Who is Afraid of the Ku Klux Klan?

J R Leonard

J.R. Leonard is an economist, erstwhile paratrooper, and aspiring fiction writer. He is a New Yorker by birth and an expat by circumstance. You can find more of his writing at Dutch Comfort. He Tweets infrequently at @JRLthewriter.

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249 Responses

  1. Jean Meslier says:

    Wonderful analysis. I wonder whether to take the fearful reactions at face value. Isn’t there an aspect of role-playing to this “Be safe out there tonight”?

    I think it’s not that people want to be afraid, but rather that they want to be seen to be opposing something fearsome. Similar to rwnjs with terrorism, I think there’s satisfaction in having an enemy that’s common to all the people you know and respect, and the more powerful and more real the enemy, the more worthy your opposing it.

    But real evil is complicated and not everyone agrees on where it is or how to fight it; one scores no social points for telling people to be safe from gerrymandering. We have an incentive to pick the smallest, clearest battles that are easiest to unite people and win, but we also have an incentive to magnify those battles and be outspoken about how great and fearsome our opponents are.

    In the end, perhaps we ARE afraid of the real battles.Report

  2. Damon says:

    Regarding the “friar incident” whether or not today’s kids are so far removed from most religious that they only conclusion to a man in white robes they could come up with was that he must be KKK. I’d think that certainly some of it. I agree about the whole fear narrative. Frankly, I’ve never understood it. But I grew up in the rural west, was required to have a certain independence, and wasn’t exposed to as much media as kids these days seem to be, and I watched a LOT of TV growing up. I also grew up around hunting, fishing, farming, and ranching.

    Crippling fear. Yeah, a society based upon that. That’s gonna end well.Report

  3. Vikram Bath says:

    We wanted to be fearless. We wanted to be independent of authority figures. And even when we were neither fearless nor independent, we were wont to fake it.

    We are of the same time period. Of my peers and me, I would say “unfazed” rather than “fearless.” The ideal response to project was bored indifference to everything. Asking the administration if they could do something to make us feel safe? That would be strictly out-of-bounds. Even if that was what someone desperately wanted, I couldn’t imagine them actually saying it because it would be so uncool. And I don’t think it’d be what any of us wanted because we had no such trust in the administration.

    I guess now, students do trust their administrations. Sure, they beat up on them, but they do so in a way to get what they want. And I guess they aren’t afraid to be publicly on the record as being afraid.Report

    • Chris in reply to Vikram Bath says:

      While I think the Indiana case was kind of silly (and funny), and recognize that students (because they’re friggin’ young people) get carried away and lack a sense of perspective, I have a hard time understanding the view that suggests that times were better when people were likely to suppress their feelings and needs as a result of a desire to fit in and be cool, or as a result of peer pressure. “Surplus repression,” as a dead Frenchie once called it, is a strange thing to root for, particularly while claiming “independence.”Report

      • Vikram Bath in reply to Chris says:

        To be clear, I’m not judging the current state of things on campuses as inferior to the 90s. I’m just agreeing with the observation that things now seem to be different.

        Edit: Further, I’m not sure whether actual fear has increased or decreased. I just remember expressions of fear being off limits.Report

    • El Muneco in reply to Vikram Bath says:

      “I guess now, students do trust their administrations. Sure, they beat up on them, but they do so in a way to get what they want. And I guess they aren’t afraid to be publicly on the record as being afraid.”

      I think this is a salient point. Back in the late 80s, there were two possible views of an administration figurehead – an evil bastard like Vernon Wormer, or an ineffectual boob like a Mel Brooks two-bit tinhorn politician.

      One of them won’t work with you if you’re a student, and the other one is likely to forget who he’s meeting with. In neither case is “trust” an appropriate verb.Report

  4. J_A says:

    I’m European born and raised, and this might color my comment. I blame GWB.

    I grew up with the background of terrorism. As a teenager I was aware that ETA bombed shopping malls, and yet I went to the mall nevertheless. I was aware that the IRA threw bombs in the street, and I went in the street. I was aware that the PLO blew planes in the air, and took my first trasatlantic flight at age two. Terrorist groups announced an escalation in attacks, and people took it seriously, attacks did happen. Perhaps there would be added security matures, like policemen looking into your bag at the metro entrance in Paris, but millions took on the metro every day with no further thought.

    We were aware of terrorism. Terrorism had existed all my life growing up. Sometimes scores of people would die. We were aware it was a real risk and a real threat. And we were also aware that it was twenty times more likely we would die crossing the street in front of the house than in a terror attack.

    There had been terrorism before 9/11. Oklahoma City for instance. But no one had ever said before that terrorists were an EXISTENTIAL THREAT (pardon my raising my voice) that were trying to erase our way of life. Perhaps al-Quaeda was trying to erase our way of life, but the chance of that is zero. Like the chance of ETA destroying Spain.

    But GWB (or Chenney, who knows) changed all that. The government said we had to be very scared, that we had to give away precious freedoms (paid for in the XVIII century with our forefathers blood) because the danger was so huge, so monumental, that civilization itself was at stake.


    Europeans have always seen terrorism as a criminal/police issue. Yes, sometimes a political solution might help (Though the Troubles were more a low level Civil War), but most of the time (see ETA) terrorism must be treated as another crime. We never understood the panic throes America went into, panic that the GWB adinistration fueled, and that the Obama administration has not really assuaged.

    College students today were 4 or 5 years old in 9/11. They have been taught all their lives that terrorism is trying to destroy everything, and that they should cower in fear, give away their freedoms, and wait for the Authorities to give the all-clear.

    So, wHy would they react different to a KKK Terrorist? (*). As far as they know, all terrorists are hellbent on destroying everything they hold dear.

    They are doing exactly what they were told. Good lads. Have a cookie.

    So, yes, I blame GWB for this incident.

    (*)I’ll laugh later about their ignorance about Dominican monks, though monasteries are few and far between in AmericaReport

    • Sam Wilkinson in reply to J_A says:

      I like the idea of baby @j_a sauntering up to the airline counter at age two, loudly announcing a fearless approach to terrorism, and purchasing a ticket.Report

    • notme in reply to J_A says:

      Ah yes, is there anything that GWB isn’t at fault for? The youngsters silliness is more likely caused by all the sensational journalism about the few child kidnapping that are out there as well as other crimes.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to notme says:

        Ah yes, is there anything that GWB isn’t at fault for?

        Don’t be silly His presidency was an uninterrupted sequence of triumphs, clearly displaying his strong belief in constitutional government and the wisdom and courage of the American people.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to J_A says:

      This has been my feelings on this since the rumblings of the first Patriot Act began to take shape.

      It’s all a massive power grab by authorities, and it is fueled by government sponsored fear.

      That said, this goes back further than GWB. In my lifetime, the crime panics of the 80’s & 90’s were the precursor to the current state of affairs. But the fear of drug fueled crimes only got one so far. Foreign radical religious dogma, that has much better legs to churn fear with.Report

      • Nevermoor in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        I buy this, at least to a degree. But keep in mind that terrorists are such scary super-villains that (according to the GOP, at least) we couldn’t possibly keep them in maximum security prisons in the US because we’d wind up with a marvel universe on our hands, or something.Report

      • Right, I don’t think it can be wholly laid at Bush’s feet. Neither do I think it’s restricted to just crime. People seem much more concerned about the safety of their car seats now than they once were, and these are the same people who themselves were never actually in car seats (or oftentimes not even seat-belts). I think we have a general trend toward lower levels of tolerance for decreasingly likely risks.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to Vikram Bath says:

          We’ve gotten quite good at using technology to mitigate a lot of the, for lack of a better word, random risk in modern lives. Medical technology, safety equipment, early warning systems, etc. have all helped to reduce certain risks to levels that are not only manageable, but it a lot of areas, the risk is effectively a never event unless a person makes a conscious choice to to engage in risky behavior and not use safety features*.

          It’s understandable that people would want that same technology to extend to risk that is less random (crime/terrorism), or less physical. My worry is not so much that people want these risks mitigated, it’s that they are accepting the empty promise of authority that it can actually mitigate such risk, despite the lack of any real evidence that they have the ability to do so.Report

          • pillsy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            I think there’s a lot of precedent that suggests that when people lack a sensible course of action to control the risks they face, they will pursue a senseless course of action to control the risks they face.Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to pillsy says:


              Exactly, which ties neatly into the whole point of the post @j-r made. The narrative is telling you there is a risk out there that you can’t mitigate on your own. Then the people selling that narrative offer to mitigate that risk for you, and are counting on the fact that you are a bit senseless about it.Report

  5. veronica d says:

    Story time.

    So this is maybe six months ago. I’m standing outside a dive bar in Allston, which is a Boston neighborhood with lots of students and crappy nightlife. Nearby I have some friends, who are gathered just outside the door of the bar, whereas I’m standing maybe twenty feet away, “decompressing” (something I need to do sometimes).

    A nazi walks by.

    He’s a stocky dude, military haircut, wearing a jacket with a bunch of white power patches. His tee shirt is an American flag. He’s strutting, all flexed up, face stern, eyes ahead, as if he’s trying to project menace. Which, this attitude does not surprise me. Allston is brimming with college kids who fancy themselves “radical,” which means there are at least a few Antifa types floating around at any moment. A guy dressed like that, in that place, is either looking for trouble or just in the wrong place.

    On the other hand, I’m a big ol’ freaking purple-haired queer-as-fuck tranny dyke. I stand out.

    My friends by the door of the bar are not queer. They’re just regular rocker dudes. The point is, it is not obvious they are my friends. It is not obvious they would have my back. If someone were looking to beat down a “faggot,” I would be an obvious choice.

    Was I afraid?

    Look, fear is a complex emotion with many contours. I had friends nearby. I’ve been in fights before. I can fight. I know how things play out.

    On the other hand, shit can happen fast. I’ve been beaten by skinheads before. It isn’t fun.

    I would say I was “wary.” I noticed the guy. I kept a “weather eye” on him as he passed down the street.

    One usually doesn’t expect to see guys like that, dressed like that, out alone. He was. But I don’t know the situation. What if he had a gaggle of friends around the corner? What if they wanted trouble? Could my rocker friends handle them? Would word get around these guys were there? Would the Antifa fuckers find out, which then we have a “gathering” and a big dumb gang fight?

    I don’t want that shit. After all, girls just want to have fun.


    Those tweets don’t sound terrified. They sound wary. This is called “situational awareness,” which, when you are a minority or a queer, your situational awareness develops differently from a (typical) suburban white dude’s.

    {insert privilege discourse here.}


    Those rednecks waving rebel flags, yeah they seem ridiculous. They are sloppy and pudgy. They look like losers. No doubt they are losers. After all, you have to be a loser to be white power. Am I afraid of them?

    Well, I don’t want to deal with them. If one of those fuckers gets on the subway with me — I mean, I doubt they’re going to be walking around Boston waving rebel flags. That Allston guy was an anomaly. Plus Allston is its own kind of place. If he tried that in Dorchester (where I live), he’d get murdered. But still, if some redneck looking fucker gets on the train with me — let’s just say I’m gonna be wary.

    I stand out. People like that, when they “go off” and decide to fuck with someone, they pick people like me.

    Or brown people. I’ve witnessed this first hand.

    The case I’m thinking of was just verbal harassment, threats, and a sense of menace. The guy harassing the brown people was a kinda rough looking guy, maybe in his fifties, pulling the whole “angry, unhinged white guy who watches too much Fox News” routine. After the brown people fled the train, he stood behind me mumbling about cutting throats — and “faggots,” which I’m thinking perhaps meant me.

    The type of guy who is angry at brown people is often equally angry at queer people. I don’t want to have my throat cut.


    I have friends, trans women, who are pretty afraid to go out much. Mostly they stay home, use the Internet, drive to other people’s houses. It’s kind of sad.

    I can fight. I can handle conflict. They cannot. Can I blame them?


    A lone KKK asshole walking around a college is no doubt just a shitpuppy looking to make a splash. He wants attention, confrontation. Maybe he’s hoping the Antifa kids will show up and pull something, and then he can play the “white guy victim” card. Blah blah blah. It’s boring.

    But maybe not. I dunno. If there are nazis around, I want to know about it.


    Many years ago, back in Miami, my friend Pete pissed off this one skinhead, I forget the guy’s name. But the skinhead got in Pete’s face, said some shit. Pete was good guy. He tried to talk his way out of it, but the conversation didn’t get far. Within maybe fifteen seconds, Pete was on the ground, spitting out teeth (he lost three), while the skinhead was running. (It came out later that the skinhead broke his fist on Pete’s mouth. So there is that.) We took Pete to the hospital.

    I’ll never forget how fast that went down. I’m thankful it was only fists.Report

    • dragonfrog in reply to veronica d says:

      Thank you for bringing this healthy dose of reality to the conversation, @veronica-d.Report

    • Damon in reply to veronica d says:

      “Those tweets don’t sound terrified. They sound wary. This is called “situational awareness,” which, when you are a minority or a queer, your situational awareness develops differently from a (typical) suburban white dude’s.”

      Wary? Of one guy? Really? No reports of attacks. No reports of “odd behavior” or insulting others and everyone’s supposed to be on their guard? First off, these kids have demonstrated that they can’t identify a real KKK dressed guy from a friar and that a “whip” are rosary beads. Ignorance and the wariness of being always scared of some shit. That’s the way to live. If these kids had real situational awareness, they’d have realized the friar wasn’t a threat. Of course, they’d have to get out of their own isolation bubble and experienced the real world, but that’s not/never gonna happen.Report

  6. Chip Daniels says:

    I do get a kick out of middle aged farts like me who wonder where these kids today came from, like they all just popped up like toadstools.

    Those silly frightened college students were weaned on Stranger Danger, preschool Satanic pedophile scares, lurid tales of Crack Babies, AIDS, rattlesnakes at Chuck E Cheese ball pits and the Evil Empire.

    From us. From the same generation that breathlessly forwards emails about Agenda 21 and FEMA camps and the Social Security Administration stockpiling bullets.Report

    • Aaron David in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      Rattlesnakes? At Chuck-E-Cheese? Glad I aways avoided that place… (too many kids, got roped into taking my son once)Report

    • InMD in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      You’re absolutely right about where they got it from. Whenever this topic comes up, as frustrating as I find the college kids themselves, I think the real culprits are the people who raised them to be both so afraid and so narcissistic. The administrators who cater to it are just doing what all the other authority figures in their lives have always done.Report

    • pillsy in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      It’s not just that. We now have “active shooter training” in schools and workplaces and weirdo lunatics shooting up public places–including college campuses–happens from time to time, and when it does it gets wall-to-wall media coverage. This all despite the fact that such shootings are really rare, in an absolute sense and even compared to other examples of lethal, criminal violence.

      It’s hard for me to fault “kids these days” for overreacting when they really don’t seem to be overreacting particularly more than anybody else. I had to sit through a few hours of training on what to do when some dipstick shows up at my office with a gun, which really isn’t a whole lot more useful than deciding that a Dominican is actually a Klansman.Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to pillsy says:

        I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of times irrational fear is mostly wish fulfillment.

        People prefer to see the Devil in that nasty old spinster at the edge of town, rather than the kindly priest who takes such an interest in developing young boys.

        We want our enemies to be obvious and easily identifiable- we want the next terrorist to be a guy with a beard yammering in Arabic, or the next Dylan Rooff to be stalking thru campus wearing a Klan outfit.

        But a college student is a lot more likely to be murdered by her boyfriend than a terrorist.Report

        • El Muneco in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          See also Fred Clark’s legion of articles on the making-up of the Satanic Panic. TL,DR version: if the people we oppose really are absolute evil, although we’re just ordinary schlubs, we’re morally much, much better than them and can feel good about ourselves. We don’t even have to do anything about the evil, we can get that feeling just by existing.Report

      • Damon in reply to pillsy says:

        I actually had company training once on how to repsond if someone called me and said there was a bomb in the building.

        Keep him on the line and ask where the bomb was and when it was going off.

        Like WTF. I’m packing my crap and exiting the building asap. Depending upon my generosity, I might tell someone else about the call on the way out.Report

        • Kim in reply to Damon says:

          Most bomb threats are unlikely to be real. And if I wanted to do a nice shooting, I’d wait until there were enough people pouring out of the building (or standing in conveniently located places) to shoot ’em.Report

          • Damon in reply to Kim says:

            Actually if you want to be really effective, you place remote detonated bombs in area s where folks congregate after a building evac. In the case of my company there are nice big signs telling folks where to stand so they can be accounted for. Put some bombs in mailboxes, under cars, etc. and set them off. Finish the survivors off with a rifle. The body count would be quite high. You KNOW I’m scanning the area when I evac for just this stuff.Report

            • Kim in reply to Damon says:

              Man, you really are paranoid.
              (It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you, but it may still get you locked up in a mental institution)Report

              • Damon in reply to Kim says:

                No, just cautious.

                Gatherings are choke points are good places for terrorism. No need to get past TSA when there’s a nice long line of victims. And in a lot of airports you can drive right up to the “departing” flights area and be at the security lines. Have 4 guys unload from a van out side and rush inside and start shooting or run in with backpack bombs. It’d make Orlando look like chump change.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Damon says:

                I’m somewhat surprised this hasn’t happened yet.Report

              • DavidTC in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                It hasn’t happened because there are functionally no such thing as terrorists in America. We just call people that.

                There are *mass murderers*, sure. People who want to kill other specific people.

                But there is no organized group intending to inflict political pressure by terror, i.e., what ‘terrorism’ actually is.

                There aren’t even *organizations* behind them, which make *suicidal* attacks completely insane as ‘terrorism’…who is the hell is supposed to continue said attacks unless we bow to their demands…which, BTW, they refused to provide any demands!

                Airport security lines are made up of random people. The only sort of mass murderers that would turn out to kill them would be…someone pissed at people in airport security lines. (Aka, a TSA employee going postal.)

                If you want to know how *actual* terrorism works, look at how it worked in Ireland, or in the 1960: There was a named group that showed it could do harm, and made specific threats it would continue to do so unless certain things happened, and then followed through on those promises.

                This is not only what is happening when we talk about ‘terrorism’ nowadays, it’s not even really what happened on 9/11, which was more something dressed up to look like some terrorist demands but designed to make us do the *opposite* of what was asked for. (Stay out of the middle east.)

                If Al Qaeda had *actually intended* to cause us to change our political positions out of fear, yeah, they probably would have started on a decade-long bombing campaign of random places, taking clear and specific credit for each bomb right before it goes off, each in response to specific actions of the US. I.e., what the IRA did, except without warning anyone about the bombs.

                EDIT: tl;dr – Terrorism is supposed to make people vote in a specific way, or select leaders who act in certain ways, because they think if they don’t, they could get killed next. Not even is that not happening, it’s not happening so hard we have literally *no idea* how supposed ‘terrorists’ want us to vote.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to DavidTC says:

                I wasn’t thinking of terrorists, per se. More like our home grown variety of people wanting to cause carnage.Report

              • DavidTC in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                The people who want to cause carnage almost always have invented an enemy in their mind, and thus they have to aim at a group that mostly contains that enemy.

                It’s hard to figure out what group of enemies that ‘air travelers’ would be.

                I guess it could be some sort of ‘elitist’ enemy, hatred of people rich enough to fly.

                Except that a) most people are ‘rich enough to fly’ *occasionally*, and b) finding the wealthy is much easier at, I dunno, an opera or something, and c) the actual ‘very very’ poor, the sort of people who could build up violent resentment towards people ‘rich enough’ to afford a $80 discount fair home for a funeral (?!), are also the exact sort of people who *cannot afford to spent time and energy on hate*.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to DavidTC says:

                Well said, which only brings up the question again:

                Since America lacks an IRA or Red Brigade, why are we suffering so much carnage, so much more than our peer nations?

                Why are we churning out so many deranged individuals?
                Or do we have the same number of sociopaths as our peers, but somehow ours are more lethal?

                The debate over the use of the word “terrorist” I think has only served to mask a deeper debate of what makes our situation in America different.

                There seems to be this assumption that an Islamic sociopath is a national security threat, but an Adam Lanza is merely something to be shrugged off.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:


                You’ve been kicking this particular can around a long time. You should write a post, try to suss it out.Report

              • DavidTC in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Since America lacks an IRA or Red Brigade, why are we suffering so much carnage, so much more than our peer nations?

                Because of several factors:
                1) We’ve had pretty serious economic problems for quite some time, even if we happily just paper over them.
                2) This has resulted in a lot of completely lost and somewhat angry people. Well, I say ‘people’, I actually mean ‘young men’, who seem to have a unique ability to get angry vs. getting depressed.

                If we actually had terrorist organizations in this country, we’d be up shit creek. Recruitment would be very easy. But the closest to any sort of organizational thing is anti-abortion people, and they are not *technically* terrorists. (In the sense that, if they were terrorists, they would be blowing up *random people*, or even government officials, in an attempt to force various governments to ban abortion or keep getting killed. As it is, they’re just murderers, although it’s probably worth pointing out they are the *closest thing* to terrorists we have here. They’re terrorists that refuse to organize the last step, and thus have random undisciplined people doing their violence for them in a haphazard way.)

                What we actually have instead are…I don’t know what to call them. ‘Anger Groups’, maybe. These Anger Groups have some entity to blame, usually one that has almost nothing to do with anything. The leaders of these things, because they are in it for the money and fame and not actually any political change, are usually careful to keep on the side of no violence, and even if it does run into violence, it isn’t any sort of *organized* violence.

                But the thing about these Anger Groups is that…membership isn’t real. For every person walking around identifying and known to those people, there’s ten guys who just read the websites and lists to the podcasts and whatever. Often of many things at once…anyone remember how the Boston Marathon bomber had this mass confusion of craziness, conspiracies of all sorts, even ones that contradicted each other?

                And while BATFE had clamped down on explosives hugely since the mid-90s. (That’s why we rarely have bombing anymore.), guns are still out there.

                But I’m not sure these Anger Groups *are* the problem. Without these groups…people just go postal. Instead of shooting up X, they shoot up some personal thing. (For example, almost every single damn school shooting.)

                I think the actual solution is…less guns, and, perhaps most importantly, less angry people.Report

              • Joe Sal in reply to DavidTC says:

                Oscar put up a link awhile back that showed when ‘angry young men’ are given money, the violence and anger subsides with a trend towards prosperity.

                I guess one could say fix the economy might be a place to start.Report

              • DavidTC in reply to DavidTC says:

                Oh, and it’s work pointing out: Extreme terrorism does not work. Moderate terrorism…does. Except we don’t really call it terrorism.

                That sounds odd, I know, but the IRA, when bombing, had much more of an aim to inconvenience people and scare them a little than to actually ‘terrorize’ them. That’s why they almost always gave *warnings*.

                And (And I’m a bit scared of pushback on pointing this out) the Civil Rights Act in America was passed because white people were tired of…riots. Oh, sure, we can pretend they were just ‘protests’, and the protests made white people see the error of their ways…but, well, that’s only *partially* what happened. Another is that people just got *frickin annoyed* at all the disruptions, and said ‘Fine, here’s your stupid civil rights, now stop blocking traffic all the time’.

                The LGBT people know what I’m talking about here, too.

                You get a huge group of people that constantly cause *low level* problems until what they want to happen, happens, and that works.

                Too many people seem to think that terrorism is just murder, with the dial turned up. It’s not. It’s actually *protests* with the dial turned up, where you *annoy* people into doing what you want.

                But get to actually killing people, the thing we *actually* currently call terrorism, and that’s almost always an overstep in the Western world. We don’t think of it as ‘annoyance’ anymore…we just think of it as murder.

                It didn’t *used* to be…go back 200 years, and societies could, indeed, treat a few people dying as an inconvenience and follow along with whatever to make it stop. How many places were European colonizers ‘harassed’ out of, and by ‘harassed’ we mean ‘Native people murdered them semi-randomly until they left.’?

                Hell, I’m not even sure this is a ‘Western’ thing vs a ’24 hour media likes to make big deals out of specific things’ thing.

                Incidentally, to make this post even *more* likely to get people yelling at me: I suspect that a difference between how *we* look at this, and how, uh, Israel and Palestine look at this, are why a lot of people don’t understand what’s going on over there very well. (And I think there might be a difference in the way Israel and Palestine see this.) I’m recalling people talking about the constant rocket attacks on Israel, which some people seem to think is ‘We will murder all the Israelis with rockets!’ but I’m pretty sure the people launching them are thinking ‘We will annoy the Israelis until they change their policies.’.Report

              • Kim in reply to DavidTC says:

                putting Hamas in power has been… a thing.
                Probably a better thing than putting the Taliban in power, all in all.

                Israel continues to be the craziest psycho in power.Report

      • Kim in reply to pillsy says:

        be glad your office hasn’t had someone show up with a gun.
        Five different police departments showed up the LAST time it happened in Pittsburgh.Report

  7. dragonfrog says:

    I have a hard time imagining that many people would have been scared or concerned for their safety. Even 20 years ago, the idea of the KKK was part of the past.

    I’d have thought, 20 years ago as today, there would be a reasonable fear that someone who shows up on campus dressed in KKK robes might have brought a gun and a greater emphasis on taking some people down with him than on leaving alive himself. The fact that the political movement he belongs to is no great threat to the students demographically or statistically, doesn’t really enter into it.

    I’m not afraid of ISIL or the KKK or the Continuity IRA statistically – but if someone has already shown up at my workplace openly declaring their allegiance to such a group, we’re not talking about prior probability anymore. I remain as unafraid as ever of the political group in question but I’m sure as heck going to be afraid of what that person might do. It doesn’t even much matter if that person actually belongs to the group in question.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to dragonfrog says:

      If it was an actual KKK dude, you might have a point, but misidentification is it’s own evil.Report

      • Autolukos in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        Right; this is like someone seeing a Sikh and freaking out about ISIS being on campusReport

      • dragonfrog in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        Sure, the misidentification is what makes the whole story funny. Some folks made a mistake, as tends to happen when humans do things. Does that really invalidate my entire point?

        Having heard that there’s a guy in a KKK robe walking around campus – not as one of the people who saw the guy and misidentified him, but as someone who saw “there’s a man in KKK robes walking around campus carrying a bullwhip” on your twitter feed – should I magically know my correspondent has mistaken a Dominican friar for a klansman?Report

        • j r in reply to dragonfrog says:

          Magically? It shouldn’t take a degree from Hogwarts to hold a healthy level of skepticism in regards to what you read on Twitter.

          My friends and I have that annoying habit of often communicating in movie quotes. This one from The Naked Gun now comes to mind :

          Mayor: Drebin, I don’t want any more trouble like you had last year on the southside. Understand? That’s my policy.
          Frank: Yes. Well, when I see 5 weirdos dressed in togas stabbing a guy in the middle of the park in full view of 100 people, I shoot the bastards. That’s my policy.
          Mayor: That was a Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar, you moron! You killed 5 actors! Good ones!

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to j r says:


            I’m signing on to what @j-r said.

            If some guy on my (rhetorical – I don’t use twitter) twitter feed said a dude dressed as the KKK was walking around campus, a campus that has not seen any real KKK activity in something like 40 years, I’m going to treat that statement with maybe a smidge more credibility than the guy who says he just say Bigfoot walking around North Bend.

            i.e. context matters. Veronica’s story about the skinhead within spitting distance causing her to go on yellow alert is valid, given that he was within spitting distance and could be reasonably identified by Veronica as a potential threat. But there is a big difference between raising your personal alert level over a possible threat that is nearby, and sounding the warning bell over the same before it has become a real danger.Report

            • Maribou in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              @oscar-gordon ” a campus that has not seen any real KKK activity in something like 40 years, ”

              But KKK speakers in the public square (as is their legal right, the fishing fishers) on a regular basis. Surely that is somewhat relevant to the assumptions jumped to.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Maribou says:


                When this story broke some months ago, I searched the last 5 years of archives of the student newspaper of that campus and found no mention of KKK or white power or white nationalist or white supremacy rallies or activities. Aside from tangential mention in some op-eds, there was (IIRC) one incident of racism and I think onr incident of anti-Semitism (neither recently).

                Perhaps I suck at sesrching news archives, so please feel free to let me know if you find something more significant.Report

              • Maribou in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                @oscar-gordon You know what, I swear I read that somewhere when stuff was happening, but either I’m imagining things or the story I read was wrong, because I don’t see that anywhere either. I think you’re right and I’m wrong.

                That said, Bloomington *does* have a history of Klan activity in the past decade – fliers, rallies, known-to-be-there chapter, etc… – but it seems like the overall tenor of their interaction with the city is getting booed out of it, rather than making anyone especially afraid.

                So apologies to you. My criticism was unfounded.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Maribou says:

                I appreciate that, thank you.Report

              • Maribou in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Thank you for making me think about it harder.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:


              I’m going to assume there is some hyperbole here. Bigfoot is fictitious. The KKK is real. Rare, largely impotent… but real.Report

  8. InMD says:

    Maybe it’s just those memories of seeing self proclaimed members of the KKK brawling it out on Jerry Springer back in the 90s but I had a similar reaction to the IU story. Given the reality of what the Klan is now I struggle to see how anyone could see those few remaining adherents as anything other than absurd.

    I don’t endorse any conspiracy theories either but I do think this idea of learned helplessness doesn’t serve anyone well except those with power. Why people who claim to speak for the marginalized are so eager to play into narratives of fear and danger is baffling to me.Report

    • Kim in reply to InMD says:

      You try accidentally stumbling into a Klan rally in DC (note: not an outdoor one. I don’t think he was supposed to be there at all)…

      I agree that the Militias are much more of an issue (of course), but still…Report

  9. Aaron David says:

    Excellent post, and unsurprisingly I agree with it. But it does make me think of such things as Satanic Panic! and whatnot. Mostly due to everyone needing to get on board with the latest trends in outrage, make sure their place in the herd is safe. I think there are a few witches in Salem who would agree.Report

  10. Chip Daniels says:

    And another thing.
    What’s the overlap between folks who mock these silly frightened students, and folks who declare that they must be allowed to carry a gun on campus because they are afraid?Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      Well I am critical of the fear, but I don’t want campus carry out of fear of boogeymen, but as a practical matter that if a state is going to have carry laws, those laws should apply anywhere the public can be, and public college campuses are, you know, public.Report

  11. Francis says:

    I’m going to be that guy for a second. Anecdotes don’t equal data. Social media has allowed anybody to go nut-picking, find the most ridiculous thing that someone has said, and elevate that comment to national awareness. This is R Dreher’s entire shtick.

    How many people were actually terrorized? Of those, for how many was it a one-day thing, forgotten immediately? Data, please.

    I have no idea how soft kids really are. But it remains a tough job market out there, so I suspect that a lot of that sense of entitlement will be wearing off once people hit their late 20s.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Francis says:

      For me, in this case, the issue is not that kids freaked out over the KKK (I find that amusing, but mostly in the sense that it shows just how irrelevant the KKK has become that kids actually have no clue), rather, my concern is that the kids wanted to summon the police and have them deal with a person who was doing nothing other than walking in attire that was not normal.

      In addition, had the word choice in the game of rumor changed just a smidge, replacing ‘whip’ with ‘weapon’, especially if someone really wanted to give a good scare to that KKK freak, we’d risk having another John Crawford kind of incident.Report

      • pillsy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        “If you see something, say something.”Report

      • dragonfrog in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        Let’s accept for a moment that I’m one of the students who has mistaken the friar with a rosary for a dude in KKK robes with a bullwhip.

        I’m not going to conclude that a KKK dude has just decided to robe up take his bullwhip for a walk in a totally nonthreatening and nonviolent way. I’m not going to assume that when he walks past the dorms, things are going to be all peaceful-like and not at all beaty or stabby.

        Seriously – assuming you sincerely believe you are looking at a man who has put on KKK robes and come to campus with a bullwhip on his belt, you would not want campus 5-0 to come down and keep an eye on things?Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to dragonfrog says:

          If your entire assumption is based upon a man wearing white robes carrying a bullwhip, I’d have to ask why are you, a college kid on a college campus, assuming it is the KKK looking for trouble and not a guy on his way to an S&M toga party you weren’t invited to?

          (Note, the Dominican garb does not, and never has to my knowledge, included the very distinct white pointy hood that the KKK is known for).Report

          • dragonfrog in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            The objection of yours I am addressing above is not about the reasonableness of the identification. Which, I agree, was not all that reasonable. Even assuming the guy had had a pointy white hood, a bottle of kerosene in one hand and a cross wrapped in rags over his shoulder, it’s more likely to be a frat boy who thinks that dressing as a klansman is some kind of great prank. But that’s not the objection of yours that I’m trying to address.

            It is specifically that the students, having once concluded there was a klansman or reasonable facsimile thereof walking around campus with a whip wanted the campus cops to come and ensure safety.

            At least where I went to school, if a klansman came around and started preaching white supremacy or challenging students of colour, there would be an excellent good chance that at least someone would be leaving on a stretcher.

            Once more: stipulated that the students misidentified the friar, and did so counter to at least Occam’s and Hanlon’s razors. But now, as a student labouring under that misapprehension, what’s the best course of action? Ignore the guy and figure nobody’s going to get hurt?Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to dragonfrog says:

              Absent witnessing some kind of actionable offense, yes. Cross the street, avoid the bugger, maybe call the non-emergency number and see if there is a Klan rally in town you didn’t know about.

              Calling the police because that person makes you nervous/anxious/afraid/whatever is exactly what started the chain of events that caused John Crawford to get dead (not to mention how many times police were called on minorities for being dark skinned and wearing ‘inappropriate attire’ in the wrong wealthy neighborhood).Report

            • Chip Daniels in reply to dragonfrog says:

              “…somebody leaving on a stretcher..”

              Like the recent Klan rally in Anaheim where some guy did in fact leave on a stretcher?

              That’s when the same old farts pen comments about how thuggish and out of control these kids are today and have no respect for playing by the rules.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                IIRC the Klan was decidedly on the wrong end of that dust up.Report

              • dragonfrog in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Well exactly.

                I very much expect that’s the kind of thing that would have happened at my school – if some goober(s) in white pointy hood(s) show up and start ranting about race, there will probably be fighting, and they will be badly outnumbered. Maybe klan goober is the one who gets scared and knifes someone in self defence. Maybe he doesn’t have a knife or get it out in time, goes down, and gets kicked in the head.

                No matter how unsympathetic he is, I would rather the police escorted him away safely.Report

          • Alan Scott in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            Oscar Gordon: (Note, the Dominican garb does not, and never has to my knowledge, included the very distinct white pointy hood that the KKK is known for).

            Here, your knowledge may be wrong. The Capirote originated in Spain as a mark of penance and is still used as part of Easter celebrations there. At least some of the sources I’ve found suggested it began with the Dominican order.Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to Alan Scott says:

              Learn something new every day. Still, not a common element of the Dominican garb, at least, none if the friars from the monastery I lived near ever wore such a thing in public, perhaps to avoid the stigma the klan had managed to attach to it (see: swastikas).Report

            • KenB in reply to Alan Scott says:

              My daughter did a spring semester in Spain a few years ago and sent back some pictures of Easter in Granada — viewed from an American context they looked very freaky. When I first read about this story, I assumed that’s what the kids saw, and so their concern seemed understandable. After I saw the actual picture, not so much.Report

              • Gabriel Conroy in reply to KenB says:

                I agree. My wife and I went to Spain a year ago around Easter time. She’d been there several times before and told me about the parades of people in robes reminiscent of the Klan. So I knew what to expect and knew that it wasn’t a big deal. And even if she hadn’t warned me, I’d like to think I’d be smart enough to figure out that Spain is not the U.S.

                That said….it still made me very uneasy to see those peopleReport

              • Kim in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

                Does Persona 4’s character design make you uneasy?
                If so, the trolling goes deeper than you think…Report

            • notme in reply to Alan Scott says:

              Did you read your own link? It says, “The capirote is not to be confused with the pointed hoods worn by members of the Ku Klux Klan.” Frankly, I don’t see how you could confuse the two.Report

              • switters in reply to notme says:

                Right, because Wikipedia included “[its] not to be confused with pointed hoods worn by members of Ku Klux Klan” only because there was no chance of that happening. Just like I’m sure they include “its not to be confused with a fire ant” in the article about Elephants.

                There is no way they would have included that line if there was a real chance of that confusion happening. Thanks for pointing that out, NotmeReport

              • notme in reply to switters says:

                You are welcome.Report

              • Kim in reply to notme says:

                Just check out persona 4.
                All your questions will be answered by Freddie Mercury.Report

          • Kim in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            I want campus police doing their damn job, and supervising weapon-wielding folk is their job. Doesn’t matter if it’s the SCA or the S&M club.Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to Kim says:

              Oh please, a whip is about as much of a weapon as a baseball bat or a hockey stick. Hell, using a whip as a weapon requires actual skill & practice.

              If a guy with a whip is worth the attention of the police, then so is every athlete or martial artist walking home from a late practice with their equipment.Report

  12. greginak says:

    I’m sympathetic to a lot of what you say here. Granted i take the ” kids are soft nowadays” stuff as classic old people always thinking young people have it easy. But whatever on that. The IU stuff and a lot of the various reactions people have are way overblown. Yeah White Power is pretty fringy and the KKK are way down. However when White Power is still a thing, and it very much is, with a prez candidate who proud WP types are happy about and then people come dressed as a group the were a bunch of murdering terrorists( no hyperbole there) just laughing at them seems wrong. The KKK types are taking the mantle of righteous murder and White Power. Who says they will always be down? Why assume they won’t grow if not opposed.

    What about jews who see swastikas? Should they be scared? Mock the overreaction but ignoring that these admittedly small groups of peeps aren’t trying to build something nasty is wrong.Report

  13. DavidTC says:

    It is a bit interesting how the right has, in fact, constantly pushed danger and fear, and then turns around and gets all pissy and mocky when college students, having grown up in that environment, internalize it.

    Why is it does the right think it’s completely absurd when college students are supposedly ‘scared’ of a spraypainted Trump-supporting graffiti, but when a passenger on an airplane makes a fuss about a bunch of Muslims on the plane, she’s just…over-protective? Discriminated against for not being PC? (At this point, I’m being charitable by assuming they’ll agree she was *mistaken* in her request.)

    A very few college students seem to want to remove dissent from college campuses, a position that is vastly overstated and is probably just young people being overenthusiastic dumbasses. But demanding that *Muslims* stay out of the country is an entirely reasonable position, apparently.

    The college students are all just participating in the culture of fear that the *right* has been pushing this entire time. But the one thing you absolutely cannot do in this society is aim that fear *at the establishment*. Or anyone on the right. Even if, statistically, that actually is where the threat comes from to college students. (It’s not *Muslims* tear gassing students. And while most college-level school shootings are apolitical, a lot of them are misogynistic white men.(1))

    And, yes, all that fear is not *completely* from the right…stranger danger nonsense and all that, but this sort of fear *used to* be a thing that didn’t apply to adults and young people were desperate to escape.(2) But *current* young people have spent their entire life being told there are all sorts of threatening things for adults, also….and *actually believed* that.

    They’re just believing it ‘the wrong way’ for the right to be happy about it. I have a feeling that if students were running around scared of students that looked Muslims, and protesting speakers who promoted ‘internationalism’ or ‘communism’, like they’re *supposed* to, the right wing would be steadfastly defending their right to control their own campuses.

    1) Most ‘school shootings’ actually happen from gang violence at the high or even middle school level, usually just killing one or even no people. But we, as society, have decided those don’t actually count…and they don’t happen at the college level anyway.

    2) Well, I’m speaking for white cis men here. Other people correctly carried a different set of fear into adulthood. But they tended to be *specific*, well-defined fears, from personal experience, and more importantly are *actually reasonable*, not a general ‘everyone is out to get you’ fear.Report

    • Nevermoor in reply to DavidTC says:

      Oh c’mon @davidtc . Those strong independent minds of Oklahoma definitely weren’t reacting out of fear to imagined risks when they banned sharia law. That was just plain old American pragmatism and courage.Report

  14. Burt Likko says:

    Thank you for this remarkable and enjoyable post, J.R. I had not even heard about students mistaking a cleric for a klansman and I find it as amusing and sadly credible as the urban legend of the fast-food cashier who called the police to report a counterfeiter after being presented with a two dollar bill.

    So here’s the thing. Parents have always wanted to protect their children. And the media has always known that it can sell movie tickets, commercials, and otherwise generate revenue by playing to peoples’ fear. It’s not the case that the moral panics of Satanists-under-every-rock-all-over-America panics of the 1980’s was a particularly new thing. That flavor of it was kind of new, but adults have always had irrational fears of their children being corrupted by something, and done irrational things to protect them after having those irrational fears provoked by melodramatic media.

    Something else must be going on, or have gone on, other than moral panics. I point to @j_a’s comment above, because it seems to me that this, too, is a related phenomenon, one in which surfaces from time to time in the culture, one in which it appears we collectively have allowed ourselves to become more susceptible to our own fears and more governed by our internal emotions than external realities. Feeling safe is treated as the same thing as actually being safe.

    While there’s certainly something to this observation, it’s also possible to take that observation a bit too far. The real problem, as I see it, is that we want to police against actual discrimination, and have maximal freedom, and at some point those desires come into conflict. Finding the balance point between an environment free from discrimination (harassment is a form of discrimination) and an environment in which there is maximal freedom of expression becomes difficult when the fact that sometimes, people say obnoxious things gets thrown into the mix. It’s easy to say, in the abstract, that freedom of expression triumphs, but emotionally hard to impose that decision when confronted with the actual reality of ugly speech. (What if it had been an actual Klansman instead of a perfectly nice priest taking an innocent walk? What about @veronica-d ‘s story of seeing an actual Nazi walking down the street?)

    Finding that balance point is hard, and rarely pleases anyone.Report

    • Damon in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Hell, what about the year I worked with an actual neo nazi?Report

      • dragonfrog in reply to Damon says:

        I never worked with a neonazi to my knowledge, but I briefly shared a room in a worker’s hostel with one. Showed me where you could still sort of see the swastika through his cover tattoo, played me some music about killing black people. It was awkward.Report

    • pillsy in reply to Burt Likko says:

      It may be; it may also be that we are simply more aware of people letting their own fears get out of hand, as @francis suggested. Then again, it may actually be that people are more scared and feel less safe because of the immediacy provided by social media. There are, among other things, a number[1] of very loud and proud neo-Nazis on Twitter, who get in people’s face[2], and then those incidents are further signal-boosted by the whole viral process where people who see something awful screenshot it so their friends can also see that awful thing, and you can see why people might start thinking there are Klansmen coming through the walls.

      [1] Probably thousands, which is tiny fraction of the system’s user base, but even a few dozen committed buttheads yammering away at you feels like “a lot”.

      [2] Often to the point of threats, doxxing, et c.Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to pillsy says:

        I remember reading once how old people who watched a lot of tv were more prone to depression and anxiety than those who didn’t.
        The idea being that a steady diet of shocking news-at-eleven outrages instilled in them the idea that the world was a wild lawless dangerous place, even though they themselves had never experienced any real threat.

        I suspect it is that way with social media- the whipping up of the Twitter pack into a frenzy over fear and OMG What She Did Next Will Outrage You style clickbait.

        I have shared before that the Mrs and I never lock our front door, we never lock our car, and keep the keys in the center console.

        Partly because we are lazy, partly because everything we own is crap, but mostly as a statement of how we view the world- how we want to view the world. That we believe we live in a world of safety and security, of abundance and goodwill.

        What is odd is how some people actually get not just perplexed, but even angry- she came out once to find a note on the front seat scolding her leaving the door unlocked and window open.

        I do think that some people want very badly to believe in a world of constant threat and danger, so it can validate whatever baser impulses they may have. Or maybe they’re just nuts.Report

        • J_A in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          We once had to carry my mother to an emergency cardiologist visit because her blood pressure was over the top and her heart rate was at alarming levels

          She was stressed due to several days of watching nonstop some news on TV (irrelevant to the story).

          Doctor’s orders were to stop caring about TV news. It workedReport

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to J_A says:

            No kidding. I tend to watch the morning news just to catch weather & traffic. This morning, in the space of 3 minutes, I had to hear about a shooting, a nasty wreck that killed people, a guy falling into a hot spring at Yellowstone, and teasers for at least two other tragic stories from other parts of the country before I found the remote and turned the TV off.Report

        • Zac Black in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          Chip Daniels:
          I do think that some people want very badly to believe in a world of constant threat and danger, so it can validate whatever baser impulses they may have.

          This. It’s this.Report

          • Catchling in reply to Zac Black says:

            It’s a major part of why action movies often have such over-the-top stakes, and are more appealing for it. If the bad guys possess a device whose activation will end life as we know it, and the only way to stop them is by car, then I finally have an excuse to drive madly around, over, and through the vehicles of those assholes who make my commute home such misery.Report

    • @burt-likko

      I find it as amusing and sadly credible as the urban legend of the fast-food cashier who called the police to report a counterfeiter after being presented with a two dollar bill.

      True story (and I probably told this before, so my apologies if you heard it), when I was a naive 22-year-old-ish bank teller, someone deposited a 2-dollar bill with me. I had seen 2-dollar bills before, but this one seemed different–something about the feel of the paper or the way ink looked or whatever. I took it to my supervisor and she looked at it, chuckled, and said, “if they’re counterfeiting 2-dollar bills, they must be pretty desperate.”Report

  15. Tod Kelly says:

    @j-r Dude. This is a fabulous post.

    Top to bottom, just aces.Report

  16. Maria says:

    I don’t disagree with some points about the kids these days. I have done my fair share of eye rolling at some of the stories that have made it onto my radar about over sensitivity and entitlement. But in this scenario I feel for the person(s) who actually saw the friar and made the mistake that he was a member of the KKK. There are people my age (i.e. people old enough to be these kids’ parents) who could make the same mistake. In most parts of this country you just don’t see priests and friars walking around town in their robes. Heck, it is rare to see a member of the clergy wearing their collar or any other identifying garb outside of church. We are a religious country, but we are pretty darn ignorant about religions that are not our own. Add to that the fact that many people are not well versed in our own history. They know that the KKK wore white robes, but they don’t necessarily know what they looked like. I suspect it was an honest mistake, stemming from a lack of exposure to people outside of the bubble of their hometown and amplified by social media.

    The fear/wariness thing is a separate issue as far as I am concerned. Kids these days have been taught, by their parents/society/media/etc, to be wary of those who appear to not belong in any given situation. That judgement of who doesn’t belong will be different for each person based on their life experiences, but the fear that exists behind it is real for a large number of them. A guy walking around campus in a long white robe stood out to someone (a few people?) as not belonging and thus started the social media sharing of incorrect information. The ultimate game of Telephone.Report

  17. Kazzy says:

    This is not meant tk be a criticism of the post as a whole, as it offers a well-considered perspective…

    But as a white dude, I’m loathe to tell Black folks what they should or should not be afraid of with regards to racism.Report

    • InMD in reply to Kazzy says:

      I think that sentiment is well intentioned and see utility in it to a point. It’d be impossible to try to address the racial disparities in this country without listening to the people who are most often victims of them. However youre also assuming that black people arent just as capable as everyone else of holding irrational fears or other misconceptions about where threats lie.Report

      • veronica d in reply to InMD says:

        No one here is suggesting that minorities can never be wrong on these issues, nor that white people cannot be correct. That said, on a forum of mostly middle-class white dudes, one wonders why you folks in particular have any insight into the topic? After all, much of this discussion is a “those darn kids today” discourse, and it’s pretty clear that most of you have zero experience being the target of white power hate groups. So how do you know what overreaction looks like?

        It’s obvious that “kids today are wimps” is an attractive narrative to a certain type of person with certain social/political attitudes. Fine. It’s also clear that you can find the tweets you want to find to show the story you want to show. The OP mentions that (then proceeds to ignore the implications).

        For example, the other day I was sitting in a bar across the street from Harvard, and some brotastic jackasses came in, wearing Harvard gear so I guess they were students. Anyway they were loud and callous and jerky and everything you might expect to hate among guys like that. Big shock. They bartender and I shared some eyerolls.

        Anyway, whatevs. Guys like that exist, callous and horrible. They are no doubt common enough on every college campus.

        But let us ignore them and concentrate on the black kid saying stuff you don’t like.

        If you want insight, there are two paths. One is the deep knowledge path, where you live the life. That’s hard, and you can only see what you see. The other is the broad statistical path, where you do the work to gather hard data and weed out bias. These are the only ways.

        There is another approach that is more fun, cherry picking random tweets, quoted endlessly by those with an axe to grind. However, that is not the path to any kind of insight.


        If you’ve never had White Power come at you, close and personal, face to face, then there is a side to the story that you are missing. How would you get that story?

        I suspect that many of those tweets come from minority students, who perhaps have struggled in ways that you all did not, who overcame obstacles that would have crushed you, and who are now living the “minority life” at a whitebread school. That is an experience very unlike yours. (Or so I suspect.) The “kids today” discourse might work on privileged white kids playing campus radical. But to my view, it does not seem so fitting when applied to a black student reacting to (rumors of) a klansman.

        I dunno. I would expect to see more humility and more empathy in how we approach this topic.

        What are college kids today really like? What is it like to be a minority student today? What are the contours of campus politics?

        Myself, I have no idea, but I’m pretty sure that nothing in this thread is giving me an answer.Report

        • Tod Kelly in reply to veronica d says:

          … said the white woman who just above helpfully explained to the black man where he was wrong about how to react to such a thing.Report

          • veronica d in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            …said the white woman who just above helpfully explained to the black man…

            Heh, really?

            Well of course 🙂

            I mean, obviously I don’t know everyone’s race here. Nor do I need to, necessarily. It’s not like folks need to tag their posts [black opinion] or [queer opinion]. That said, experience and perspective matters, and the general zeitgeist on this forum is really rather sheltered, in my opinion —

            — but we throw rocks at others for being sheltered. It’s kinda silly.

            Step back. Ask yourself, how well do you really understand the situation?

            Anyway, I think my point still stands in the broader conversation. Most of you are middle-class white/str8/cis dudes. And if not all of those things, then many of those things.

            It’s like, intersectionality, dude (she says while folding her arms and nodding)

            Plus my first sentence was, “No one here is suggesting that minorities can never be wrong on these issues, nor that white people cannot be correct.” So yeah. I know trans women with whom I disagree on gender stuff. I’m not selling the SJW caricature that “privilege conversations” are always these one-dimensional, black/white (!) affairs.

            But still!

            If you all want to complain about “kids today,” why not complain about the smug “bro-dudes” who infest every campus? Myabe cuz they’ve been around forever, and thus you take them for granted? Or maybe you’re actually kinda sympathetic to them? Or something else? I dunno.

            Like, I’ll listen to (for example) Freddie complain about this stuff, cuz he lives it. (And I recall one article where he made it clear he was targeting children of privilege at his school, mostly middle-class white kids, not the actual minorities and working class folks. Fair enough.)

            On the other hand, Freddie, in his role as a smug white academic, is self-interested. In fact, I rather consider him a douche. So yeah.

            In the end, I think we’ve gone about as far as anecdote will take us, and we need some numbers. The nice thing about number is, you can take a bunch of “subjective realities” and (maybe sometimes) find the real contours that shape those realities. Then you can learn stuff.

            For example, I can talk all day about my experiences as trans woman, and indeed I do (she says with an ironic smirk). But I can back that up with a ton of social science that shows I’m not imaging things.

            Are kids really like this? Is it really that bad? Freddie says so. Others say otherwise. Let’s see some data.

            Until then, I wish you all would stop being grouchy old dudes.Report

        • j r in reply to veronica d says:

          I suspect that many of those tweets come from minority students, who perhaps have struggled in ways that you all did not, who overcame obstacles that would have crushed you, and who are now living the “minority life” at a whitebread school.

          The whole point of the post is that this unlikely the case. Quite the opposite, these kids are likely having this reaction, because they grew up largely without having to negotiate real racism. And that’s why they are so focused on microagrressions and the idea of the Klan and the belief that authority figures can and will protect them from anything.

          If you’re not getting any answers here, maybe it’s because you’ve already comenwith your own.Report

          • Don Zeko in reply to j r says:

            As I read it, this post was about how the Ku Klux Klan, a specific organization, is a shadow of its former self, not about how easy it is to be non-white in America today.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to j r says:

            As I see it, there were several groups of respondents:
            A) People on campus who saw the person in question who are not a member of a subgroup of people who are currently or were historically targeted by the Klan.
            B) People on campus who saw the person in question who are a member of a subgroup of people who are currently or were historically targeted by the Klan.
            C) People on campus who did not see the person in question but learned of him via social media who are not a member of a subgroup of people who are currently or were historically targeted by the Klan.
            D) People on campus who did not see the person in question but learned of him via social media who are a member of a subgroup of people who are currently or were historically targeted by the Klan.
            E) People off campus who learned of the person in question via social media who are not a member of a subgroup of people who are currently or were historically targeted by the Klan.
            F) People off campus who learned of the person in question via social media who are a member of a subgroup of people who are currently or were historically targeted by the Klan.

            I think each of these groups’ responses need to be considered separately from the rest. Determining the rationality of a response depends mightily on context. I think the analysis offered here is sound for some of these groups and unsound for others.Report

            • j r in reply to Kazzy says:

              I disagree. I’m 40 years old and I’ve never in my lifetime had a legitimate reason to truly fear the KKK. What has changed in the last 20 years to make that so?

              If I were alone on a back road in rural Idaho, fear might be an emotion that crept in to the picture. But we are talking about a populated college campus. Even if there were a guy walking around in a KKK robe, chances are that it’s someone trying to play provocateur. If people get offended or upset or moved to violent reaction in that situation, that i get. I just don’t get the fear. I guess there is a small chance of an active shooter situation, but I propose that fear is equally irrational.

              Fear is a natural reaction in certain situations , but we are talking about people having intense emotional reactions when confronted with supposedly offensive ideas. That’s not a natural reaction, that was learned.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to j r says:


                Are you a member of a group that was or is targeted by the Klan?

                I’ve told the story before about the time I was at a small town bar in Maine and some drunk local started dropping the N-bomb for all to hear. I was offended for a couple of different reasons. Was I scared? Not really. I mean, I guess there was a general discomfort being in close proximity to someone who was heavily intoxicated AND severely lacking good judgement, impulse control, and the like. But that could have emerged even without the use of such vitriolic language.

                Had I been a Black dude, I’d likely have had a VERY different reaction. And — my hunch is — rightfully so. That is to say, it would strike me as rationale to have feared this man.

                I think we also need to make clear how many people were registering their offense and how many were expressing fear.

                “A KKK dude on campus? WTF!” is different than, “I cannot leave my dorm room. I hear a Klansmen is afoot.”

                You share some responses that undoubtedly are rooted in fear. But how representative were those of the broader response?

                And, again, the Klan was a terrorist organization in the truest sense: they sought to terrorize a segment of the population, partially through the donning of particular outfits. There are people alive today who felt the very real fear that the Klan once instilled with some regularity; I know this to be true because I have met them and heard their stories. Would we consider it wholly illegitimate if their children and grandchildren — hearing these same stories but lacking firsthand experience — were similarly scared?

                It might not be fully rationale. Fear, by its nature, rarely seems fully rational. But it also doesn’t strike me as irrational for a Black person on a college campus in 2016 to be scared when hearing that the KKK has showed up on campus. Maybe that is just where you and I disagree.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

                But it also doesn’t strike me as irrational for a Black person on a college campus in 2016 to be scared when hearing that the KKK has showed up on campus. Maybe that is just where you and I disagree.

                Does the fact that the guy wasn’t KKK matter at all when evaluating whether the students’ fear was “irrational”? Seems to me it does. In fact, in my view it sorta confirms that point.Report

              • notme in reply to Stillwater says:

                I agree. The mere presence of a KKK member isn’t necessarily threatening but depends of what they are doing? Are they peacefully speaking or passing out leaflets or doing something violent?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to notme says:

                And yet Muslims or Muslim-y looking people who had the temerity to sit on an airplane like everyone else were roundly considered threatening.Report

              • notme in reply to Kazzy says:

                That doesn’t make it right just a understandable human reaction to recent Islamic terrorism. But that is different to these poor delicate snowflakes that haven’t ever seen a kkk member and have grownup listening to liberals chat about racxist republicans.Report

              • dragonfrog in reply to notme says:

                Ah shoot that’s gold.

                Fearing a Muslim is understandable given past actions of members of a few terrorist organizations who identify themselves as Muslim.

                Fearing a uniformed member of a terrorist organization that identifies itself as Christian is irrational because they might just be here handing out leaflets today.

                That is solid gold, thank you for that. Award yourself extra honey in your tea or something.Report

              • notme in reply to dragonfrog says:

                Get real. We see islamic terrorism every day. Below Oscar pointed out that he searched for news about the kkk (peaceful or violent) on that campus and couldn’t find any. One is a present day threat and the other frankly imaginary.Report

              • dragonfrog in reply to notme says:

                I don’t know if you still don’t get my point or are just trying really hard not to admit to yourself you do. Either way it’s adorable.Report

              • notme in reply to dragonfrog says:

                Thanks, I’m glad you find me so adorable. However, it doesn’t change anything about the fantasy of this kkk member.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to notme says:

                And I assume you’ll condemn every cop who shoots someone holding a toy gun or wallet. Because it doesn’t matter what he FELT or THOUGHT WAS TRUE. All that matters is that the person didn’t pose a threat to him and that he should have known that and should have acted accordingly.

                Or are the rules different there, too?Report

              • notme in reply to Kazzy says:

                And I assume you’ll condemn every cop who shoots someone holding a toy gun or wallet

                No the context and facts of the situation matter. Can you not comprehend such a simple concept?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to notme says:

                So our expectations for college students — armed with nothing more than Twitter — are *HIGHER* for assessing context and facts than they are for police officers who are armed and empower with deadly force?

                College students are irrational for hearing, “There is a KKK member on campus,” and thinking, “AH!”
                Trained police offers are rational for hearing, “There is a Black kid with a gun in the park,” and thinking, “Shoot first, ask questions later.”

                That is the world you want to live in? Cool beans. I’ll choose a different one, thankyouverymuch.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to notme says:

                When is the last incident of Islamic terrorism on an American airliner?

                Let’s get specific! When is the last incidient of Islamic terrorism on an American airliner making a domestic flight along the east coast?

                Remember… all the 9/11 hijackers were on cross-country flights. And the shoe bomber was on an international flight. So if we want to talk SOLELY about this campus we should talk about the specific routes individuals fly on an how much terrorism they’ve seen. If the answer is “none” than their fear is wholly irrational. According to you.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to notme says:

                How do you know what these people have scene or experienced? The KKK marched in NYC in my lifetime.Report

              • notme in reply to Kazzy says:

                Wow they peacefully marched in your city one time during your lifetime. You should definitely be on guard. You should check under your bed and in your closet tonight.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to notme says:

                Are your goalposts inflatable? Or are they on wheels? It is remarkably how quickly you move them.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Stillwater says:

                No, because we are talking about the person’s response to the information provided. If someone told him a Klansmen was on campus and he took that person’s word as truth, than he would be responding to the existence of a Klansmen on campus… even if this turned out to be false. Now, whether he should have taken that person at his word is a different question. I’m referring primarily to the people that heard second or third-hand. As I note above, the people who saw the guy are in a different bucket than the people who were told about a Klansmen.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

                Kazzy, there was no KKK member trolling campus, either looking for a fight or otherwise. So by definition the whole experience of Fear was irrational. Folks were afraid of an idea, not a person.

                I mean, this is like a perfect thought experiment to determine when fear is justified. And in this case there was – by definition – no threat.Report

              • dragonfrog in reply to Stillwater says:

                If someone tells you there’s supposed to be frost tonight, and then there’s no frost and it turns out they accidentally misread the weather report in the paper, were you acting rationally or irrationally to blanket your tomato plants?Report

              • Autolukos in reply to dragonfrog says:

                Where do you live, and how common is frost at this time of year?Report

              • dragonfrog in reply to Autolukos says:

                Edmonton, Alberta. Frost would be somewhat surprising at this time of year, but not shocking. Folks I know who grew up here have seen snow in every month of the year.Report

              • notme in reply to dragonfrog says:

                So the details actually do matter, how novel.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to dragonfrog says:

                If this campus has a history of Klan members frequently showing up to harrass or lynch students, then a regularity would justify a reasonable response to the original claim. But as Oscar mentioned somewhere on this thread there hadn’t been any such history.

                Plus, did I mention that the guy wasn’t a Klan member?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Stillwater says:

                Someone tells you they saw a zebra on campus. Do you think, “It’s probably a horse?” Or do you think, “That’s really fucking weird that there is a zebra on campus?”Report

              • notme in reply to Kazzy says:

                It depends. Is there a zoo nearby? Is the campus near the country? These details matter to folks that actually think critically about things rather than just believe what other folks tell them.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to notme says:

                So, again, someone tells you they saw with their own eyes a zebra, your first thought is, “I bet they saw something that WASN’T a zebra.” That seems… irrational.Report

              • notme in reply to Kazzy says:

                I try to think critically about everything instead of just assuming that what someone tells me what they think is true. It’s means that when something so out of the ordinary happens (like a zebra on a college campus) I like to confirm it myself below I make an assumption.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to notme says:

                Here we have an interesting situation… You are telling me that you try to think critically. And yet I find it highly unlikely that this is to be true because all available evidence I have tells me that you do not in fact ever try to think critically. I therefore must conclude that you do not think critically.


              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Kazzy says:


                Let’s all remember our good friend Occam & his sharp postulate.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Also, Occam’s razor doesn’t say what most people think it is.

                It says, “Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.”

                So when someone says, “I saw a KKK member on campus,” what requires fewer assumptions:

                1.) This person is lying or wrong and there is not a KKK member on campus.
                2.) This person saw a KKK member on campus.

                It seems to me that the latter requires far fewer assumptions.

                The question isn’t, “At any given time, what is the likelihood of a KKK member on campus?”
                The question is, “Given that an eyewitness has informed you that they have seen a KKK member on campus, what is the likelihood they are wrong?”
                Is the answer to the latter really, “Greater than 50%?” That would surprise me.Report

              • scott the mediocre in reply to Kazzy says:

                Meh, Occam’s razor is (IMHO) better phrased as “the hypothesis with the lowest joint improbability”. Cue standard intro to Bayes’ Law (then for the masochists among us, Kolmogorov complexity :), even though it doesn’t really apply here). So given a modestly low prior on robed KKK members on campus and an eminently supportable low confidence in eyewitness identification, yes, the posterior probability on misidentification of the KKK member is indeed >> 50%.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to scott the mediocre says:

                “…an eminently supportable low confidence in eyewitness identification…”

                I’ll make you an offer: When we get cops, DAs, judges, and lawyers to stop relying so heavily on eyewitness identification when making actual life-and-death decisions regarding guilt and innocence, I will criticize college kids for overreacting to eyewitness identification and making a fuss on social media. Deal?

                Until then, it seems we have higher expectations for untrained professionals engaging in low-stakes actions than we do for trained professionals engaging in high-stakes actions. I’m not really comfortable with that.

                Had these young people formed an ACTUAL mob instead of a Twitter mob, I’d take a very different stance.Report

              • scott the mediocre in reply to Kazzy says:

                (BTW, Oscar Gordon is doing a better job, unsurprisingly, of saying what I was trying to say. I’ll shut up after this unless you particularly want a response to your response, if any)

                If your deal were realistically on offer, I would jump at it, which is to say:

                In terms of consequences attributable to unjustified confidence in eyewitness identification/testimony, police/criminal justice system actions utterly dwarf (dare we say, trump) those of some college kids wetting their pants. As you point out, the direct consequences of the minor-grade freakout in response to misidentification were basically negligible: no one was shot, went to prison, or “just” spent an unjustifiable amount of time being ground through the gears of the criminal justice system (I imagine there is some unjustifiable grinding in the civil justice system as well, beyond that which is epiphenomenal to the criminal justice system, but if so it’s much less studied).

                My reply to you was intended to take minor issue with your characterization of Saint William’s Shaving Apparatus, and to strongly disagree with your idea of reasonable bounds estimates of the posterior probability of the KKK-garbed person.

                I am not intending to beat up on the kids, although I can see why you thought I was. On the contrary, given how they have spent basically their entire lives being bombarded with fear messages, and seeing negligible consequences attach to the adults in their lives modelling pants-wetting, how could anyone expect them to be otherwise? Not I.

                I went to school (Caltech and Berkeley) in the late 70s; I don’t recall anything like the same culture of fear I hear about from my older daughter, who graduated a year ago from Cal State Fullerton, the site in 1976 of one of the worst campus mass shootings – seven dead. Talking to people who went there in the Eighties and Nineties (I don’t anybody who was there in 1976) it does not appear that the median paranoia level was any different than say Cal State Northridge.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to scott the mediocre says:

                I agree wholeheartedly about fear messaging.

                What’s worth pointing out is that if I was engaging with these kids (and as a teacher, I do engage with kids daily, albeit youngr ones), I’d offer them a similar message to what JR offers here. In fact, on the individual level, my message is almost always along those lines: don’t let yourself be a victim; control what you can; perservere. So if a friend complained about being a victim of racism or sexism or whathaveyou, I’d be empathetic but ultimately say push on… EVEN if they’re right! “That sucks and was wrong. Don’t let it decide your fate.”

                But I’d then turn to others and plead their case. “Holy fuck guys… What happened to Jim was wrong!”

                The thing here is we tend to have more non-victims than victims so you see much more of my addressin-the-non-victim side.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Kazzy says:

                Running with Occam here, if I’m on campus in, say, WI, where I went to school, and a friend called me up to say they say a Zebra running down the street, I would not believe them because:

                A) As has been discussed many times on this site, and elsewhere, eyewitness testimony is horribly unreliable.

                B) Zebras are not native to the Midwest, so unless it escaped from a zoo or circus, it probably wasn’t a zebra (and hey, modern technology! I can check the local news on my phone and see if there are any reports of an escaped Zebra, or if the local zoo even has Zebras, or if there is a circus in town with Zebras in their menagerie).

                If my friend was in, say, Mombasa, Kenya, that would be a very different story.

                C) Assuming my friend is in Madison, WI, on campus, and probably a student, then more likely explanations include, but are not limited to: He saw a cow with a unique pattern (Madison has a working dairy farm on campus), he saw a horse or pony with a B&W pattern, he saw a costume or prop in bad lighting, or he’s been putting recreational mushrooms on his pizza again.

                In short, I would need to eliminate all of the more likely possibilities before I could even hope to entertain the notion that he saw an actual Zebra on campus.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:


                What is the likelihood of a KKK member on campus?
                What is the likelihood of a Dominican friar on campus?

                Let’s say the first is .1%. And the second is .3%. Sure, the second is 3x more likely! But they are also both highly unlikely such that it isn’t particularly reasonable to assume the latter when told of the former.

                Now, if the likelihood of a KKK member on campus is .001%, the likelihood of there not being a KKK member on campus is 99.9%. So, yea, it is far far far far far far more likely that at any given time there is not a KKK member on campus than there is. But we aren’t talking about any given time. We are talking about a situation wherein someone has given you good faith evidence of a KKK member on campus. Inaccurate evidence, but this is not known at the time. Skepticism isn’t unwarranted. But is trust really unwarranted?

                If the weather report said there was a 10% chance of rain today and you were locked in a windowless basement and someone came running in and said, “Holy crap… it’s raining!” your first instinct would really be to think, “It is almost CERTAINLY not raining despite what this upstanding fellow is telling me”? AND you think your typical college student — one who hates the rain — is going to apply this type of analysis such that him drawing a different conclusion (i.e., that it is raining) is unreasonable?Report

              • Fortytwo in reply to Kazzy says:

                If someone told me they saw a zebra on campus, and not in the context of a circus or zoo, I would disbelieve them. How is this not rational? What are the odds of there being a zebra on campus as compared to the odds that someone was confused, high, or stupid? If a witness who I previously knew to be rheliable told me, I would first think they were pulling my leg, and I might eventually believe them.Report

              • dragonfrog in reply to j r says:

                As I said elsewhere around here – some of the reason you’ve never had to fear the KKK is its paucity of members. There just aren’t many klansmen, so you’re very unlikely to meet one going about cross-burning, minority-attacking klan business.

                But once there is one (you believe) in your presence, we’re not talking about prior probability anymore. The likelihood of ever meeting a robed-up klansman has gone from 0.00000 something to (as you now believe) 1. You aren’t fearing or not fearing the klan, you’re fearing or not fearing that guy right there.Report

              • Kim in reply to j r says:

                If you, as a college freshman, stumbled into a private KKK rally, like a friend of mine did in Washington DC, you’d have credible reason to be afraid for your life or limb [I will note that he looks Jewish].Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to Kazzy says:

              Lots of discussion about whether or not the reaction of these kids is justified, which is fine. But I want to expand the horizons a bit here, because I think this case is being argued hard from afar with lots of assumptions being made to justify the position that the reaction was justified. And the justification seems to boil down to, “we can’t know what a given person has experienced that might make their fear all too real for them.”

              Which is fine as it goes, but it goes all the way around. If we have to grant random college kids the benefit of the doubt that their fears have a semi-rational basis in their personal experience, then we have to grant the same to the person who wants a gun for protection, or the person who is terrified of people who present as traditional Muslim (whatever that may be in their head), or the police officer* who claims he thought the cell phone was a gun. Which I am fine with, at the personal level.

              But when a person lets that fear run away with them such that they cry wolf, or begin to demand that the world around them bend** to assuage their fear, then I gotta say stop, and start asking if people have really, rationally thought this through, or are they just reacting to fear? Because in my 40+ years, whenever the world has been told to bend quickly in response to a boogeymen in the closet, it’s seems that the response has been to toss a proverbial grenade in the closet, rather than to just carefully open it up and shine a light.

              *In certain contexts, this can be truly an honest, if very tragic, mistake. IMHO, however, an officer who makes such a mistake should get benched for a few years at least, if not for the rest of their career.

              **It’s not that the world can’t bend, only that it should be done in a measured way, so that hopefully the root of the fear is addressed, rather than just it’s presentation.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:


                But those situations are not analogous.

                Osama Bin Laden was a Sunni Muslim. Sunni Muslims do not typically wear turbans. They may wear other head pieces, but not turbans. Some Shia Muslims wear turbans, but most do not. If you see someone in a turban, the most likely situation is that they are Sikh. I don’t know if there is any history of Sikh terrorism in the United States. And the Sikh certainly have NOTHING TO DO with 9/11 or other instances of Islamic terrorism, in the United States or elsewhere.

                So if you see someone in a turban and think, “I should fear this person because they are a likely Islamic terrorist,” that is highly irrational because it is based on so many falsehoods.

                On the other hand, the KKK did regularly don white robes with a hood. The person seen on campus was wearing a white robe with a lowered hood.

                These kids weren’t looking at a white guy in jeans and a t-shirt and saying, “Ya know, the KKK dudes were white. That guy is white. Holy shit, he’s probably a Klansmen!” They were looking at someone who actually more-or-less fit the description of a Klansmen and thought, “Klansmen.” It looked like a duck and before they went far enough to figure out if it quacked like a duck, they thought, “Duck!” They were wrong. And they probably should have listened for a quack. These people I am willing to criticize. But I am less willing to criticize those who were told, “This thing looked and sounded like a duck and was a duck.”

                In the situation with men in turbans, people saw a bird with a long neck (unlike a duck!) that was in the water (making it similar to ducks but also similar to many other birds) and did not hear the sound it made and said, “Yes, that must be a duck and I am so certain it is a duck I am going to insist that animal control put it with all the other ducks.”

                I don’t see how those situations are analogous.

                Again, my focus is *not* on the eyewitnesses. My focus is on the people hearing about this second- and third-hand.

                If you heard on the news that a terror plot involving your local airport was uncovered, would you still hop in the waiting taxi to the airport? Even though we know how often the news is wrong and how often non-terror plots have been mistaken for terror plots? Would it be irrational for you to say, “Ya know what, let me stay home and figure out what is going on?”

                *THAT* is the scenario I am discussing.

                I’m not talking about excusing a guy who sees an olive-skinned man in the airport carrying a lumpy duffle bag who screams, “Terrorist!” That guy? Yea, let’s call out his irrationality. Let’s call out the kids who got close enough to take this man’s picture and could not determine that he wasn’t a Klansmen.

                Let’s not attack people for accepting things at face value and taking action that extended no further than their Twitter feed. I mean, yea, we can engage in a discussion with them and perhaps help them with their situation analysis. But calling them irrational kranks seems itself, well, irrational.Report

              • J_A in reply to Kazzy says:

                Hell, yes, let’s attack them!

                As painful as it is to agree with notme, you have to keep your mind engaged all the time, and have a healthy skepticism about what other people say.

                You just mentioned that people confuse Sikhs with Muslims all the time (*). That’s because the average American is not a well informed person. They really do not know much about Muslims, Catholic religious orders, geographic distribution of mammals, or much else. So I always factor in the possibility that whoever is talking might be mistaken about an important fact.

                Hell, you are an elementary school teacher. How many times a day you explain to a pupil that something he saw is not what he thinks he saw “No, Peter, he was not an astronaut. He’s the guy that sprays the grounds for bugs, with a safety mask”

                So if I hear about a KKK guy ALONE with a whip, walking in the night wearing the regalia, yes, my first conclusion is that he’s coming or going to a costume or a toga party. KKK members don’t walk alone leisurely looking for gardens to plant a burning cross. Any true KKK member walking alone to a meeting you have ever seen was carrying his hood in a backpack, to don it when he reaches the group.

                I don’t know if this is Occam razor or not, but, of all explanations, the one that is more reasonable FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF THE ACTOR (in this case the alleged Klansman) is the likeliest one. It’s unreasonable to assume a lone Klansman in full regalia walking at night through campus looking for trouble. It’s an irrational action for a member of a terrorist organization, and therefore it’s very likely a mistake of whoever saw him.

                There’s no excuse to disengage your brain just because someone told you something, even if they truly believe it. Next thing we’ll know, Kazzy will believe what politicians say.

                (*) except in old movies and cartoons, do people wear turbans outside India and Indonesia? In any case Indian Muslims are Sunni, so a Real Muslim with a turban is likely a Sunni. Jahanman (Hell), 80% of Muslims are Sunni. Almost any non-Iranian Muslim you meet is Sunni (50-50 if he’s Iraqui or Quatari)Report

              • J_A in reply to J_A says:

                I just remembered that Shia ayatollahs wear turbans. Bad J_A, no cookie for you.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to J_A says:


                I’m not saying we should celebrate, encourage, or blindly accept their interpretations of events. I just don’t think “attacking” is particularly useful. I don’t *attack* my students when they are mistaken. I seek to educate through a variety of means. So, yes, IF we think these students critical thinking skill are ill developed, let us help them to develop them better. Demonizing them on the internet is unlikely to accomplish that.

                As I see it, there are two primary questions here:
                1.) Is it rational for Black and brown folks and Jews and other groups who were (and sometimes still are) targeted by the KKK to fear the KKK? I don’t really have standing to answer that. I can participate in that discussion but I simply lack the experience or perspective to answer that definitively.
                2.) Was it rational for people to believe that a KKK member was on campus? It doesn’t strike me as the most rational thing to believe but it also doesn’t strike me as wholly irrational. On the list of, “I can’t believe people believed that!”, it ranks pretty low. But maybe that’s because I saw someone dress as Hitler for Halloween in college (in 2001).

                Looking at the three responses included in the OP, I’d say the one in the top left that simply says, “Heard there was a KKK dude with a whip, be careful,” is pretty much a nothingburger. The person on the right saying to walk with a friend and avoid going out unless it is dire… yea, that feels like a strong reaction to a sketchy report. The person on the bottom left wondering why the University isn’t protecting them… that seems over the top.

                But if the most common reaction was, “You heard what? That’s fucked up. Keep an eye out just in case that’s legit,” I don’t really see much to criticize.Report

              • J_A in reply to Kazzy says:

                Perhaps attack is the wrong word. I don’t attack them personally. But I really want to fight for critical thinking.

                It is reasonable that minorities are worried about the KKK activities in general. It is unreasonable that a lone Klansman is walking alone in a college campus looking for a minority to whip. The possibility is not zero. Suicide by cop exists, and this would be a close second. But it’s very unlikely.

                Uncritically accepting unreasonable things gives us people that believe a Honolulu paper published a fake birth notice half a century ago as part of a conspiracy to sit s Kenyan baby in the Oval Office a few decades into the future.

                I don’t criticize people not knowing what a Dominican friar looks like. Monks and friars are extremely rare in the USA. I don’t recall seeing one in the street in the 21 years I’ve lived here. I don’t think I’ve even seen one on TV either.

                But to see a KKK-like garb worn by a one random guy in the most uncongenial place for it and not to consider more likely explanations (frat party!! – stay inside; you might get eggs thrown at you, or step on vomit!) is a major failure of critical thinking.

                And the widesprrad failure of critical thinking is probably the biggest theat we face in the USA. The one thing that will surely destoy the country.

                Attack might be the right word after all.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to J_A says:


                I am with you on decrying the lack of critical thinking. I just think this is relatively small potatoes in this fight. And treating these college kids as some sort of extreme, to me, demonstrates a lack of critical thinking.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                Who gets a “THIS IS IRRESPONSIBLE!”?

                Who gets a “Well, you have to understand…”?

                See if patterns develop.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

                Hopefully, the pattern would be that those who are irresponsible will be judged as such and those who deserve understanding are offered it. But hell if I know how that will break down.

                Do you suggest an alternative?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                Yes, to see who gets judged as irresponsible and who gets judged as deserving understanding.

                And to see what the pattern is.

                If there’s a pattern, of course.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

                You seem to be critical of the idea that critical thinking failures happen along a spectrum. Is this accurate?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                Eh, it’s more that ingroup members get “well, you have to understand” and outgroup members get “THIS IS IRRESPONSIBLE!” and it isn’t a critical thinking failure at all.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

                So, it seems to me, the goal is to avoid that pattern emerging. That will be hard.

                Do you suggest a better route towards addressing and responding to failures of critical thinking?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                Well, if we find ourselves saying that the critics of a failure of critical thinking are failing harder than those who experienced object level failures of critical thinking, we might find ourselves wondering if we are really talking about critical thinking.Report

              • pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

                Evidently the pattern is college kids who are disproportionately likely to be members of a minority get a, “This is irresponsible!” for mistaking one kind of white robe for another and sending out anxious tweets about it, while cops who mistake a wallet for a gun and shoot somebody a dozen times get a, “Well, you have to understand….”Report

              • Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

                Great example.

                We can come to the conclusion that there was no harm done in the former (though if the priest got the ever-living shit kicked out of him, we’d have a different conversation) and the latter is a reason to, among other things, get rid of police unions.

                One of the things we want to avoid is people turning these incidents into launchpads for their own personal hobbyhorses.Report

              • DavidTC in reply to Jaybird says:

                We can come to the conclusion that there was no harm done in the former (though if the priest got the ever-living shit kicked out of him, we’d have a different conversation) and the latter is a reason to, among other things, get rid of police unions.

                I find myself baffled as the fact that no one seems to think the fact that *this* situation ended…uh, nothing, whereas all the *other* situations (People talking in Arabic getting kicked off planes, Sihks getting beaten up, etc.), some actually, real harm was caused…and that’s not even getting into the harm caused by police officers killing people under the color of law.

                I.e., these are all literally insane comparisons. It’s like comparing someone throwing a surprise party to a guy who lurks in alleys and murders people while shouting SURPRISE! It’s basically the same thing, right?

                Actual harm matters.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to pillsy says:

                Again, keeping in mind I am not a Twitter user, do we know if the RA and the original tweeter(?) were minority?Report

              • pillsy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                I don’t, which is why I appealed to likelihood.Report

              • veronica d in reply to Jaybird says:


                See if patterns develop.

                Patterns will certainly develop. How could it be otherwise?

                We should observe those patterns, note them, point them out, push back against them if we think they have gone awry, but to say, “Nope, this kind of judgment must be 100% content neutral” is bizarre and inhuman. How does that even work?

                There are groups for whom I have much sympathy. There are groups for whom I have little. There are group for whom I have nothing but disdain.

                Of course there are. How do you do it?


                Right now, in our society, we almost certainly get this wrong, in many ways. For example, there is an obvious way that white working class folks are broadly held in low regard. This is unfair. We should talk about this. But to pass from there to saying, “Hey, actually you should have zero sympathy or understanding for black people in America cuz you don’t pay enough attention to {other group}” —

                Well that is clearly wrong, in the sense that reverse stupidity isn’t smart.

                Instead, I suggest you hold on to your insight, and when the topic of the white working class comes up, you remind people that, hey, this group is also disliked, misunderstood, and struggling. The sympathy given to others should be given to them.

                It’s a strong argument.

                However, it’s probably not going to earn any sympathy for white power, because white power is a bridge too far. Those fuckers are loathsome shits and we should despise them.

                You’ll notice a pattern. I dislike bigots. I’m sympathetic to those targeted by bigots.

                It’s not a perfect heuristic, but insofar as no heuristic is ever perfect, because there is no grand design, then so what if it is not perfect? It’s pretty good. I recommend it, in place of whatever weird moral calibration you seem to use now.

                It is not unfair to judge bigots more harshly than you judge the targets of bigots. In other words, sympathy reflects your values. What are your values?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to veronica d says:

                Well, one thing to look out for is if a dumb incident gets a response of “okay, this was a dumb incident, the people responsible should really be less dumb” (which seems to be somewhere well within the band of appropriate responses to a dumb incident) and if that particular response to the dumb incident gets a response of “HEY HEY HEY WAIT A SECOND”, we might see that it has less to do with the dumb incident and more to do with our feelings about the dynamics behind who is criticizing the dumb incident.

                At which point we can see that there is a lot more going on with the dumb incident than people being dumb who should be less dumb.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

                What, exactly, is your point, Jay?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                That it’s easy to see the potatoes of others as small and one’s own potatoes as large and so criticism that relies heavily on assessment of the ability of others to judge potato size should be given appropriate weight.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well, as I said, avoiding that is hard.

                So, again, I’m asking… do you have an alternative to propose?

                How much weight should be offered this approach given its potential pratfalls?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                I kind of think that how it’s being handled here is doing fairly well.

                “Here. Look at this thing that happened.”
                “Man. That was dumb.”
                “Wait, wait. Let’s talk about this.”
                “Yes. Let’s.”

                And so on.

                If we can reach the conclusion that this was dumb, that’s an important first step.

                If someone else says “Hey, let’s institute this set of policies!” in response to this, we can say “you’ll have to prove that they aren’t dumb”.

                Then they can talk about their policies.

                Are the policies dumb? We can discuss that!

                Do the policies deal with making sure that Dominicans are more sensitive to dumb people? We can hammer out whether that’s dumb. Do the policies deal with a greater emphasis on providing tools to the dumb to make them less dumb? We can hammer out whether that’s dumb. Do the policies deal with saying “dumb will dumb, the important thing is to keep the dumb to a low enough level that nobody ever needs to go to the hospital”? We can hammer out whether that’s dumb. Do the policies deal with us saying “I have seen the dumb and agree that it’s dumb and doing anything that requires more effort than looking and saying ‘dumb’ is too much”? We can hammer out whether that’s dumb.Report

              • J_A in reply to Jaybird says:

                Let it be known that, once you translate this into English, this is a great commentReport

              • veronica d in reply to Jaybird says:

                @jaybird — I mean — I agree. Totally.

                This was a dumb incident. Thinking a monk is a klansman is silly. Having a big shitstorm over such a think is even more silly.

                But this conversation is not, “Hey this was silly.” Instead, it seems mostly, “Kids today are coddled” with a undercurrent for “fucking SJWs!”

                I wonder if whoever first saw this guy and thought “Klansman” feels kinda silly now? I mean, it was a big ol’ nothing.

                But to say, “Oh noes! Kids are too afraid!” like some shrill Fox News commentator — nope. That’s grabbing isolated facts to fit a bullshit narrative. Anyone can play that game and get the results they want.

                If you advocate critical thinking, well time to step up.

                The point is, it is easy enough to say, “That was foolish,” and then move on. From this we can easily choose not to reach grand conclusions.

                Obviously people should be less dumb. However, I’m not the one politicizing this.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to veronica d says:

                Having a big shitstorm over such a think is even more silly.

                Oh, I think that a shitstorm ought to be avoided.

                Out of curiosity, is our comment thread here a “shitstorm” or are we still well within acceptable tolerances for saying “okay, that was dumb”?

                I’m trying to get a calibration, you see.Report

              • veronica d in reply to Jaybird says:

                @jaybird — I think the OP was misguided and basically some elaborate axe-grinding. Which is to say, conversations like this happen. Are they valuable?

                I honestly don’t know. I find them pleasant enough — except for when I don’t.

                Do they serve some grand purpose of political discourse?

                Well, in terms of marginal value, meh. I wouldn’t want to imagine a world where no one ever has these conversations. What would that look like?

                Round and round it goes.

                Right now the “social war” is really heated — but is that new? As an LGBTQ person, I’d be perfectly happy for it to stop, but in terms of a complete victory for “my side.”

                Cuz bigotry is bad. Duh.

                Except that’s not going to happen, and there is no grand design, and we muddle through, and the crystalline vision of a society with all this messiness is — well — a pipe dream. So blah. You ain’t staying out of the mud, cuz we’re naked apes.


                I more or less favor a Popehat model of free speech, which differs somewhat from the most extreme of the “SJW” types. That said, I feel closer to them in spirit than to many self-professed libertarians (although mine is closer to the actual libertarian principles I recall from my youth). Mostly, I don’t mind if bigots and assholes lose big time. I’m free to say so. They are free to whine as they spin down the drain.

                In my view, it works like this, you can say what you want. The government cannot stop you. But you might become a social pariah. No one has the right not to be offended. But they have a right to be offended. And if you are offensive, then you might pay a big price. The government is not the only sort of power.

                The question become, offensive to whom? How does this non-government power work? How can we use it?

                What side are you on?

                And that is where the conversation starts. It is a mistake to think we can sidestep this, or abstract it away, or pretend there is some optimal system that will eliminate social conflict.

                You’re not actually objective. There is no outside view. It’s better to pick a side.


                If I’m sitting on the subway and some chucklefuck in full Klan regalia gets on the train — I mean holy shit. I’m gonna notice. Furthermore, I’m gonna be a bit worried.

                Like what the fuck! Who does that?

                And yes I will be personally concerned about my safety. I have a right to be. A situation like that is unpredictable and weird and I’ve seen shit go down fast.

                I’ll probably post of Tumblr or something, like “Holy fuck there is some Klan motherfucker on the Redline! I bet he gets stomped!”

                I won’t feel much sympathy if he indeed gets “stomped.” I ain’t gonna do it myself, but seriously. Fucking trash.

                I might do something like tweet the MBTA transit cops, not that I think it’s a crime to “dress Klan,” but because I’m pretty damn sure there is gonna be trouble. A guy like that, in my neighborhood, there is gonna be a response. (I live in a fairly black area.)

                I have pretty mixed feelings about the cops. I don’t have mixed feelings about Klansmen.

                If I were on a Jury, and the case was some dude who “stomped” the Klansman — well I would listen to the judge’s instructions and decide the facts of the case, like a juror is supposed to. If he “did it,” I’d find him guilty. That’s my job. But I wouldn’t cry if the judge gave out a light sentence.

                In other words, I would regard such a man differently from how I regard this shitty rapist guy that is in the news.

                Would the judge make a good decision?

                I dunno. It’s complicated. There is a reason we have a political process around judges. Step up.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to veronica d says:

                Well, one of the things I was hoping to avoid was some weird conclusion like:

                “What the students did was dumb, granted, but also perfectly understandable and so we shouldn’t be too hard on them BUT POSTS ON THE INTERNET LIKE THIS ONE AND THE DISCUSSIONS THEY INSPIRE ARE BEYOND THE PALE!”

                Because, if that’s the conclusion, then I know that all of my calibrations are off.

                Or, if they’re *NOT* off, then I’m beginning to suspect that this, like everything, is yet another manifestation in the Culture War.

                So when someone does something dumb, it no longer is about the something dumb, but about who stands to benefit from the something dumb and making sure that IT IS US.

                What side are you on?

                Yeah, my calibrations might not be off after all.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to veronica d says:

                Looking through this entire comments section, and… man, oh man. The weeds we white people will dive into in order to not just sit, listen, and maybe even learn some empathy when a black man describes his personal experience with racism in this county. For a bunch of good-hearted folk who, when talking to other white people at least, seem to know the wisdom of not whitesplaining to people of color, these threads are something.

                I love all y’all mega mega big time, but these threads could pass as the comments section to something Dreher wrote about a Tanehisi column over at the American Conservative..Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:


                If I may ask, who are you referring to when you say “…a black man describes his personal experience with racism in this county.”

                Is @j-r Black? If so, I did not know that. And if I should have, my sincerest apologies to him for the confusion.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Kazzy says:

                “If I may ask, who are you referring to when you say “…a black man describes his personal experience with racism in this county.””

                The author of this post?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Is the author of the post the same J-R commenter? I assumed so and for whatever reason I was under the clear understanding that he was white. But, again, if I was wrong about that, my sincerest apologies to him.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Kazzy says:

                He is,* and he isn’t.**

                * the same JR as the regular OT commenter

                ** whiteReport

              • Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Well then… I stand corrected with a glut of egg on my face. I distinctly remember asking him once upon a time and him telling me he was white but obviously that memory is confused, mistaken, or invented. Eash.Report

              • Damon in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Don’t worry Tod, it’s not just a “white thing”. Everybody does it.Report

              • j r in reply to veronica d says:

                I think the OP was misguided and basically some elaborate axe-grinding.

                I honestly don’t know what this means. Can you elaborate?

                How am I misguided because, in 2016, I don’t fear the Klan and think we would be better off encouraging others not to, as well? In what way would spreading fear of the KKK be a net contribution to progress on the fight against racism and bigotry?


                No apologies necessary. I wrote this piece because it speaks directly to my experience in a number of ways, but I don’t claim any special authority by virtue of demography. Ideas are ideas and they ought to be challenged no matter who speaks them.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to j r says:

                Thanks, JR. As I reflected on my blunder, I wondered if knowing that would have made anything different. I don’t think it would have. I’ve always engaged with the “what” of what you offer and not the “who” because you pretty substantively offer and defend your “what”. This isn’t always true and sometimes the “what” and the “who” are intermingled in such a way that you have to consider both. I don’t think that’s a bad thing but it’s a thing.

                Like I said, I could have sworn I asked you once and could have sworn you said otherwise but obviously that was wrong.

                So, yea, I wouldn’t take much of a different tack here, but it does make your initial response to my initial comment (paraphrased: “I guess that’s why you didn’t write this”) make a hell of a lot more sense. Thanks for being understanding.Report

              • veronica d in reply to j r says:

                @j-r — Your post is not only about not fearing the klan. It is also an example of the current “culture war” narrative about college kids and social justice. That’s a big ol’ axe getting ground.

                And as a few us have pointed out, there is a difference between the klan as a political entity, and white power as a person-to-person, in-your-face threat. As I said numerous times, I indeed fear people like that, and with good reason. Thus, saying we should not fear the klan in terms of their political power does not address what these students might have feared, those who indeed felt fear.


                Regarding the current zeitgeist, the so called “alt right” is — well — it’s complicated. But with the rise in Trumpism, and the “anime nazi” types bubbling out of 4chan, there does seem to be more energy to that collective sphere of terrible. Now, it’s still mostly just some rebellious kids. I’m old enough to remember the histrionic TV newcasters in America just appalled when the Sex Pistols toured the US. The well-dressed whitebread newscasters went on and on about the dangers of punk. Anyway, my point is, seeing the public “afraid” of weird kids is not new.

                I am old enough to have missed the “being goth after Columbine” thing, thank the stars.

                Anyway, punk was punk, goth was goth, and white power is white power. Furthermore, there remains and “old guard” to white power, ready to fill some heads with awful shit.

                Angry young men are angry. “Mangst,” when it plays out in the real world, does not produce Batman. Nor is it usually some legitimate pain over lost love ones. Instead, it is other things, problems with women, Fox-News-fueled grievances with the government, hatred of minorities and/or LGBT, E-T-fucking-C.

                I’m afraid of these guys. I’m not afraid of their political power (although Trump). Their political power is irrational and misdirected. I’m not afraid that they are society’s winners (although Trump). Mostly they are “losers,” at least they feel like losers, for a variety of not-good reasons. But my point is, these things are not what frighten me. Instead, I’m afraid of their personal capacity for violence.

                I’ve encountered it, although never to the point where I was put into the hospital, just a bloody nose or three. But I’ve taken friends to the hospital. And I’ve encountered many times simply the menace these guys bring. They are angry. They are strong. They are unpredictable. Thus they are intimidating. They know they are these things. They know that you know. They make sure that you know. It makes them feel powerful.

                They can kick my ass. I know it. They know it. The cops would never get there in time. So they say shit to me. And I gotta deal with that, both on the outside, how I act, and on the inside, what it does to me as a person.


                I (used to) know some Antifa guys who would train MMA so they could go out and tangle with white power. They got pretty tough. They were also pretty aggressive. They would stalk the nazis, pick off the loners, and kick their asses.

                Now look, I have zero sympathy for white power shitheads getting stomped. But still! This does not seem a healthy approach. I am not the sort who says, “The Rule of Law is sacrosanct beyond all measure.” But I am the sort who says, “The Rule of Law matters.”

                If there is a violent, angry, unpredictable man being openly hostile, yeah I want the cops around. Now, if they were not, I’d settle for some Antifa folks, or anyone who would have my back. I don’t want a beatdown. But, honestly, this is a civil society. The cops, for all their flaws, really should be the ones. I’m not a fucking anarchist.

                I have no idea why white power would be walking openly on a college campus, certainly not why he would be alone. It seems crazy. It seems like, shit might go down. Having the cops around, at least observing, seems wise.

                Which is to say, most cops most of the time are professional enough. We hope.


                A couple years ago I was walking through Dot and a young, very attractive Asian woman ran up and grabbed my hand, completely out of the blue. She begged me to help her, told me her mom was abusing her. Her mother was right there.

                I’m a giant, weird transsexual lesbian standing on the street with a sexy 20-something Asian woman begging me to take her home with me, to keep her from her mom. She is pleading at me, looking right at me. Her gaze is intense.

                Her mom charged over and told me her daughter was mentally ill and off her medication.

                The daughter said her mother was forcing her to work in a nail salon.

                I concluded they were both probably telling the truth.

                I swear to Entropy that this happened. I am telling it best I recall.

                I called the police. I’m not a big fan of the police. I’ve heard about, and seen, enough shit from the Boston PD not to love them. Although, I’ve also seen them get stuff right. I had to call them last year when a roommate was “actually going to do it” threatening suicide. They handled it reasonably well.

                They also handled this situation well. They separated everyone (which, the girl did not want to release my hand), got our stories, called the medical people out. When they arrived, one of the EMTs was a woman, with a very gentle attitude, who coaxed the girl away from me and got her onto the ambulance.

                I am not “overly reliant” on the police. But I do live in a civil society. We have police for a reason.

                A Klansman walking around campus, in full regalia. Yeah, let the campus police know this is going down. It’s a matter of public safety.


                On the other hand, it was a monk. That’s kinda funny.Report

              • j r in reply to veronica d says:


                I am having a hard time reading your comment as anything other than non sequitur. Allowing fear to dominate and increasing our calls for authority to come and make us feel safe does little to combat white supremacy. Being afraid and calling the police may be the right thing to do in any number of situations, but when that becomes the default reaction to even the slightest hint of danger or the unknown, we are not moving in the right direction.

                That is my opinion. You’re free to disagree, but you don’t seem content with mere disagreement. Yes, my post implicated culture war, but in the exact opposite way in which you claim. Maybe you’re reading it that way, because that’s the way that you want to read it. If you want to imply that my post is akin to alt-right trolling or axe grinding, that’s fine, but nothing you’ve written explains how.

                Here is what you wrote earlier:

                I suspect that many of those tweets come from minority students, who perhaps have struggled in ways that you all did not, who overcame obstacles that would have crushed you, and who are now living the “minority life” at a whitebread school. That is an experience very unlike yours. (Or so I suspect.) The “kids today” discourse might work on privileged white kids playing campus radical. But to my view, it does not seem so fitting when applied to a black student reacting to (rumors of) a klansman.

                Putting aside the unnecessary and incorrect assumptions in that comment, as a point of fact, these are exactly my experiences. So yes, I have something to say about them. And I have advice to offer those currently going through what I went through twenty years ago.

                I don’t share the same beleif in the supremacy of identity. As I said to Kazzy, I welcome comment and criticism from anyone with a coherent argument, whether they’ve been through what I’ve been through or not. That said, you may well have written more in your comments on this thread than I did on the original post. So, for someone who is constantly imploring other people to listen to the people who have gone through this stuff, you are failing by your own standards.Report

              • Kim in reply to veronica d says:

                Pity the poor jewish guy who now has neonazi furry supporters… (and pity my city, which is where the furry convention is held).

                [The story gets weirder than that, if you can believe it. Ping me if you want cites]Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Kazzy says:

                First off, I never said anything about turbans or Sikhs. Traditional muslim attire has it’s own identifying characteristics (Hijab, keffiyeh, shemagh, other items I can’t think of the names for…).

                Second, you seem to have missed where my criticism lies. It isn’t with the person who saw a friar and thought KKK. That’s silly, but at night, in the moment, with an assumption of limited experience, I can write it off as an honest mistake.

                My criticism lies a little bit with anyone who took the claim seriously instead of following it up with a tweet of “Pic, or it didn’t happen.” But mostly it rests* solely on the shoulders of an RA who should have known better. Now I never lived in a dorm in college, but my understanding is that an RA acts as something of an authority figure for the residents in a given dorm. I assume (perhaps incorrectly) that RAs are generally older, either grad students, or upperclassmen, or otherwise a person with more than a few months of campus life under their belt. I also assume they get some degree of training which (I would hope) involves dealing with the scuttlebutt common to places where young people live in close quarters. Thus an RA has a measure of responsibility to be critical of rumor, much as the police would be critical of a single report of a Zebra loose in Madison, WI.

                Had he tweeted out asking if anyone else had seen a person in a white robe on campus, and/or asked for a pic, then he’d be doing it right. Had he taken a moment to search for reports of Klan activity in Bloomington, and finding none, asked for verification, he’d be doing it right. Had he thought for a moment about what other possibilities there might be, like a toga party, or the white robed monks who have been a regular feature on campus for DECADES. But he didn’t, he took a single, unverified report of an other on campus, and raised the red flag.

                If the police did that, we’d be lambasting them. If someone called the local PD and told them they saw some radical muslim terrorists on Maple Street, and they might have weapons, and the local PD issued a public warning about the terrorists before one of their officers was able to locate and confirm, or before they had received numerous corroborative reports of these terrorists, there would be public condemnation & lawsuits flying fast & free.

                About the only time we tolerate public warning of an unconfirmed threat is a bomb threat, for obvious reasons.

                This isn’t about kids being kids and mistaking a friar for a klansman. It’s about an authority figure, no matter how minor, not doing a little bit of thinking before getting people worked up. Mr. Gill was correct that he has a responsibility to inform his residents of danger, but he also has a responsibility to perform some measure of due diligence before doing so.

                The fact that anyone is willing to give any adult authority figure a pass on crap like this is why we have to deal with an ever encroaching security state.

                *If I’m being honest, my true criticism lies with everyone over the age of 35 who has bought into the narrative @j-r is talking about, who have raised up a generation that is just fine with crying wolf, because you just can’t be too safe, or whatever tripe they tell themselves to justify their fear.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:


                I must have misread you then. I did not realize an RA was among the initial reporters. That indeed changes things and I share your criticism of that person(s).

                I still wonder how much of what we are seeing is…
                A) Kids these days are soft.
                B) Amplification via technology
                C) Actually listening to folks we just never really listened to before

                If A is true, that is problematic and we’d ideally find the right balance between soft and tough.
                If B is true, I don’t know much what we do about that other than adjust our measuring devices to account for the amplification. Back in the day, 5 people talking about something might have been enough to consider it a “big deal”. Now that number might be 5,000 or 5,000,000. If it is the latter but we are responding to groups of 50 loudmouths on Twitter we wouldn’t have even heard from a decade ago, than *we* are the ones overreacting.
                If C is true, then this is probably a good thing but requires recalibration of all sorts of things.

                I think it is a combo of all three, plus some other factors.

                My big question is: What does it matter? In this incident, no one was harmed by the false alarm. As (I believe) @jaybird pointed out, if the guy had been trampled, we’d have a very different situation on our hands. So, let us be happy about that at least. As silly as the response seemed, it pales in comparison to other panics. If these kids grow up to be as successful and resilient (collectively) as past generations, then do we really have an issue?
                If these kids grow up to be less successful or less resilient as past generations, what do we do about that?
                If these kids grow up to be less resilient/weaker but with other strengths developed as a result of their particular worldview/mindset, we need to figure out if that is a net gain or loss for society and go from there.

                I’m just not very interested in framing that reduces to “Kids these days are ruining everything and are nothing but garbage.”Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Kazzy says:

                I don’t know that kids these days are ‘soft’. I think there are a lot of kids out there that are tough as nails. I also think there are a lot of privileged kids on college campuses who either love a good drama, or are desperately trying to find some way to be relevant to their community, and on campus activism is a good way to feel relevant, even if youthful exuberance means they miss the mark from time to time.

                But that has always been true. Technology just makes the community far outside the campus aware of it, for better or worse, depending.

                As to your question, for me, it really hinges on two things: the desire of some to call the cops, and the actions of the RA. Had it just been a bit of a twit storm, I’d ignore it. The fact that some of the kids wanted to call the cops[1] over what is clearly a first amendment issue gives me pause, and feeds into my general perception that the up & coming generation is not as tolerant as I’d like (even if the subject is a group which I have scant sympathy for).

                But authority figures who are careless or thoughtless raise my ire. Perhaps it’s because I came of age in the military, perhaps it’s because I’ve been on the wrong end of the abuses of authority a few too many times, but what the RA did strikes me as a misuse[2] of his authority, and we should be critical of him. Not because he’s a bad person, or because he’s unfit for the his position, but because that criticism sends a signal, not only to that RA, but to all the other RAs, and their supervisors, and their trainers, that such a misuse is unacceptable, and they shouldn’t do it, and it should become part of their culture to not do it. Because we want them to become better authority figures. This is something we fail to do on the national stage with the people we place in authority, and it has significant negative consequences, both socially, and financially.

                [1] especially given cases like Tamir Rice & John Crawford, and that SWATing is an actual thing, makes me a nervous, since a 911 call that reported a KKK member carrying a weapon would get a much different response than carrying a whip (or, if the dispatcher changed whip to weapon, or weapon to armed, etc.), but I wouldn’t fault a person for calling the police, as long as the information they provided was accurate, instead of exaggerated to elicit a specific kind of police response.

                [2] I call it a misuse because I do think he did the wrong thing for the right reason.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Agreed. At the risk of going off target, what was your take on the Yale Halloween brouhaha? My objection was less to what the woman said (at worst I’d have called it disagreeable), but that she misused/abused her power.

                I could only imagine calling the cops if the man seemed clearly intent on causing harm (in which case it wouldn’t matter what he was wearing) -or- if I suspected things were going to escalate with counterparties arriving. That quick appeal to authority is worthy of real discussion.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Kazzy says:

                Yale struck me as a misuse, since again, I think they were trying to do a good thing, but did it badly (whereas I see abuse as doing a bad thing for a bad reason).Report

              • DavidTC in reply to Kazzy says:


                The answer is almost entirely B, with a bit of C thrown in…not because anyone cares what they say, but because the right wing has decided to amplify whatever college kids do as part of the cultural war.

                I did not realize an RA was among the initial reporters. That indeed changes things and I share your criticism of that person(s).

                Ah, yes, how dare an RA take an unconfirmed report of a danger on campus and ask people to stay away.

                Surely they should have had some training, where they could have been taught by schools to respond to any unconfirmed threats of danger with a school-wide lockdown!Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to DavidTC says:

                Surely they should have had some training, where they could have been taught by schools to respond to any unconfirmed threats of danger with a school-wide lockdown!

                No, they should have either tried to confirm it, or left it alone.Report

              • notme in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Passing along unsubstantiated rumors doesn’t help anyone. Some folks call it rumint for rumor intelligence.Report

    • j r in reply to Kazzy says:

      I suppose that’s why you didn’t write the post.Report

  18. The video on White Supremacy misses a fairly important point. “Supremacy” means superior in power, not in merit. Racist stereotypes about blacks include superior strength and capacity for violence, which is why that woman is cowering at the sight of one black man, even though she’s surrounded by dozens of white allies. And racist stereotypes about Jews include our superior intelligence and guile, which is an unfair advantage that allows us to rule the world, not only in running the banks, the media, and the governments, but also …

    Ha! Did you really think I was going to spill the beans?Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      I’m not sure if this is true. One of the excuses/justifications that white racists used to prevent African-Americans from competing with whites in athletics was that African-Americans were less strong than whites and would be unfair to them to have to compete against whites on the same sports teams. Yes, really.Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to LeeEsq says:

        One of the marvelous things about ethnic bigotry is its flexibility.

        The Other is always an amalgam of everything we need them to be, at the moment we need it to justify whatever it is we are imagining.

        Look at the stories about Obama- the savage thug and brutal dictator, shoving his big black….agenda down our throats, yet also a mincing weak horse sissy that is feared by no one.Report

        • Catchling in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          But those two overlap pretty well at “Obama is secretly one of Them, dictating at home in thrall to the foreign enemies he loves so much.” It’s just hard to say the whole thing with a straight face; either half of the idea is an accusation of politics-as-usual, but the whole concept is outright wild conspiracy. So conservatives have usually picked one part or the other.

          Rubio is the only one I know to have tried merging it with “he knows exactly what he’s doing”, but the message was lost in its own repetition.Report

      • Fortytwo in reply to LeeEsq says:

        This seems iffy, and is the complete opposite of what I’ve read about. Link?Report

  19. Brandon Berg says:

    And the contemporary Klan is involved in violence for sure

    As little love as I have for them, it doesn’t seem fair to cite this as an example of them engaging in violence. According to the article you linked, witnesses said they were attacked as soon as they showed up. According to this article, the counterprotestors were beating the klansmen with two-by-fours, and the stabbings were done with the point of a flagpole, so apparently they didn’t even bring weapons. So it looks like they just came there to protest, got attacked, and fought back in self-defense.

    Does the Klan actually engage in organized violence nowadays?Report

  20. Pyre says:

    The Right has taught the kids to fear everyone outside the U.S..

    The Left has taught the kids to fear everyone inside the U.S..Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Pyre says:

      This comment made me chuckle.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Pyre says:

      The analogy would hold if the left was encouraging people to fear every white person because of the actions of a few. And while there might be some fringe folks who hold that ideology, it does not hold much water with the main body.

      On the right, you have a Presidential candidate who called for a ban on ALL Muslims entering the US. That feels very different than teaching people to fear the Klan.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Pyre says:

      The Right has taught the kids to fear everyone outside the U.S..

      Which includes people, like gays, Muslims, and liberals, who should be outside the U.S..Report

  21. I’ve never experienced any real anti-semitism in my life, and if I heard that there was someone in Nazi regalia wandering around nearby, my impulse would be to go find him and tell him to go the hell away. But it wasn’t that long ago that it was the dominant ideology in much of the world; my father and many of the adults I knew growing up either fought against it in WWII or were its victims during the Holocaust. The possibility that anti-semitism might regain a foothold troubles me, and it’s the reason that I have neither sympathy for the alt-right or patience for anyone who does. I don’t think that makes me either soft or compromised by propaganda.Report

  22. Kazzy says:

    At the risk of nitpicking, I have to take issue with the guy in the video criticizing the rally, specifically his “analysis” of the first picture. His argument seemed to summary, “These people think they are superior to others because of their race? Look at how fat and ugly and gross they are. Clearly THEY are the inferior ones!” Which isn’t so much a takedown of prejudice but simply a reorientation of who is prejudiced against whom.

    Take down racists and bigots based on the substantive superiority of anti-racism and anti-bigotry, not because they look funny.

    This isn’t meant to be a critique of the use of the video as, taken on the whole, it served the point JR made use of it for. I’m criticizing the guy himself for doing exactly what he criticizes others for.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

      I had mixed feelings about that myself when I watched it. On the one hand, I cringe a bit. On the other hand, that they have looks that are rejected by society strikes me as salient. I think he could have handled the delivery of it better. I also suspect that doing so never occurred to him, and that it’s sort of indicative of some large issues beyond the scope of this discussion.

      (Also, FTR, I was the one who selected the video, though I ran it with JR’s approval. He wanted to reference use of the picture itself, but to avoid any copyright ambiguity, I found the video as an alternative. Which displayed the picture, and added some context to it. Sufficiently so to remove any copyright questions.)Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

        Interesting. Thanks, @will-truman . As a general rule, I really struggle when liberals try to get their point across about judgement and bias and all that by indulging in that very same sort of judgement and bias. If a conservative meme emerged with similarly appearing Black folk on line to take advantage of some sort of government program, most good-thinking — and almost all liberal — people would condemn it. And while Klan supporters are different than people looking for help, let’s focus on the differences that matter (e.g., the hatred) and not the aspects that really don’t (e.g., how big someone’s manboobs are).Report

    • Catchling in reply to Kazzy says:

      In addition to that issue, it’s a line of thinking that implies that, say, a white supremacist Channing Tatum (or whoever’s considered hot these days) would be at least somewhat respectable.

      At the same time, it can be hard to argue from first principles if those principles aren’t agreed on by everyone in the conversation, and it’s seemingly easier to go for the cheap punch. “Fat” is definitely in that category nowadays — it’s so low-status that it’s considered polite to deny someone is fat, where it wouldn’t be polite to say “Jim Parsons isn’t gay! You take that back!” The very bigotry we want to fight is also the language you can expect everyone to understand, in one dialect or another. But of course it doesn’t lead anywhere good.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Catchling says:

        “Brad Pitt’s a white supremist? Shit. Game over.”

        Your second point is an interesting one, but I think is more about language. Maybe? I dunno now…Report

        • Catchling in reply to Kazzy says:

          I’m using “language” and “dialect” purely metaphorically; I actually intended just a point about status (and prejudice). At the end of the day, our powerful monkey brains are mainly good at negotiating social systems, part of which is determining (1) which people belong in which categories and (2) which categories are better than others.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Catchling says:

            Well, it’s complicated…

            Much less frequently than even a few years ago, we often heard the phrase “accused of being gay”. Accused is such a weird term there.

            Now for the term “fat”, I’m not sure that the pushback would necessarily be, “No, she’s obviously thin*” but rather that fat is seen as a pejorative. The problem is that I’m not sure what term applies to overweight people that isn’t considered a pejorative? And part of the issue is that — pejorative or not — the term is often used when it is totally irrelevant which is ultimately problematic.

            * I’m not talking about instances where women who are slightly bigger than rail thin are called “fat”. That happens but I’m talking about someone who is indeed overweight and is called “fat”.Report

            • Catchling in reply to Kazzy says:

              I’m not sure that the pushback would necessarily be, “No, she’s obviously thin*” but rather that fat is seen as a pejorative.

              True, there isn’t usually “She’s not fat”. But “You’re not fat” happens all the time. (In a scene from Louie, a fat woman says that’s the worst thing someone can tell her.)

              The problem is that I’m not sure what term applies to overweight people that isn’t considered a pejorative?

              Which is exactly the issue. As it happens, the fat-positive community (at least the one I’m familiar with) prefers “fat” to anything euphemistic. In particular, “overweight” is bad because it actually marks the person as over some presumed ideal weight, and is actually more judgmental and less neutral. (Imagine if we said “overdark” instead of “black”…)

              On the extremely rare situations where it is relevant, I do try to use the word “fat”, and hope my tone of voice manages to convey the subtext of “I truly think there is nothing wrong with this.”

              And part of the issue is that — pejorative or not — the term is often used when it is totally irrelevant which is ultimately problematic.

              Yeah. I think “gay” actually had a similar pattern which has been gradually disappearing. The 2010 film Scott Pilgrim had the title character (who is straight) introducing someone as his “gay roommate”; I don’t think a 2016 adaptation would do the same thing. (Partly it’s a meta-joke about Scott’s nervous awkwardness, but a nervous-awkward character today would probably not say it.)Report

        • Zac Black in reply to Kazzy says:

          Shit. Game over.

          I feel like the better BP celebrity to use with that line is Bill Paxton.Report

  23. By the way, one of the implicit assumptions here is that the guy wasn’t a Klansman, he was just a harmless Dominican monk. Like Torquemada.Report

  24. Maribou says:

    I’ve been pondering this since the original discussion we had on linkage or linky friday or wherever it was – which I kinda wish you woulda linked to, but can understand why you didn’t because durned if I can find it now.

    After long reflection on the actual situation, I turned my thoughts in a different direction, and started pondering how different and novel this actually was. I remembered some similar scares on my college campus as an undergrad 20 years ago. Then I thought about my mother in law’s college stories, and my mom’s, and yup, there were dumbass freakout terrified rumors back then too.

    The difference was, as far as I can tell, that no news outlets other than the campus press ever picked up our rumors, and there was no social media to make the story globally viral. (Trust me, it went campusly viral jussssssssst as fast – and I was at an undergrad institution with 30K+ students.)

    So basically I can’t see what the difference is except that we’re all freaking out about typical dumb teenage freakouts. (The RA who both blew up the story and then wrote a splainy explanation of the story was also a student, I’m pretty sure, just as an aside.)

    Which of course still plays into your overarching discussion of “the narrative” just fine, but does nothing to make me give any less shade to your claims of how soft the kids are.

    Work with them (NOT teach them – but WORK *with* them), get to know them – particularly the ones who are too busy working their asses off to spend much time in the public limelight, but also the ones who are working their asses off AND putting themselves in a public limelight because for good or bad reasons they think they should – and THEN tell me they’re way too soft. Until then I’mma sit here and roll my eyes at you.

    While still agreeing with your larger thesis.


  25. Jaybird says:

    If you want a society with high trust and high collaboration, it’s generally pretty useful to have an “other”.

    Point to this other, get everyone to circle their wagons, reaffirm ingroup membership, bolster those who might get a bit wobbly, and otherwise make sure that we’re all us and those of us who are us are all in this together.

    It’s a *LOT* better to have fairy imaginary others than real ones. This way, you can have an ingroup without an outgroup. It’s brilliant!

    To be honest, it’s not like the Dominican was hurt or anything. No harm, no foul.

    And even if he was, would the occasional false positive be too high of a price to pay for what we’re able to achieve with an invisible (and nigh-nonexistent) boogeyman?Report

  26. Jaybird says:

    This essay reads differently the second time.

    Good essays do that.Report

  27. Joe Sal says:

    J.R., excellent work, and I do so hope you write often.Report

  28. j r says:

    Just wanted to say thanks all for the comments. Glad to have the feedback and glad to have the constructive criticism. I wanted to offer a couple-few comments that might help better contextualize this post:

    – My intention was to focus on the narratives that we deploy around racism and combating racism. That’s the meat. I added the stuff about “the kids these days,” because it does influence how I view these situations. I want to be self-aware about it. And I want to be honest about it. However, I don’t have any real animosity for overly-sensitive young people. I have some animosity for the system that created them and I question whether it makes them stronger and more self-reliant or weaker and increasingly beholden to authority figures who promise protection.

    – There are a few folks who are raising the, yeah, but what if it was a robed member of the KKK point. Honestly, I don’t have much sympathy for that. If all those guys speaking Arabic or doing math or just being brown on airplanes really were members of Al Qaeda, then the folks raising alarms in those situations would be heroes and not lessons in how not to be. But they weren’t, because the mistaken identity is a key part of the story. It’s not incidental.

    – Finally, I want to offer a personal anecdote that shapes how I view these situations:

    I grew up in NYC in the 80s and went to high school in the early 90s. In most places, it was a different city than what it is now. I grew up in a neighborhood that wasn’t the worst, but in which violence and the threat of violence was still a constant presence. In my neighborhood, it was not uncommon for someone to walk up to you and ask to “borrow a dollar.” And I’m not talking about pan handling. I’m talking about another young person asking you to give him money. It was not an outright threat. It was someone sizing you up, seeing how easily you could be intimidated. And it’s a tricky situation. Show too much acquiescence and you may attract further attempts at victimization; bow up too much and you may be testing the wrong person.

    I went to high school in a different neighborhood and with many kids from neighborhoods not like mine. One day after school I was riding the train with two guys from relatively quite suburban neighborhoods. Some black kids on the train started messing with one of my friends and pulled the “can I borrow a dollar” line.” That kid, probably never having faced a situation like this, reacted as if he were being robbed. He ran off the train and found either a transit cop or the nearest toll-booth clerk, who then called the cops. The black kids took off. Then the cops came and then proceeded to round up, what appeared to be, every young black male within the radius of a couple of stations and I ask us if they were the kids from the train. None of them were.

    I don’t begrudge my high school friend for not having grown up somewhere that would have enabled him to handle that situation differently. I don’t lament that he didn’t come from someplace tougher, someplace more violent. Great on him. More people should be so lucky. And to my friends’ credit, they both acknowledged after the fact not only how messed up this situation was. So, I don’t bring up this story to reflect poorly on my friends. I bring up this story to talk about how authority behaves. It shows up, assesses the power dynamics and intervenes against those who have less on behalf of those who have more. It’s tempting to think that we are suddenly living in some social justice golden era when authority can be trusted to intervene on the “right side.” As far as I’m concerned, that’s a trap. The more we degrade the individual’s ability to differentiate between legitimate threat and mere unpleasantness, the more times the cops will show up and round up all the nearby black boys.Report

  29. Oscar Gordon says:

    To everyone who thinks the RA did the right thing…

    I’m telling you, right now, I saw a KKK member with a bat walk into your building!

    You all immediately sent out an email to your whole office warning them of the danger, right? No!? Of course not, because you do not want to have to explain to your boss why you are wasting everyone’s time over a report some guy you kinda know on the internet gave you about a KKK member in your building. Or a Muslim terrorist, or whatever the spook of the week is.

    It is NOT OK to warn people about dangers that are unconfirmed. How many parables are out there telling people not to raise false alarms, not to cause people to worry, or cause public panics over things that are not actual dangers/threats?

    If the person who saw the friar had just called the police and voiced his concern, I wouldn’t care. If all that had happened was he tweeted out what he thought he saw, it’d be a chuckle but I’d ignore it. The problem here truly is the actions of the RA raising a public alarm over what amounts to a rumor.

    It’s wrong when law enforcement does it, or other authorities, and it’s wrong here.Report