Feb 29 2012

Know Good White People: Wrestling the term ‘White Pride’ Out of the Hands of the Klan

Jean Rankin was a wife and mother of thirteen children living in a modest home overlooking the Ohio river in what was the “free state” of Ohio. Through her window she could see a clear and gorgeous view of Kentucky, where thousands of enslaved African Americans lived under the cruel system of American chattel slavery.

For forty years, leading up to the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, Jean and her husband John opened their home to offer food, lodging and directions further north to nearly 2000 fugitive slaves seeking freedom.

As a mother, and as an American woman who descended from enslaved Africans, I am awed and humbled by this family. When I think about putting my own freedom and my own children’s lives at risk to serve others, it is a frightening, daunting idea.

While researching this subject of whtie anti-racists in American history, I am finding hundreds of stories of courageous and inspiring people like the Rankins who have been left out of mainstream hero worship. I hope you will agree that it is time to remedy that omission. These are amazing American heroes our children should know about.

Know Good White People: Wrestling the term ‘White Pride’ Out of the Hands of the Klan is an homage to anti-racist white Americans whose lives embodied the ideals of “freedom and justice for all” that our forefathers prescribed at the birth of this nation. Why have they been excluded from our national memory? What has their absence done to our collective psyche in terms of race relations?

The idea for this project came, in part, from an article I read about a young girl named Lisa McClelland who tried to start a “Caucasian Club” at her high school. Long story short—for her own safety, she eventually had to change schools.

Prior to her exile to another campus, the 15-year-old insisted her proposed club would be “a positive organization dedicated to honoring diversity” and a place to learn more about what it means to be white.

Amid the firestorm of controversy Lisa sparked, a KKK representative welcomed her to join their group, and the local NAACP spokesman slammed her idea, calling it racist in name, if not intent. He said,

“When we use the word ‘white’ or ‘Caucasian,’ it has always been associated with racial bigotry. Using that term opens up old wounds…”

What message is sent to young people with the omission of white anti-racist heroes from our national history? White Americans will not (should not?) bother themselves with issues of racial justice?