The age of white supremacy is over, I thought, while taking the bus this week in a suburban town thirty miles outside of San Francisco. The Ku Klux Klan is clearly on the endangered species list, and none too soon.
But, if that's the case, then why is the guy sitting two seats up from me, the one with the shaved head and motorcycle glasses scowling as he looks from row to row -- first at the woman speaking Spanish on her cell phone, then on to the the guy next to her from El Salvador, and the Korean student caught up in her science text. His eyes darting to the back row where an African-American mother sits with her child on her lap, then on to the young man in his yarmulke. This passenger with a shaved head struggles to hide his discomfort even from the black bus driver who, without even blinking, accepts his fare.
Poor guy, I think, to live in a state of perpetual culture shock now that we have not only a black man, but a woman, running for the White House. Poor son-of-a-bitch, what can he do now that diversity is no longer a pedagogical concept, but a political, and social reality.
I watch as his eyes jump from row to row with the same sullen, vacuous glance, the kind one might expect to find in one hired to administer lethal injection, the lost, lonely look of one damned to being a permanent anachronism, and a timely one, especially in light of this week's primary in North Carolina. Who would expect to find someone whose pet hobby is nursing swastikas on a bus outside the city that is considered to be the most liberal of American cities?
Remember, in the aftermath of the Civil War, it was a Republican governor in North Carolina, William Woods Holden, who called out the militia against the Ku Klux Klan, a move which cost him dearly. And, just a few years later, in 1873, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Ku Klux Klan Act, also known as the Civil Rights Act, which was used to protect southern blacks from the ravages of the Klan, as well as provide legal remedy for former slaves when their civil rights were violated. It was largely due to the Ku Klux Klan Act that hundreds of Klansmen were fined and imprisoned. And, in several counties of South Carolina, habeas corpus was suspended.
While the Klan was effectively destroyed in South Carolina, violence against blacks escalated and, in 1873, in Louisiana, as many as 280 black Republicans were killed by a white militia in what has come to be known as the Colfax Massacre. But, it was in the 1920's in economic times increasingly resembling those in which we live that the Klan reached its all-time high in population of six million.
Many have come to expect racism from the South, and/or in states like Indiana. How's that for geographical profiling? But, what happens when it hits this close to home? Moreover, what are we to think when this kind of hate rears its sorry, antiquated head in the suburbs of blue states like California, New Jersey, and New York where, by now, even Archie Bunker would be waving the white flag of surrender?
What do we make of it when a group calling itself the National Socialist Movement took a busload of its members to the capitol, late last month, to rail against illegal immigrants, wave swastika flags, and call for eradicating the two-party political system? Far be it for anyone to deny them their First Amendment right to free speech, and freedom of assembly, but tell me it doesn't scare you when you hear some of their same rhetoric coming from the mouths of others who'd like you to think of themselves as socialists, too.
Legislation that has been largely vestigial, for the past hundred years, the Civil Rights Act, which affirms 14th Amendment guarantees of equal protection under the law, as well as providing a broader definition of U.S. citizenship so as to secure rights for former slaves might come in handy, yet again. Yes, a law that was passed to protect newly emancipated, and widely harassed, American citizens may yet be resuscitated in light of what may be viewed as recent violations of the 14th Amendment wiith respect to voter fraud allegations, as well as current immigration and customs enforcement policy. Can it be that the U.S. government is now doing to undocumented Mexican immigrants what the Klan once did to African-Americans in the South?
Hopefully, when folks in Indiana and North Carolina go to the polls to vote in the primaries, on Tuesday, they will remember those like this guy with the shaved head on a Northern California bus, and think -- we've come a long way, baby... Or, maybe not. And, while history is a nice place to visit, who really wants to live there?
More importantly, think of this white guy, on the bus, the one with the indelible smirk, and the high octane hubris, and how miserable it must be to live in a time warp, and continuum of dislocation.
He's made it to my row now, and I earn a double scowl as if he wants to tell me it's mating season, and safe for misogynsts to come out of the closet.
Maybe, but will he admit he's outnumbered, as are all white supremacists. Will he concede that the country has changed, and there's no going back; no, sir. If not, who can he complain to? It would be like a dinosaur bitching about being extinct.