Believing in the Great White Race

The KKK in 1977 (including current Trump supporter David Duke, left)


 Teaching Langston Hughes in Europe, as I did yesterday at the University of Ljubljana, is to discover that many of his issues are readily transferrable. For instance, when Hughes talks about “Ku Klux,” the students thought of the European neo-fascists who are beginning to assert themselves. So far, Slovenia is resisting them, but they are on the rise in the surrounding countries (Hungary, Italy, Austria, and Croatia).

“Ku Klux” brilliantly exposes claims of white superiority through Hughes’s dark humor. One can’t see these tough thugs as they wish to be seen after their victim sasses them. By drawing on the tradition of Br’er Rabbit, the speaker exposes his tormenters as insecure bullies rather than members of a master race.

Unfortunately, the sassing that allows him to salvage his dignity doesn’t save him from a beating. One takes one’s victories where one can.

Ku Klux

By Langston Hughes

They took me out
To some lonesome place.
They said, “Do you believe
In the great white race?”

I said, “Mister,
To tell you the truth,
I’d believe in anything
If you’d just turn me loose.”

The white man said, “Boy,
Can it be
You’re a-standin’ there
A-sassin’ me?”

They hit me in the head
And knocked me down.
And then they kicked me
On the ground.

A klansman said, “Nigger,
Look me in the face —
And tell me you believe in
The great white race.”

Further thought: Because I’ve been out of the country, I missed the news of the Austin, Texas bombings, which appear to be targeting prominent black families. We don’t know for sure whether these are white terrorists, of course, but white nationalists have been behind most of the terrorism-caused deaths in the United States since 9-11 so that possibility must be considered. Hughes was well aware that klansmen do more than just beat people up, but he captures how such people are losers rather than heroic figures in a grand struggle.

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