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Why "our" racism is more dangerous than Ku Klux Klan's racism

by Jacob Holdt, from a Danish perspective

Most of this is translated from Danish by Susanne Walsh

My larger website on the Ku Klux Klan

In the following picture book in 56 chapters I will try to show how we racists always try to disclaim responsibility by finding or inventing somebody whom we think is worse than us and make them "the villain". In school we teach our school children that there are some "evil" people in groups like the  Ku Klux Klan.

Often I am contacted by
12-16 year old students, who have to write papers on the KKK.
I always find that they have preconceived ideas of the Klan as a bunch of evil and hateful men, who both persecute and lynch blacks. In the real world the Klan mostly doesn't exist and it's hate is no different from our own. We are therefore failing the task of fighting our racism if we once again - like racists everywhere - scapegoat others, we cultivate and encourage evil rather than learning and practicing empathic thinking

As a small group of powerless losers the KKK is of course totally unimportant to concern oneself with. The fact that I became active in several Klan groups was just an attempt to try using the same methods on their members I had for years used in workshops in universities.
I quickly learned that on an average they contain less inner racist feelings than most of my university students.
So try to follow me on a little journey through the dismal world of the Klan and discover in the process YOUR own racism - or need to hold on to the concept of an enemy in fellowman.





 The traditional image of a Ku Klux Klan man.

With all my involvement with blacks I feared as a young hitchhiker the Ku Klux Klan. This Klan bill board in Smithfield, North Carolina stood on iron rods since the blacks often burned it down.

1. All over the world we use the Ku Klux Klan as a convenient scapegoat and deflection from our own usually more dangerous racism. In order to understand our own racism and combat our negative thinking of others, it is helpful to learn to think empathetically of the Klan  – partly to avoid ourselves to become what we accuse the Klan of, namely un-empathic thinking – and partly to realize that the people behind the ominous facade of the Klan fundamentally are no different from ourselves. If we can learn to identify ourselves the "the villain" we can no doubt learn empathy and positive thinking toward all the others we don't understand. In the following I will try to introduce you to an awareness of your own racism and the non-violent communication through which I got the Klan to open up to me - a known anti-racist.


Klan men dressing up before a rally in Gadsden, Alabama, 1978.

The ritual cross lightening at a Klan rally in Alabama.

2. Yes, the Ku Klux Klan indeed committed some terrible crimes in the past and the terror of those days must not be excused. But without understanding the human being behind we cannot effectively counteract a repetition. Most well-known are the murders on the civil rights workers portrayed in the movie ”Mississippi Burning”  in 1964 , when the American North tried to force integration on the South. Almost everyone in the South was against this - including many of my friends who are today liberal and do not understand why they back in those days were part of the prevailing smear campaigns against blacks. In the same way we Danes will not in 40 years understand why we in 2007 were part of the prevailing smear campaigns against Muslims, opposed to mosques, Muslim prayer rooms, hijabs etc.


Typical poor white spectators at Klan meetings.

Picture taken by a Klan member, whom I picked up up as a hitchhiker. He invited me to a KKK-meeting and would do anything for me after I helped him during the drive to come to terms with his incest memories.

3. In this hate filled climate some poor whites (white trash) - callous and frequently on the bottle - were encouraged to support the resistance through a more violent KKK-resistance, - precisely as a we today see similar losers in Europe do it. However with the difference that there are far more racist violations in Europe today than the Klan stood for in the sixties' USA.. In consequence of the prevailing attitude in The South at that time, almost all the Klan people were acquitted of their crimes. They acted so to speak "politically correctly." It was thus not "their", but "our" white racist thinking, which was wrong. Namely that racism whose symptoms manifests itself in the "tone" we use in a society, in which all of us think negatively, reservedly and reproachfully about somebody, we do not wish to integrate into our "own world".


My now deceased ex-wife Annie Rush Holdt from Philadelphia, Mississippi, where the worst Klan terror took place. Read her report about her childhood with the Klan people on my homepages.

Annie's former classmates, the KKK-murderers, during the trial. Since they were all acquitted I later met some of them during stays with my in-laws.

4. My black ex-wife Annie was in her childhood playing with two of the Klan people, Jim Bailey and Billy Wayne Posey, who many years later were sentenced for the murders portrayed in "Mississippi Burning". As children these two had lived as "poor white trash" in the same shabby shack's as herself.
Through her insight and my own later meeting with others of the convicted men in her home town, Philadelphia in Mississippi, I learned to see the patterns of violence in the Klan as quite similar to those of poor blacks - stemming from a feeling of being ostracized and despised by society. No white with respect for themselves would live
”on the wrong side of the tracks.” Through my work during the last 6 years with the Ku Klux Klan I have learned that "the children of pain" in those days do not differ much from the human type of my Klan friends today.


The acting Klan leader Pamela related in long interviews, when I lived with her, about the sexual abuse she was exposed to as a child and adolescent before she plunged into narcotics abuse.

Christie, the daughter of a Klan member in Alabama, was during her entire childhood abused sexually by several family members and has ended up as a crack addict and a member of the black gang, the Crips.

5. Through numerous interviews with the members I have managed to confirm the picture, I had created during years of picking up hitchhiking Klan members up on my tours. It almost always turned out that they had been exposed to violent abuse as children. Often incest, but more frequently beatings by violent, drunk stepfathers. In the case of the women they have - like the Klan leader's wife Pamela seen above - often been abused sexually by a "weird stepfather", as she says, and afterwards kept the lid over it for years. Without getting help to work through the pain, they often eat themselves out of it and like many I have had in my workshop's end up enormously fat. Pamela had abreacted as a drug addict, which led her into biker groups, until she finally found "a little self-esteem in the Ku Klux Klan".



Robert M. is Grand Dragon (the Klan's title for governor) for the State of North Carolina in the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Here is he during his convalescence in the Klan's headquarters in Indiana.

Robert M. is full of hateful tattoos, but is there any hate in the man?

6. As Klan people they are too proud to talk about this inner hidden pain. "I don't want people to feel sorry for me" they usually say. Only through our long, continuing friendship with them are they in private willing to open up and talk about it, which precisely is the way we can help them work through their pain and thus fight racism. Only after several days of drinking with my friend, North Carolina's Grand Dragon Robert M., did he suddenly open up to me, when the Klan group was not around, and told me his shocking life story. It did not surprised me much, for in all books about the KKK he is described as one of the most spiteful Klan members, who have often threatened counter-demonstrators with "we will hunt you down in your home and massacre your children."


Sunday dinner with Illinois' Grand Dragoon in the Klan's headquarters in Indiana.

Traditional American grace although these Klan members are not particularly religious.

7. Which massacred child lay perhaps hidden inside himself, I was thinking? Throughout his whole childhood, Robert told, both he and his two siblings received endless beatings by a drunk stepfather. When 14 year old he couldn't take it any more and cut up the stepfather's stomach in all directions with a razor and was put 5 years in prison. His sister later tried to cut the throat of the stepfather and was forcibly removed from the family. And his big brother, whom I since met, vented his rage by all his life going in and out of prisons for burning (white) people's houses down - just another way burning crosses - or abreacting his own pain.


Pamela looks after the Klan leader's grandchild Katrina and writes a letter for him in the prison.

Pamela writes a letter for Jeff in the prison. She got long handwritten letters from him every single day, I saw.

8. When I went to a prison to visit Jeff B., the national leader of Robert M's Klan group, he told me about the endless violence he received as a child from a succession of stepfathers. His mother had been a drug addict and prostitute and had left him neglected the first years. Since almost all his mother's customers were black, his first images of  blacks were somebody who all the time came around to take his mother from him. Later an alcoholic violent stepfather had every week beaten both him and his mother so cruelly that no furniture was left intact in their trailer home. As a 12 year old he took revenge during such a fight, bound the stepfather to the bed, beat him and ran away. During the next 8 years he lived as a homeless from petty crime and car thefts until he 20 year old through biker groups came into the Klan.


I helped Pamela cleaning up her messy bedroom which is so typical for self-hating poor in the US. When we cleaned up up the membership archive we had fun writing me in as a new member.

Poor whites in the most Klan-ravaged area in Mississippi near Meridian.

9. Similar patterns of violence I experience so often in the black ghettoes that I cannot help but feel right at home in the Klan. But how are we "outsiders" actually helping to shape such maltreated children? That is what I easily feel in my own reaction to them. For the abused children nearly always become withdrawn, reserved, hostile, aggressive and restless and develop a character, we adults do not like so much. Without really wanting to, we unconsciously thus exercise  "evasive racism" towards such children. On the other hand, the children who are blessed with never ending love and attention, become typically themselves loving, attentive and extrovert, why we give them even more love. "The Matthew-effect" about "to whom who has much, shall more be given, and from the one who has nothing, shall also this be taken" is the vicious circle of all oppressions. Since the loveless child cannot gain our love, it tries desperately instead to get our attention.


Stop violence against children - a single blow can give damages.

Poor white with abused child in Florida.

10. Already in the early school years we experience this incessant attention seeking as restlessness from such "children of pain". Teachers know that they ought not discriminate, but it's human to discriminate against restlessness and uneasiness. So unconsciously we send the child the message "You are not as good as the others" which only increases its pain. In 6-7th grade this inner pain frequently manifests itself in aggressive, clumsy behavior with racist, homophobic or sexist outbursts, after which the rest of us further turn our back on that child: "Such a nasty guy we'll not consort with."
So just when these first cries for help and the actual manifestations of the hidden oppression become visible, most of us typically let down the wounded child and ghettoize it into its pain instead of embracing it with a loving hug through our friendship. Yes, oppressive parents may have started this disaster, but all over the world it is all the rest of us, who - when these first manifestations of oppression are revealed - cause the snowball to roll. By failing to be "saving angles" for the abused child, we actively help to create perhaps a Klan man, a Nazi, a serial killer, an Adolf Hitler, a Saddam Hussein or the other variations of violent people we know were the end result of such child oppression.


Continue my picture journey through world of the Ku Klux Klan





This page in Danish                My Ku Klux Klan website