Should I Compare Someone I Disagree With to the KKK?

So, I was going to stay out of this one. It’s a complicated mess, and I think on many points both sides are talking past each other.

It started — well, no, it’s barely even meaningful to talk about where it “started”: the roots of the issue stretch back well before the founding of the United States, and threads are woven throughout our culture and history. But the current blagowebby eruption of this normally-subterranean-from-the-white-liberal-point-of-view conflict was kicked off by Melissa Harris-Perry’s column at The Nation, “Black President, Double Standard: Why White Liberals Are Abandoning Obama.” First Joan Walsh responded at Salon; then Harris-Perry wrote a followup blog post; then David Sirota mixed reasonable points about historical comparisons with nasty, condescending personal swipes and counterclaims as overreaching as he insisted Harris-Perry’s claims were.

There were and have continued to be, of course, many parallel and concurrent discussions, debates, and arguments over these posts on Twitter, where in particular Sirota has been prone to undermine what good points he made by adopting a taunting, sneering tone.

But even Sirota’s nastiest jabs seem to have faded to the level of background noise at this point, thanks to Gene Lyons, who penned (and, inexplicably, got Salon to publish — leading me to wonder on Twitter, “maybe Sirota slipped some web intern at Salon an unmarked envelope: ‘hey…make me look reasonable by comparison, eh?'”) “Obama’s bridge too far: When the president gets tough, the tough start whining.” In this gem of a column, Lyons dismisses the entire notion of applying the lenses of race and gender analysis to our history and politics with a “[y]ada, yada, yada”; characterizes Harris-Perry as “a left-wing Michele Bachmann”; and describes her worldview as “a photo negative of KKK racial thought.”

Yep.

He wrote that.

So, you know, maybe Mr. Lyons just doesn’t quite realize the import of what he wrote; maybe he just figured, well, the KKK think about race a lot, and Harris-Perry thinks about race a lot, so…sure, why not compare them?

As a public service to Mr. Lyons and anyone else who might be thinking about employing a Ku Klux Klan comparison — and as a humble, clumsy homage to ebogjonson’s classic post, with my apologies — allow me to offer this handy spreadsheet: “Should I Compare Someone I Disagree With to the KKK?”

A flowchart to determine whether comparisons to the KKK are appropriate. Spoiler alert: probably not.

Please refer to this as often as needed. Click through for full size.

(Flowchart built with Creately. Edit: forgot to say in the initial post, the flowchart graphic is under a CC-BY-SA license. Feel free to share and adapt it under those terms; a link to this post is sufficient for attribution.)

6 comments

  1. Pingback: What We Missed
  2. Excellent stuff, but I’d add one other thing: For most of their history, the Klan operated with the support and connivance of local authorities. They weren’t a mob, they were an unofficial branch of government.

    As I said to a friend when this piece was posted, a Klansman wasn’t just a guy in a robe. He was a guy in a robe with a shotgun underneath, and not infrequently a badge as well.

    1. That’s definitely true, but there were kind of already a lot of words in that little diamond :-)

      I mean, I think “mob violence” is still an accurate term to describe the mode of violence, despite the authorities’ tacit (and/or explicit) approval, though.

  3. You could substitute ‘Hitler’ or ‘Nazi’ for ‘KKK’ in this flowchart and it would still be just as apt.

    I think this phenomenon is a product of the hyperbolized nature of our modern political discourse, especially seen in specimens like Andrew Breitbart & Glenn Beck. Everything is apocalyptic, with Nazis and Communists everywhere, and Armageddon on the horizon – meaning either the end of America, or the entire world, as we know it.

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