of others are not valid.
This is what we call colonialism. The material we have chosen to develop this topic is the movie The Birth of a Nation, written and produced by D.W. Griffith in 1915, which in turn was based on the book written by Thomas Dixon, The Clansman.
The film is part of the American Secession War, from 1860 to 1865, and the subsequent era of reconstruction. In this context, the two protagonist families of the film, the Cameron, the southern United States and the Stoneman, from the north are presented. Both families are faced in the civil war that took place in these years.
During these years, North America and other European countries used black people as slaves to serve in wealthy patterns houses or in their cotton or tobacco plantations. After the war and subsequent murder of President Abraham Lincoln, it is proposed from the northern states to grant rights to blacks. Later we will talk about the rights they had, or not, black people at that time.
The interesting thing about all this is how Griffith shows this process. Blacks, who were treated as objects, have the same rights as whites. But this does not happen in any way. The important thing about this fact is that they are the same white men, that is, the gardeners, who decide to give them those rights. They are the ones who pity the poor blacks and in a moment of weakness they decide that they must have the same opportunities as them. According to the film, they realize how wrong they were. In the work they represent blacks as vindictive and aggressive people who, now that they have achieved powers and rights, want to snatch their houses, their lands and their women. But it is thanks to all this that the heroes that return to the black to the place that corresponds to it arise. We speak, of course, of Ku Klux Klan. And it is that Griffith shows us the creation of this paramilitary group as necessary to cease the existing conflicts between black and black men. They arrive to bring peace back to the nation. The most curious thing about the film is that the director’s intention was not to establish differences between whites or blacks. What really does is a criticism of war and violence that took place in that period2. However, as has been said above, it is based on book The Clansman, so he also takes a racist attitude where he blames the black of being the cause of the war. In fact, this can be observed in one of the final interludes:
“We dare to dream of a golden day in which the beast of the war [the black man] never governs. On the other hand, the gentle prince [the white man] will do it in the Palace of Fraternal Love, in the city of La Paz."
If the message that Griffith wanted to conve? Over time people change, as well as their way of seeing things. We are not the same as those who lived at the beginning of the 20th century, which means that we cannot see things in the same way as them.
When producing the film, the director was inspired by Dixon’s book, but also in his own ideas and in what he had lived.
In the book, Dixon uses visual markers such as the description, generally macabra, of the blacks and exalts the white supremacy, where the term whiteness is used, and the shows as an action, a purification so that the reader "understands" without saying itdirectly that blacks are bad and whites are the good3
However, as Miguel Ángel Cabrera exposes in his book History, language and theory of society, words do not have a default meaning that he says, for example, that a trunk is a box where things are stored, but that this meaning canchange and with it the way to visualize this word, that is, that words are grammatical constructions that people have given a meaning. The case of the word whiteness is no different. It is a word built from the need of white Americans to show their superiority against blacks (which could not be considered American because they were lower) 4.
In 1915, slavery was an issue that was still very recent in the United States, and that has been part of its history for many years. These are the ideas that were then of blacks that are reflected in the movie.
To better explain the context, we must go back several centuries ago, when slavery came to America. And how could it be otherwise, came from the hand of the white man, when Christopher Columbus arrived for the first time.
The English, when they arrived years later, put into practice the methods of Columbus, but instead of making them with the natives, they brought slaves of the African continent5.
Between the 16th and 19th centuries, black slaves came to America, especially from England, since it had much of its colonies in North America. Slavery was legalized in 1696, when the state of South Carolina put into force the first slavery code. Around 1700, all southern colonies legally protected slavery. These slavery codes prohibited interracial marriage, the right to vote, occupy public office and carry weapons, and restricted freedom of movement and meeting6.
As of 1830, the country was divided between the southern states, which were in favor of slavery, and the northern, who requested their abolition. After the secession war, with the victory of the states of the Union, slavery ended. But the truth is that you can’t put an end to something that takes the country to spinning for so many years. The image of black was that of a lower being, without rights, without being a person. It is then, after the civil war, in 1866, when the Ku Klux Klan is created. This is born in Pulasski, Tennessee. Originally, the kkk had no violent ideas, rather than the contrary. It was a group that performed musical performances and theatrical performances of traditional folklore to entertain the people. However, in the era of reconstruction, the mobilizations of the clan members followed by the attempts of many of appropriating their image affected both the extension of the movement of the clan and the nature and meaning of their actions77.
Over the years, the Ku Klux Klan has disappeared and then re -mansfest with a racist act. Today it does not have as much influence as in the past, but it is not necessary to talk about the Ku Klux Klan to talk about racism. It is present in our lives, even without realizing. Each person sees the world from the place where he has had to live, where they instill some ideas are very difficult to change. And we must not forget that we live on the gardener’s side. We are part of the garden control, we want it or not. There are many news that talk about aggressions for racial reasons, especially in the United States. Before we mentioned that the ideas that the Americans had at the premiere of the movie The Birth of a Nation are not the same as we currently have. Maybe it’s not quite true.
With everything mentioned above, I think we could affirm without being mistakeColonialist discourse of white supremacy or, as Dixon, Whiteness, because although today in the vast majority of countries all people have rights, whether they are men or women;Christians, Jews or Muslims;White or black;The idea that the white race is superior to the others has not yet faded. As if it were a phoenix, no matter how much he dies, he will always be reborn from his own ashes, that is, the colonialist ideology.
- Zygmunt Bauman. "Fasrabosques converted into gardeners", in z. Bauman, legislators and performers. About modernity, postmodernity and intellectuals., Buenos Aires, National University of Quilmes. 1997, pp. 77-100.
- Robert Lang. The Birth of a Nation: History, Ideology, Narrative Form. New Jersey, Rutgers University Press, 1994.
- Chris Ruiz-Velasco. Order Out of Chaos: Whiteness, White Supremacy, and Thomas Dixon, JR., College Literature Fullerton: Carolina State University. (2007).
- Miguel Ángel Cabrera, "Speech, experience and significant construction of reality", in M.To Cabrera, history, language and theory of society;Madrid, Chair, 2001, pp. 77-99
- Howard Zinn, the other history of the United States. From 1492 to the present.
- Javier Maestro, "The American dilemma". Of slavery to the institutionalization of racial discrimination, historical studia, contemporary history, 26, 2008, pp. 54-78.
- Elaine Frantz Parsons, Midnight Rangers: Costume and Performance in the Reconstruction-Era Ku Klux Klan, Journal of American History, Volume 92, number 3, 2005, pp. 811-836.