One thing I've been trying to confront is how the generational legacy of being white helps me out all the time. With that in mind I picked up Life of a Klansman by Edward Ball because it investigates the authors roots in the KKK in New Orleans1.
Ball uses this book to investigate how white people are heirs to racial violence perpetrated by their ancestors2. While he focused on the American Civil War and black people, the same goes for the treatment of First Nations in Canada as well as the other ways we treat people that aren't white as less than us. The Inconvenient Indian shows how many times white people decided that First Nations weren't using their land properly and so took it over. Then after the courts said you couldn't steal the land, the land wasn't given back but money was offered instead of land.
We still see this legacy in Canada in examples like 1492 Landback Lane. In this instance land development has gone forward on land that, by treaty rights, belongs to Six Nations.
Let's dig into some of the topics that Life of a Klansman covers.
One notable early American that used science to prove the supremacy of white people was Samual Morton3. He focused on the shape of skulls showing that white people were better than other races. Obviously the skulls of black people were barely better than monkey skulls and thus they were worthy of slavery and being told what to do.
Polygenic is was also used as a theory to push the supremacy of white people4. This theory says that various people groups had different origins and some had superior origins. Obviously it was white people that had the best origin and were worthy of being in charge.
Today we use crime statistics in neighbourhoods for similar justifications, at least in the minds of many white people. We conveniently ignore the generational racism and lack of opportunity that has lead to scarcity and that this scarcity is what can result in poor outcomes. We naively assume that white people in a similar generational situation of abused and racism would not have the same outcomes.
But we would.
On a recent podcast5 they talked about the fact that Christians today don't use the Bible as a justification for slavery like they did during the Civil War6. In fact Christians look at the Biblical justifications for slavery with horror, yet they use similar arguments today to exclude other groups.
Specifically I think of the LGBTQ+ community. Biblical texts are used today to exclude this community from faith in a similar way they were used to justify slavery. To many, myself included who still is a Christian, it makes the Church more about ensuring the proper people are excluded instead of making sure that everyone is included.
There were two types of "race traitors" present in the book. First, there were free black people that had to form militias that drilled and "supported" slavery7. They did this to save their own lives, like a colossal cover your ass move. They knew the horror of slavery and stood against it, yet had to show they stood with white people so they didn't die. I actually hate the word race traitor here, because if you die or make a choice like this...did you actually have any choice?
In the South, Yankees were considered traitors to the white race because they fought against slavery8. They challenged the privileged norm and were vilified for it. We see this same behaviour today.
When I've written about topics related to racism, I get supportive comments. When I've written about questioning faith and reading The God Delusion, I get supportive comments. When I've questioned misogyny or looked at books that question it like A Brief History of Misogyny I get some supportive comments and a bunch of guys telling me I'm terrible. In the first instance in 2013 I was even threatened with a lawsuit.
I'm a traitor to maleness today. Happily.
Being silent about the racism that I benefit from is giving assent to it9. Being silent about the misogyny that I benefit from supports it.
I'll happily be a race traitor or a gender traitor to help recognize the generational benefits I receive. I also acknowledge that I likely can never recognize all those benefits.
If you're interested in learning more about how people of colour have been treated, and want to start taking account of the legacy white people have left behind, then yes Life of a Klansman is a decent book. I remain particularly thoughtful about white people, including myself, getting to walk away from the conduct of the generations before because "we didn't do that" while First Nations and POC have to live with the results of those actions to strip the rights of the generations that came before them. As my children start to engage in talks about racism at school I continually tell them that POC have to live with the results of racism every day, the least a white person can do is have an uncomfortable conversation.
The least that white people can do is confront the generational damage that our ancestors have done to others. We live with the benefit of that daily.