There are three things I should say before I start.
I was raised in Jackson, Mississippi. I lived there until I was 18.
I’ve never seen a person wearing a Klan robe in my life
I was in Minneapolis the first time a White boy said “nigga” in front of me.
I was on my way to a party with a group of new friends. He thought that I was “one of the cool ones,” so he said something to the effect of “let’s go, nigga” to the group; it was both White and Black folks, but I was the only Black person who didn’t really know them like that, so I told him we’d have to fight if he said it again. He laughed and everyone told me that’s just how he is when he’s drunk. I should also mention that I got pulled over a lot in Minneapolis. Like, a lot a lot. It was the most racist city I’ve ever lived in.
I say all of that to say that America likes to have a mascot for its racism: the toothless White hick with overalls and poor English. The Klan hood and robe. The incessant need to say “nigger,” “nigra,” or any derivative of the hateful word that hangs in the air by its neck. Those people exist, for sure. I saw more than enough of them across the South. But the archetype only exists to make the rest of the country feel innocent in its racialized violence and anti-Black complicity. It just makes White people sleep better at night knowing that at least they aren’t wearing white hoods and burning crosses.
But most racists don’t wear Klan costumes. Most look more like Proud Boys.
The Proud Boys, formed in 2016 by Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes, is essentially a modern-day Klan that graduated from vigilantism to a full-blown militia. The group has taken to the streets in body armor and military-grade weaponry, and has been linked to violence against Black Lives Matter protests across the country. The male-only clan showed up in Charlottesville in 2017. It was declared an extremist group by the FBI in 2018. And Donald Trump refuses to denounce them.
Anti-Blackness is waiting for us not just in the backwoods or under dumbass pointy white hoods, but in every corner of America.
At Tuesday’s presidential debate, he was asked directly to denounce White supremacy and he refused — instead telling the group to “stand down and stand by,” a phrase that was immediately plastered on every Proud Boys social media page as a rallying cry. The charge is simple: continue America’s long history of violence against Black people who try to vote.
I’ve been writing a book about my dad’s time in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and as I write these words, I’m on a part of the book that’s particularly focused on violence against Black folks in Mississippi who wanted to vote. Black people persisted and resisted in the face of murders; church and home bombings; the lynchings of Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner; and government-sanctioned denials of food and shelter — all for any Black person who dared vote and dared get other Black people to vote.
And now the president of the United States is all but signing an executive order for these acts of violence to continue. Because of course he is. Asking Donald Trump to denounce White supremacy is like asking a hornet to denounce its nest. The hood isn’t necessary because the hood implies a need to hide, and that need doesn’t exist when the President is issuing rallying cries on national TV.
The Proud Boys are nothing new. Nor is the war on Black voters. It’s quite possible that, thanks to the urging of Donald Trump, these men will appear at our voting booths looking like a small country’s army, just as they’ve shown up wherever a group of Black folks gather to declare that our lives matter. It will be terrifying and lives will be in danger.
But these aren’t the only terrors that await us. Anti-Blackness is waiting for us not just in the backwoods or under dumbass pointy white hoods, but in every corner of America.
Trump is not an overall-clad, bucktoothed White man with a drawl. He’s a New Yorker. He’s also one of the most vile racists of our lifetime. Looking at Donald Trump should be a reminder that there is not one way a racist should look. The Proud Boys, when they’re not looking like Call of Duty cosplayers, sport khakis and collared shirts. They work in Wall Street, on farms, in gas stations, at Target. They’re teachers, lawyers, doctors, jobless, mechanics, thieves, and parents. They have Black friends and wives and sons and daughters. They smile at us, help us change our tires and like our Facebook posts about our kids. They wave to us when we walk outside to grab our newspapers, and they kneel on George Floyd’s neck. The only consistent costume is skin color and a heart filled with hate. And those uniforms don’t come off.