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January 11, 2013

Little Klansman

NewImageI was wondering if you’ve seen this photo of a young child dressed in a Ku Klux Klan outfit. Largely lost for 20 years, it resurfaced recently and has now become an object of discussion around the Internet. Taken in Gainesville, Ga., by a young newspaper reporter in 1992, it shows the police out in force for a Klan rally that never materialized. Read the Poynter article for excellent backstory.

According to the write-up, viewers have found the photo alternatively disturbing; hopeful; humorous; touching; and heartbreaking. Of course, the natural pull is to focus on the child and his interaction with the riot cop. What I find as much or more interesting, however, is the two-thirds of the photo beyond the child. Going by the shields alone, the state troopers represent a solid bulwark against the advance of the Klan, toddlers or otherwise. What speaks to containment, and development, even more so, however, is the presence of the two African-American officers as solid anchors on either side of their white colleague. It’s that cultural and demographic stability in the line of blue, reinforced that much more by the middle officer’s settled paunch, that takes most of the starch out of the little robe and renders the child almost amusing. That’s almost.

I’m interested, as always, in your take.

(photo: Todd Robertson via Southern Poverty Law Center)

  • black_dog_barking

    Baby Bob is gingerly tapping the reflection of his be(k)nighted image on the officer’s riot shield, being that curious wonder that is all babes of all ages — reaching out to experience the wonder of his universe. Ma and Pa gonna need to edge-ee-cate this young ‘un or they’ll lose him.

  • bks3bks
  • boomerangst

    “What we live with we learn.
    What we learn we practice,
    What we practice we become,
    What we become affects every aspect of our life.”
    I know there’s no way of knowing what happened to this child, but I’ll bet he’s really messed up after living with the hatred that the Klan lives by and no way is this amusing.
    Thanks for pointing out the others in the photo–the officer in front of the child looks bemused. He knows he’s looking at a child but isn’t sure what to think.

    • LanceThruster

      “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
      ― Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

  • Scarabus

    Disclosure: When our granddaughter was three or four, I bought her a book titled Why Mommy Is a Democrat; the following year my wife bought her a tee-shirt saying “Kids for Obama.” Doesn’t seem equivalent to me (it wouldn’t, right?). But why do I feel it’s different?

    I was struck first by the incongruity. I like it that the cop has his gut sagging. Shows the genuineness of the moment, I think. I mean, if he’d known this would be all over? if an adult Klansman had been standing where the child is? if his superior officer were close by?

    The child’s bare legs and hightop shoes in contrast with the robe strike me.

    I find b_d_b’s observation intriguing. I’m going to be thinking about that for a while.

  • stifledgenius

    It’s just another reminder that humans don’t hate naturally, it has to be something that’s taught.

  • robert e

    Agree with all you say above, Michael. But as bdb points out, one of the more powerful, yet also disturbingly vague, aspects of this image is that the toddler seems fascinated by his own image in the riot shield. Is this a portent of a violent and confrontational future or another flower-in-the-rifle moment? Just how should one regard a lamb in wolf’s clothing anyway?

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