The United States used to be deeply divided between what was commonly known as the Deep South, with its vast plantations of cotton and tobacco, and the north, which was much more industrialised. In the south, the plantations required a lot of manual labour, which led the whole economy to depend on slaves. It was therefore understandable for the south to be reticentwhen the north abolished slavery. After the Civil war though, which lasted from 1860 to 1865, slavery was definitely abolished in the whole country. But the black community still did not attain an equal status. Indeed, an era of segregation and racism against “the Negros”, as they were often called, followed. Racism and violence escalated in post-civil war America and associations like the Ku KluxKlan grew. Often, the black community preferred to stay silent or become “Oreos”, but some individuals decided to stand up against oppression. Of those are Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, both militants for black peoples’ rights and both assassinated.
C.P Ellis, once exalted Cyclops of the KKK, analyses the motives of racism. In his interview with Studs Terkel, he explains that povertyand lack of education are the two main factors which lead to intolerance. After slavery was abolished, some white people found that they were denied the American dream whilst the black community was beginning to access education and earn decent money. Lack of education and poverty being interrelated, the vicious cycle just kept going on for those white Americans. In C.P. Ellis’s life, there is arepeat of history: his father was poor, uneducated and denied the American dream, which propelled him into the Ku Klux Klan. The same thing happens to Ellis, almost as though he inherits his father’s problems.
It is understandable that this vicious cycle, from which there seems to be no escape provokes anger, frustration, jealousy and a sense of defeat. Soon enough you need to find someone toblame it on. But you cannot hate a concept or an idea, you must have something or someone visible and tangible to hate. As Ellis puts it: “Hatin’ America is hard to do because you can’t see it to hate it. You gotta have something to look at to hate.” Black people therefore became the outlet targets: “The natural person to hate would be the black person. He’s beginning to come up, he’s beginning tolearn to read and start voting’ and run for political office. Here are white people who are supposed to be superior to them and we’re shut out”. There is a repetition of the words “shut out” in the text, which express the feeling of rejection.
In Ellis’s life, the Ku Klux Klan came to save him from his sense of defeat and insignificance. It gave him recognition and identity as well as a feeling ofsuperiority. It is as though he was reborn within the Klan. The ceremony during which he officially becomes a member of the KKK resembles a religious ceremony: In front of an illuminated cross, he takes an oath. “musta been at least four hundred people. For this one little old person. It was a thrilling moment for C.P. Ellis”
Just as the American dream promises, from no one, he became someone.But it was a perverted success story.
The author ends up breaking the cycle of poverty/racism when he channels his need to belong in a positive direction. His nomination as chairman of the Human Relations Commission with Ann Atwater, a black lady, completely changes his views of the black community. “I began to see, here we are, two people from the far ends of the fence, havin’ identicalproblems, except hers bein’ black and me bein’ white.” He can only start tolerating a whole group of individuals when he has spoken to a couple one on one. Racism is therefore eliminated by the knowledge of the other. His nomination also gives him recognition, which he forever searches for. “This give me another sense of belongin’, a sense of pride”.
Ellis’s interview gives a clear explanation of...