When formerly enslaved people left the plantation, they were met with unfathomable violence at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). This white fraternity and hate organization murdered thousands, burned more Black homes, businesses and churches than can be accounted for, and used white supremacist scare tactics to terrorize the Negro, the Jew, the Catholic, and the immigrant.
They raped Black women and mutilated black folks, calling lynching parties “barbecues.” They also sadistically celebrated black bodies swingin’ on poplar trees, as sung by the late Billie Holiday in her 1939-rendition of “Strange Fruit.”
Whenever our collective cultural memory of the Klan or of white vigilantes is evoked, the imagery is almost always centered on white men. Often overlooked are the white women who stood nearby with bloodlust in their eyes as black people were brutalized. Or the white women who lied about being raped to demonstrate their power to summon a lynch mob.
But especially overlooked are the white women who did not work directly with the men’s KKK, but instead formed their own — the Women’s Ku Klux Klan (WKKK) — an early iteration of the white feminist movement. Surely, many of these white women had been negatively impacted by white patriarchy, intimate partner violence, and sexism. Without question white women’s experiences include oppression and oppressiveness.
Acknowledging this is to acknowledge the fact that, historically, white women have used anti-black violence against black people to secure rights and authority as pseudo white patriarchs.
Though reserved as a space for white women, the WKKK’s efforts were congruent with the objectives of the all-male-Klan. Not only did they host lynching parties, but they were also active in national and local politics, blocking all strides toward racial justice and the acquisition of civil rights. For example, in 1914, they deliberately taunted black activist groups who were pushing an anti-lynching bill before Congress.
White women weren’t passively complicit in the racial-sexual terror that pervaded black communities; they were active culprits — hands stained and streaming with black blood.
Kathleen Blee notes in Women of the Klan, “In the aftermath of a 1924 Klan riot… Mamie H. Bittner, a thirty-nine-year-old mother of three children and member of the Homestead, Pennsylvania WKKK testified that she, along with thousands of other Klanswomen paraded through town, carrying heavy maple riot clubs [and] that the WKKK was teaching its members to murder and kill in the interest of the Klan.” Indeed, white women, like their male counterparts, despised Black people and yearned to be violent, even if it meant sacrificing notions of white female virtuosity.
These acts of violence, however, happened under white hoods. The trite Klan outfit was widely popularized during the first half of the twentieth century as Klan terror increased in contestation to the Great Migration. Klansmen and women wore floor-length, solid white sheets or robes, bedecked with a large, circular badge bearing an insignia with a cross. On their heads, they wore a sharply pointed hat connected to a white face mask with eyeholes. These uniforms were intentionally manufactured by white racial supremacists to disguise their identity and intimidate all those who saw them coming.
Klansmen wore “the hood” because that’s just what the men did, and Klanswomen wore it because it allowed them access to patriarchal privileges — albeit at nightfall.
During the day white women were ostensibly virtuous, Bible reading, child-rearing, white wives, and at night they enacted violence with as much fervor and angst as their husbands, brothers, and male comrades. To this end, gender, in the context of Klan violence, functioned as its own “hood.” The literal putting on of white sheets served as a metaphor for how performative, and perhaps seductive, (white) masculinity and patriarchy were within the context of 20th century American Empire.
Surely, all the “men” were not always “men,” and the hood — or the notion of (white) gender — was not always fixed. As Judith Butler reminds us, “gender is in no way a stable identity or locus of agency from which various acts proceed; rather, it is an identity tenuously constituted in time — an identity instituted through a stylized repetition of acts.”
Gender is never static. In fact, it is always evolving.
Using sheets to conceal their identity, white women performed white male supremacist drag — evident in their hunger for black death— all under the white hood they copied from “the men.”
In the context of 21st century U.S. politics, “the hood” is not limited to white sheets. In fact, the hood reappears when white women, like Hillary Clinton, continue to enact militaristic violence in black communities and across the globe, but are excused because they are socialized and identify as women.
One need not go too deep in the archives to see that Clinton used racist and Islamophobic rhetoric as campaign fodder to bolster white votes in 2008 and denounce, then, Presidential hopeful Barack Obama. One reporter noted that she’s no different from Trump when it comes to racist politricks. Her staff team leaked a photo of Obama wearing African garb and a turban, which exacerbated racist claims that Obama was an undercover black Muslim or worse, a terrorist, seeking to overthrow the U.S. government.
In addition, during the ’08 Texas primary, Clinton released the notorious “It’s 3 a.m.” commercial which situated her as a white savior — in the White House — saving children from an off-screen black male presidential hopeful.
“I have spent my life studying the pictures and symbols of racism and slavery,” noted Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson, “and when I saw the Clinton ad’s central image — innocent sleeping children and a mother in the middle of the night at risk of mortal danger — it brought to my mind scenes from the past. I couldn’t help but think of D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” the racist movie epic that helped revive the Ku Klux Klan, with its portrayal of black men lurking in the bushes around white society.”
Hillary Clinton is not a Klanswoman, but she performs the same racial violence that white men do, just as many Klanswomen did less than a century ago. Thousands of black people continue to lose their lives because some white women still want to be as “badass” and powerful as the white men who silenced them in the home, held back their right to vote, and brutalized as many black people as they desired.
Just as the WKKK and the KKK often took innocent or falsely accused black people from jails to obtain mob justice vis-a-vis lynching, Hillary and Bill Clinton have used the prison industrial complex to their benefit, reaping the harvest for the seeds they sowed back in the 1990s through corporate sponsorships and prison lobbyist donations. All of which have been received on the backs, bodies, and warped lives of black folks.
This is why I was troubled by Professor Brittney Cooper’s characterization of Hillary Clinton as “a woman who can roll into a room full of ego-driven, testosterone-fueled dudes, and tango like she was born for it.” Without question, Clinton experiences sexism. I find the Onion’s latest depiction of a nude Hillary to be utterly disturbing and I question if such an article would have ever been written about Sanders, Trump, or Cruz. However, critiquing Hillary does not automatically make one a sexist, as described by kmassa.
Hillary’s desire to perform white masculine violence as a political strategy is just as saddening as the white men who lead racist, capitalistic, neoliberal and patriarchal lives daily. Performances of white masculinity and acts of white male violence are not confined to biological constructs of gender. History has shown us that one need not be “testosterone-fueled” to participate in the lynching of a pregnant Mary Turner, or to shoot an unarmed white man, or to pull a gun on an unarmed, elderly black man.
We are dealing with a beast that is far bigger than Hillary Clinton.
Many refuse to see the hood of white liberalism that Bernie Sanders wears. That same hood that allows him to say “Black Lives Matter,” even as he refuses to acknowledge the need for reparative justice in Black communities.
Large crowds are flocking to Donald Trump — the epitome of white male supremacist violence. And far more are accepting of Clinton’s brand of white male bravado.
When Clinton first ran for president back in 2008, the president of the Sheet Metal Workers’ Union, Paul Gibson, stated, “Well, you know what, then I truly believe that that is going to take an individual that has testicular fortitude, that’s exactly right, that’s what we got to have.” Hillary, along with the crowd in front of her, unanimously laughed.
I am not anti-Hillary as a person nor as a woman, but I am against her unrelenting allegiance to white male acts of violence — acts that pervade American government and cause incessant violence and disruption in the lives of people of color. As the descendant of black men who saw white masculinity as a goal once they left the plantation and as one whose family has been negatively impacted by both Hillary’s and Bill’s role in the War on Drugs and the hyperincarceration of black folks, I have no choice but to think about what part Hillary is currently playing in this bloodstained, American political theater. There are cousins I have never met and never will meet because of the Clintons. That matters.
It matters so much that I am unwilling to allow Hillary’s identity as a white woman to take precedence over her unapologetic political machinations of white masculine violence — both domestically and internationally. “[There is an] ease with which identity politics can be co-opted to defend oppressive practices,” writes Son of Baldwin, “when the agent shares a marginalized identity.” Indeed, Hillary, a white woman, is as guilty as Henry Kissinger and all the other white boys who live oligarchic lives and preach democracy even when their hearts and souls ain’t never been right.
After all, even prominent California Klansmen Will Quigg, recently switched from endorsing Trump to Clinton stating, “We want Hillary Clinton to win. She is telling everybody one thing, but she has a hidden agenda.”
It is high time that we look beyond, if not under, the hood that Clinton so skillfully wears, and perhaps — at least just this one time — take white male supremacists like Quigg at their word.