Anti-Nazi Clowning

Anti-Racist Action in Tennessee, 2007

This picture comes from a protest by Anti-Racist Action, an international grassroots protest organization that disrupts events run by fascist and racist groups like the KKK, and by militant pro-lifers. One tool that at least one of the local groups has used is clowning. Here’s some reporting from the event pictured above, which made its way around the blogosphere a few years ago:

“White Power!” the Nazi’s shouted, “White Flour?” the clowns yelled back running in circles throwing flour in the air and raising separate letters which spelt “White Flour”.

“White Power!” the Nazi’s angrily shouted once more, “White flowers?” the clowns cheers and threw white flowers in the air and danced about merrily.

“White Power!” the Nazi’s tried once again in a doomed and somewhat funny attempt to clarify their message, “ohhhhhh!” the clowns yelled “Tight Shower!” and held a solar shower in the air and all tried to crowd under to get clean as per the Klan’s directions.

At this point several of the Nazi’s and Klan members began clutching their hearts as if they were about to have a heart attack. Their beady eyes bulged, and the veins in their tiny narrow foreheads beat in rage. One last time they screamed “White Power!”

The clown women thought they finally understood what the Klan was trying to say. “Ohhhhh…” the women clowns said. “Now we understand…”, “WIFE POWER!” they lifted the letters up in the air, grabbed the nearest male clowns and lifted them in their arms and ran about merrily chanting “WIFE POWER! WIFE POWER! WIFE POWER!”

Choosing the right image or metaphor for the topic at hand is central to a good creative political action. With that in mind, I love the choice of clowns as the image to throw at white supremacists. The white face paint of the traditional clown offers an intriguing parallel with blackface, taking a type of racist performance that mocked and belittled Black Americans and turning it on its head. And by sending a message that “you are clowns” could potentially deflate the seriousness and power that a KKK rally or skinhead protest might have. Here’s a video with a quick glance of a clown face, and a bunch of their posters.

The group seems to be largely a mobilizing organization rather than an organizing one, per se. Their main focus is getting people out to counter racist events. They have a non-hierarchical, anarchist feel to them, though they claim no particularly ideology. My impression from videos and photos is of a largely white organization, though that may not be true — they are often wearing masks, after all, and each local is run in its own way. I’m not saying this is bad; as a white person I think it is extremely important for us to talk with and confront one another about racism.

I will say that a heavy focus on mobilizing over organizing and little experience of racism by the membership could be limiting in terms of effectiveness. And to be honest, the skeptic in me wonders about the effectiveness of this type of work, or its importance in relation to other kinds of anti-racist organizing. With the king of overt racism represented by the KKK having taken a back seat in recent years to institutional racism, partially-hidden ideological racism, and the buildup of microaggressions, it seems the easy way out to focus on the small minority of vocal fascists. It’s pretty safe these days to say you don’t like Nazis.

But it may be that I’m responding that way because I am sheltered here in Boston (not to mention as a white person) in terms of this kind of racism. The fact is that hate crimes continue to run rampant across the country, even in purportedly liberal enclaves. And the number of hate groups are actually increasing, responding in part to immigration debates and the election of Obama. Not to mention the much less-subtle (but still denied) racism of the Tea Party movement. So while it is not enough just to target overt racism, we still need to stem this tide. As it says in the Anti-Racist Action Points of Unity. “Never let the Nazis have the street.” That’s something I can get behind. Bring on the clowns.