The word racism has been repeated so often that it has become a commonplace symptom of society. However, racism is not a small issue and is in fact very damaging to individuals, cities, and countries as a whole. The Ku Klux Klan is an extremist group that has perpetrated racism in America since its inception in 1865 and to a certain extent still does so today. So why are groups like the Ku Klux Klan racist and what is the psychology behind it?
There are theories about the reasons for racism that can be applied to the psychology of racism in the Ku Klux Klan. Clay Routledge, an associate psychology professor at North Dakota State University, explores the motives and the psychology behind why groups are racist. Some of his theories may explain why people would want to join extremist groups like the Ku Klux Klan.
One of the first reasons why some people may fall into racism is to boost their own self-esteem. Routledge states that there have been many studies done which show how people discriminate in order to feel superior or to establish self-worth.
Some other people desire to see the world through a structured, unambiguous lens to help them make sense of their surroundings. There is a certain trait that psychologists see in people who have a predisposition towards racism, which is the need to see the world in a structured and unchanging manner. Those for whom change is extremely uncomfortable tend to engage in stereotypical thinking. Furthermore, Routledge posits that these people often respond with hostile or prejudicial behaviors towards those who are different because it makes them feel threatened and because it does not fit into their system of thought. They view prejudice as a way to restore a rigid belief system about the world.
This theory can be applied to some of the Ku Klux Klan’s behaviors and how they are so opposed to anything that would challenge their belief structure. According to the KKK belief system, a goal of the organization is to restore America back to its original roots of being a white Christian nation. They are rigidly against any deviation from this worldview, even viewing “darker races” as the “problem” with America. In their simplified perspective, living separate from other non-white and non-Christian groups is the solution to restoring the country’s “former greatness.”
A third psychological motive that Routledge states may promote racism is the group’s need for survival. Groups are constantly fighting over the limited resources on this earth, and it is a natural inclination to view groups that are dissimilar as the cause of the power and resource grab.
When looking at the Ku Klux Klan, they have adopted this belief that they have now become the minorities in their “own country” that was originally founded by their white fathers. They view immigrants as an encroaching threat because an increased number of immigrants reduces their numbers as a proportion of the entire population and their supposed rights. They have adapted an extreme “us against them” and victim mentality. According to their website, they now believe that hate crimes are being perpetrated against the whites but the media does not cover them.
How do Ku Klux Klan’s actions and racism as a whole damage society? Racism inevitably causes disunity and strife within a country in a tug-of-war struggle to preserve one’s rights and power. For the targeted group of racism—for example, the African-Americans in the United States—they experience fewer opportunities for growth and are faced with a social stigma of incapability and inferiority.
Dr. Poussaint, an author, educator, and psychiatrist, points out a deeper problem that racism causes—it is a seed of genocide. In a speech at Capital Hill in 1993, Poussaint addressed how racism destroys individuals first, then nations. Racism puts a hierarchy onto someone’s life and deems one group more important than another. As a result, the group being targeted begins to devalue themselves.
The Nazis’ racism against the Jews is what led them to annihilate millions of lives in concentration camps. The Turks’ racism against the Armenians is also what inevitably led to genocide during World War I. Similarly, the Ku Klux Klan’s racism against the blacks is what led them to commit hate crimes against them, leading to the death and humiliation of many African-Americans.
The KKK persists as a part of ongoing racist sentiments in America, as shown by the group’s recent efforts to recruit white Christian Americans to join them in the fight to “save the land” and stop immigration. Although there is a psychological framework behind why racism occurs, it is still something that cannot be tolerated, especially with the Ku Klux Klan in America.
Opinion by Joyce Chu