A minor brouhaha on Wednesday about a rural Republican bean dinner featuring Gov. Mary Fallin and and “information you may not know” about the Ku Klux Klan illustrates the power of history’s shorthand and just how clueless many Americans still are about race and racism.
Fallin, who faces re-election in November, quickly distanced herself from the event; her spokesman said she had never confirmed her appearance there, and certainly would not be going now.
The elderly county chairman responsible for the dinner said he had only intended to highlight the Klan’s Southern Democrat origins. He seemed genuinely surprised, bewildered and hurt that anyone would draw more controversial conclusions.
As a tangible force in even regional politics, the Ku Klux Klan has not been a viable organization in many decades. As shorthand for racism, it remains a powerful symbol. The mistake is to think the Klan, in any of its incarnations, fully defines racism. The fact that some Democrats started the Klan in 1865 is useful knowledge but not overly meaningful to the racial politics of 2014. Both parties have had plenty to answer for, right up to the present.