There are women who back the KKK and Neo-Nazis, too

tags: racism, KKK, Charlottesville, Trump, white supremacist, White Nationalism

Arica L. Coleman is the author of  "That the Blood Stay Pure: African Americans, Native Americans and the Predicament of Race and Identity in Virginia" and chair of the Committee on the Status of African American, Latino/a, Asian American, and Native American (ALANA) Historians and ALANA Histories at the Organization of American Historians.

The “Unite the Right” Rally last month in Charlottesville, Va., continues to dominate headlines, with President Trump reigniting controversy last week by reiterating his belief that both sides are to blame for the violent fallout between protesters and counter-protesters. “You have some pretty bad dudes on the other side also,” the President said.

The president’s choice of words — the idea that there are “bad dudes” out there — is significant, as it sheds light on an aspect of the controversy that has largely been ignored, which is the role of women in the white nationalist movement. The images that have dominated the Charlottesville narrative in its aftermath have likewise tended to have one thing in common: the white nationalists they portray are men.

Yet, despite the absence of white women from public displays of white nationalism this month, women have played an important role in the ugly history of racism in America.

These days, as Seyward Darby explained in a recent NPR interview, women’s participation in contemporary white nationalism takes place primarily online “in the underbelly of the Internet.” The women involved in that world in many cases contend that they reject feminism and embrace traditional gender roles, which are part of the regressive worldview of those movements. Yet some of the most famous of them also champion women as central to the success of the white nationalist movement. They are viewed as Alt-Feminist, women who struggle for gender equality within the context of white supremacy. Consequently, such women have faced backlash from male counterparts who complain of their transgression of gender boundaries.

The contention over gender roles within white nationalist organizations is nothing new, as evidenced by the Ku Klux Klan’s foremost female “leader” Elizabeth Tyler, and the rise of the Women’s Ku Klux Klan (WKKK) during the 1920s.

As related by Kathleen M. Blee in her book Women of the Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s, Tyler and her male business partner Edward Clarke founded the Southern Publicity Association, which in 1920 contracted with the KKK “to create a Propaganda Department to publicize and recruit for the Klan.” Expanding the Klan’s enemy list from blacks to also include “Catholics, Jews, nonwhites, Bolsheviks, and immigrants” and utilizing “the modern marketing and advertising techniques of the twentieth-century capital consumerism” proved an effective strategy in increasing the organization’s membership and revenue….

During the 1930s and 1940s women’s participation in white nationalism continued, as they served as auxiliaries in such organizations as the pro-Nazi German American Bund and numerous women’s patriotic societies. Much as is the case today, these women tended to articulate their activism within the context of safeguarding traditional gender roles. They worked behind the scenes as subordinates to the public activism of their male counterparts. Yet when they emerged in public, their impact could be great. For example, during the 1950s, as Toni Morrison observed in her article “What the Black Woman Thinks About Women’s Lib," white women who viewed themselves as protectors of public education became the public face of anti-integration. One could hardly forget the “faces of those white women hovering behind that black girl in Little Rock in 1957,” Morrison wrote….

Read entire article at Time Magazine

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