"If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all." ~ Virginia Woolf
My Secret Life Exposed
Exclusive to STR
November 9, 2007
I guess the time has come to finally come out of the closet.
For the past 20 years, I've been living a double life.
The strain of my deception has finally gotten to me, and I wish to officially come clean.
I live a secret life as a black man.
I was brought up in a pretty racist community, and I bought into all the lies about 'white power' when I was young, before I began to educate myself. My parents, siblings and friends were all Klan members, and I was taken to rallies when I was in my early teens. I did cheer, but I always felt uneasy.
In my teens, I became fascinated by black history. I read everything I could on the subject - and then, in university, I joined a black power group.
They were hesitant to let me in, of course, since I basically make the Pillsbury doughboy look like Marvin Gaye, but I pointed out that anti-racism was the very core of their philosophy, and so to reject me because of my race would be hypocritical.
I was quite open about my racist past, and in time was forgiven for my sins.
I secretly worked as a 'blacktivist' for many years, mostly in the back rooms of course, writing speeches and raising money - and eventually felt truly accepted by my colleagues.
I also worked to move my brothers and sisters towards a more libertarian position. They were mostly socialists when I first joined - but also pacifists. I helped them see the contradictions in that position. 'The government is force,' I repeated, over and over, slowly winning converts to the ideal of pacifism in political as well as racial matters.
However, my secret life came crashing to an end today, so I might as well come clean about the whole mess.
This morning, I was dragged into the office of Ronnie, the chapter leader.
'What the hell is going on, Stefan?' he demanded. 'I've just heard that you're still hanging with these racist bastards who raised you.'
He threw some grainy black-and-white photos across his desk. I picked them up and leafed through them. There was me at pie-eating contest with my family. There was me playing horseshoes with my racist friends. There was me with a big grin giving the thumbs-up at a barbecue with my childhood companions.
I swallowed, closing my eyes. I guess I always knew it was going to come to this one day.
'Yes, yes. I'm not going to argue with pictures. I'm sorry.'
Ronnie's eyes narrowed. 'Do you know if these' people are still Klan members?'
I shook my head. 'Yes - yes, perhaps. Some of them might be, I think' But I feel that I'm making some sort of progress in''
He held up his hand. 'I don't want to hear it.' His fingers rapidly drummed the desktop. 'These people raised you as a racist, and you broke away from all that, and saw the light. Great, I've always applauded that. But what the hell are you doing still hanging out with these bigots?'
I coughed, shifting in my chair. 'Well, I've been talking to them about being more open about race relations, being more comfortable with different types of people, opening their minds and so on''
'Oh yeah? And what exactly have your fine words accomplished?'
I paused. 'Well, over the years we've had some really interesting debates''
'Which have resulted in..?'
'What you mean?' I stalled.
'Quit stalling.' Ronnie sighed. 'You've had these debates, year after year. Have you changed anyone's mind?'
'Well, I think that they're coming along in some ways, though it's always very hard to tell, of course''
'Actually, it's not,' said Ronnie abruptly, flicking a sheet of paper across his desk at me.
I caught it and stared. The names of my family - and most of my friends - were listed under the heading 'Renewed Klan Memberships.'
Ronnie's eyes bored into me. 'See?' he said softly. 'It's not that hard to tell at all. Stefan, you've been with us for over 20 years. You've been an emissary into your social group about the ideals we treasure. We value peaceful racial relations, we value non-violence, and we value the equality of all the races. You've been out there, making our case, for decades. And what has been the net result of your efforts? Your parents have renewed their Klan memberships. Your brothers and sisters have renewed their Klan memberships. Your friends have renewed their Klan memberships.'
'Yes, but'' I stammered, my cheeks reddening (damn it's hard being white sometimes!). 'But you have to understand - for them, it's mostly a social club, they don't really know what it's all about, they don't actually directly participate in any'' I paused. The word was so hard to say'
'Lynchings, my brother,' murmured Ronnie. 'Lynchings.'
'Right, right,' I stammered. 'They don't really know what's going on, what it's all about''
Ronnie leaned forward. 'But you've had over 20 years to tell them what the Klan is 'all about.' Right?'
I nodded rapidly. 'Yes, and I think I'm making progress, but you have to be patient about these things, Ronnie''
'Have you been holding back your best arguments for the last 20 years? Have you neglected to inform them that the Klan is dedicated to the murder of black people? Have you refrained from telling them about the violence they're supporting with their dues, attendance and cheering?'
I opened my mouth, then lowered my eyes. 'No, I've told them all that,' I said heavily.
'And what has their response been?'
I shrugged. 'Oh, they sort of agree at an abstract level, but it never really seems to connect with their actual choices. I mean, I do try and help them make that connection, but it's like pushing string - I never can get them to connect the value of anti-racism - which they sort of agree with - with their memberships in the Klan. I just can't get them to live what they believe''
Ronnie was silent for a long moment. 'And you think that is their problem?'
I blinked. 'Yes, of course - isn't that what were talking about?'
'No, Stefan. That is not what we are talking about. We are not talking about your family's lack of integrity.'
'We are talking about your lack of integrity. We are talking about your betrayal of your own highest values.'
The little office seemed to tilt suddenly. 'What - what do you mean?'
Ronnie reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small white pamphlet. 'Do you know what the Klan has to say about the use of violence?' He opened it to a bookmarked page and read: ''The use of violence is entirely justified in the defense of the white race. All minorities - and all who support them - may be legitimately aggressed against. It is the duty of every white man to protect this nation, and his race, using whatever means necessary to expel the corrupted races from his lands.''
'Yes - yes, I remember that from when I was a kid. I know that it hasn't changed since.'
Ronnie placed the pamphlet carefully on his desk. 'You realize that your race will not protect you from the Klan. They clearly say: 'All minorities, and all who support them.' If these people have their way - if your friends and family have their way - you and I will be hung from the same tree.'
I felt a shock of dizziness then, a vertigo - as if I were tipping over a deep chasm.
Ronnie continued: 'You have dedicated your life to fighting the violence of racial hatred. You have renounced your own racist past. You have written the most beautiful speeches defending racial harmony, tolerance and pacifism. You have raised money through peaceful means, you have always counseled us to non-violence, and you have swayed many people here - myself included - to seek non-violent solutions to our problems. My very son was converted by you, and is now running for office instead of taking to the streets. Do you believe all that you have preached to us?'
My throat was suddenly dry. 'I do'' I croaked.
'And do you expect other people to give up their racism?'
'Then why are you unwilling to give up your racists?'
The question hit me like a hammer. 'I - I think that''
'You have been trying to change these people's minds for decades, and have gotten precisely nowhere! You have told them repeatedly that violence is immoral, and yet when they continue to advocate violence against your friends - and you - you continue to spend time with them, and laugh with them, and joke with them, and break bread with them. You are destroying this movement, Stefan. You are destroying your values. You are destroying any chance we have of success!'
'Because you cannot ask people to take your values more seriously than you do yourself. If nonviolence is a moral value, then hanging out with people who advocate violence clearly communicates that you do not take your values - or morality - seriously at all! If a Jewish man enjoys hanging with Nazis - who openly wish him dead - then he clearly doesn't take his Judaism seriously at all. In fact, by continuing to hang out with those who advocate his murder, he only expresses his own self-contempt, his own lack of respect for his values, and his own pathetic need to excuse those who wish to do him harm!' Ronnie paused, taking a deep breath. 'Do you see where I'm going with this?'
I sat back in my chair, my heart pounding. 'So - what, you're saying that I have to give up all my friends and family for the sake of this - ideology? You want me to break off relations with everyone who just sort of disagrees with me? That's - that's just culty!'
Ronnie stared at me, his face impassive. 'Do you believe that a woman should break off relations with a man who rapes her?'
'What? Yes, of course.'
'And do you believe that a woman should break off relations with the man's family, if they approve of his rape, and want him to rape you again?'
'And should that woman also break off relations with any friend of hers who says that she should be raped in the future, and is willing to pay people to rape her?'
'And if this woman joins a group dedicated to opposing rape in any form, should she remain friends with anyone who believes that all women should be raped, and donates money, time and effort to bringing such rapes about?'
'No,' I whispered.
'And if she makes the case to those around her that rape is wrong, and they understand her perspective, and her terrible experience, and the rationality of her arguments, but still donate time and money to make sure that she gets continually raped in the future, should she remain friends with these people?'
I swallow. 'No.'
'And does it matter if these people happen to be her parents, or her siblings, or friends that she has had for 20 years? If she genuinely opposes rape, can she reasonably stay 'friends' with people who not only approve of rape in the abstract, but devote considerable time and energy to supporting those who wish to rape her in the present?'
'And what if she actually is getting raped in the present? Should she stay friends with those who stand around cheering while she is getting raped?'
I flinched. 'Good God no! That would be inhuman!'
Ronnie suddenly leaned forward and pounded his fist on his desk. 'So why are you doing it?'
I sat back and gripped the armrests of my chair. My dizziness was increasing; it felt as if Ronnie's little office was now spinning.
'What are you saying?' I asked, closing my eyes, suddenly close to tears.
'Stefan, you must either give up your values, or those who oppose them. You must give up non-violence, or those who advocate violence. You must start taking your philosophy seriously, or stop pretending to be a philosopher.'
There was a long pause. I opened my mouth, having no idea what I was about to say.
Mercifully, Ronnie's phone rang, startling us both.
'Sorry Stef,' he said, reaching for the receiver, 'but I have to take this. It's an interview, about my son running for office.'
I nodded, mightily relieved, and got up to go.
Just as I opened the door, though, it hit me, and I whirled around.
'Now - wait just a minute!' I cried . . . .