Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in K. Haltinner (ed.), Teaching Race and Anti-Racism in Contemporary America: Adding Context to Colorblindness (Springer Netherlands, 2014), pp 65–71.

doi 10.1007/978-94-007-7101-7­_7


Copyright © 2014 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht. Used by permission.


The challenges of teaching about organized racism are different than those found in teaching about other aspects of American race relations. On the one hand, it can be quite easy to engage students in the topic of organized racism, at least on a surface level, as the vile propaganda and violent actions of racist groups and movements are sensational and provocative. Students across racial lines, like the general public, for the most part have strong negative opinions about the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and racist skinheads and are eager to share these (Nelson et al. 1997; Schuman et al. 1997). On the other hand, students’ understandings of organized racism often are very shallow and based largely on caricatured depictions of racist activists in films and on television. The effort to move students toward deeper and more complex interpretations of organized racism can be surprisingly difficult.

Today’s organized racism is a complicated mix of a number of small, competing groups and loosely connected networks that espouse virulent forms of racism and anti-Semitism and urge action (often violent) in support of white Aryan supremacy. Moreover, it is a world that rests on carefully managed illusion and deception. Dozens of Ku Klux Klan chapters, generally antagonistic to each other, appear robust because they are highly visible in the media and often seek publicity through public parades, cross burnings, distribution of propaganda, and a proliferation of websites. Despite their public presence, however, virtually all contemporary Klan chapters are tiny and few can craft any significant actions to advance their racist agendas. In contrast, neo-Nazis are generally more active. However, as many have become highly focused on violence and terroristic goals in recent years, they have dissolved into a relatively invisible networks of small, unconnected cells to hinder government detection and prosecution (Blee and Creasap 2010; Durham 2007). In the most available sources of information, then, the Klans appear forceful, although few are, while neo-Nazis appear to have declined, even as they remain vigorous.