This has been a truly bizarre month. Nearly everyone I encounter seems tense, short-tempered, in a perpetually dark mood. Yes, there are moments of calm and moments of beauty, but then something sets people off and we're back to that same negative energy. At first, I thought it was my imagination. But when I asked, a number of folks said they'd noticed it too. So either we're all having a group delusion, or something is making people really, really irritable. I have a few theories about what could be causing it. Perhaps you have some theories too.
When I say it's been a bizarre month, consider this: four days ago, I got a letter in the mail (yes, some people still send letters). It was addressed to the editor of the school newspaper at Lesley University, and right now, that's me. The sender included no return address, but it was post-marked from Tampa FL. (Since our newspaper is online, we have readers from almost everywhere.) I opened it, and got a surprise: it was on letterhead that read "The Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan."
The writer, who signed off as "Loyal American Patriot," wanted me to know that the KKK is being treated unfairly, and they're not happy about it. For example, said the writer, some people call the KKK a hate group. But, be assured, they're not. "Nothing could be further from the truth. We follow the teachings of the Bible, and only wish to keep the white race pure, as God intended."
Dear readers, I used to teach Comparative Religion, and I used to be a chaplain. The alleged purity of the white race (whatever that means) is not discussed in either the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) nor the Greek Scriptures (New Testament). Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jesus, the Apostles, none of them took a stand about white purity. Rather, they talked about helping the poor, feeding the hungry, living a life of ethics and compassion. But in whatever bible the KKK reads, it evidently has a different set of instructions.
The letter went on to say the Klan has a new book that will tell me more about their views. They gave me a chance to get the book and have a student review it for the school newspaper. (Sad to say, there is credible evidence that the KKK, Neo-Nazis, and other White Nationalist groups are actively recruiting on college campuses.) After I got over the initial shock of receiving mail from the Klan, which I must admit has never happened before, I talked about it with my journalism students and decided there was no benefit to sending for, or reviewing, their book. I pretty much know what the Klan believes, and I see no point in giving them free publicity-- even if we trash it, we're still giving them publicity. Frankly, I'd rather not.
In such a bizarre month, so filled with vague uneasiness and tension, I guess a letter from the KKK is just one more example of how crazy life has become. It certainly seems that more haters are feeling emboldened-- they see an opportunity to get their message out, via rallies, or via social media, or via old-school snail mail. I don't like any of this: when I saw the Neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville, part of me thought they looked silly, but part of me feared for my country. Seeing folks marching with swastikas also brought back some very unpleasant memories.
I'm noticing over and over how easy it is to stir up anger and animosity, especially online; these days, even folks who aren't haters seem ready to argue at a moment's notice. As for me, I filed the KKK letter in the appropriate file. But I found myself unable to forget about it. No, I don't think my students will be joining the KKK any time soon; but the fact that this group and others like them believe now is a great time to recruit is profoundly disappointing... and it should worry us all.
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