If the Ku Klux Klan comes to visit next month, as one Klan official says they plan to do, I will not use the occasion to give our teen-age children a chance to imprint their memories with a lasting portrait of an ugly American reality -- bottom-line racial hatred displayed in its most vulgar and cowardly form. Some blacks are talking about doing that, and I could do it, too. But I won't.
First of all, if they need the KKK for this, we have already failed as parents. Many of our children have grown up in an atmosphere where blacks and whites interact, and that has brought them to the point where they are less terrified of the KKK than they are curious to lift the white robes and confirm what's hiding underneath.
I'm not implying that the Klan is made up of pussycats. It is a terrorist group of blatant haters who are dangerous and growing increasingly brazen. Who can forget the two minutes on Saturday morning, Nov. 3, 1979, when a gang of Ku Klux Klanners shot and killed five members of the Workers' Viewpoint Organization and wounded 12 others outside a public housing project in Greensboro, N.C.?
In some respects, little has changed from a century ago when most blacks in the South had their moments of truth -- noses pressed against the windowpane, watching the men who rode white horses and carried fiery crosses while the man in the family clenched at the trigger of self-defense.
But still, 1982 isn't 1902.
There are those who would take their children to this prospective rally--the Klan has yet to apply for or receive a permit -- to show them racism's ugly head. They feel their children have taken for granted the hard-won gains of the civil rights movement and grown soft and privileged behind the thin veneer of change. They know that the Reagan and rightwing era has galvanized blacks into a block of protest, but feel the KKK would represent the ultimate manifestation of just how bad things are. Not me!
Other groups are planning counterprotests. They want to vent their anger and frustration at this decades-old rite of hatred. They note that the incidents of Klannish terrorism have been rising in recent years. They remember the African diplomat in Silver Spring who found a 12-foot cross flaming in his yard, the shoppers who emerged from malls to find Nazi fliers on their windshields, the customers in the Potomac bank who found KKK literature alongside the bank's deposit slips.
But I think a counterdemonstration is a misuse of energy. It's reacting instead of acting dynamically and positively. I can understand the tension and frustration they feel about the prospect of the KKK coming. It's not all that different from the frustration about the cruel cutbacks in social programs and increases in an already bloated defense budget or the erosion of civil rights gains.
Wouldn't that energy be better spent dealing with and updating the black agenda?
What better occasion for a courageous analysis of the system in which we live? Why not reiterate that the hooded nightriders are creatures of economics, striking when the picture is bleakest -- as they did during the Depression of the 1930s, when prosperous blacks and Jews found themselves the objects of torches. Why don't the public and private schools use the occasion for a historical teach-in about how the Klan has often shielded economic-based motives with loftier claims of acting in the interest of Christianity or upholding the virtues of womanhood.
I know there will even be some toughs who will consider the option of bopping a Klansman on the head. But that won't produce anything but a bloodbath. Why not turn that energy to, say, examining the charge made by the Rev. Leon Sullivan, founder of the Opportunities Industrialization Centers, that "the greatest enemy facing blacks today is not racism and discrimination, but jealousy and envy among ourselves."
My bottom line to the Klan is: come if you wish, do your dirty business and get out of town. But I've got better things to do than stand around and watch the flames.