Yes to Banksy, No to Ku Klux Klan

by Kathryn Craft

Because I enjoy learning from others’ perspectives, I visit with all kinds of people, including complete strangers. This made me wonder: Is there anyone I wouldn’t like to visit with?

As a lifelong student of the human body, I check for all sorts of body signals to give me information on how people really feel. “You look great,” for instance, just isn’t as meaningful with an eye roll. “I have a better vision for our country” does not inspire confidence when the speaker is covered in a sheet from head to toe. So for me, the most off-putting scenario I can think of would be to try to visit with someone who is purposefully masking his identity.

That brings me to the pairing in this title. Banksy is a British street artist and activist my son introduced to me by sharing Banksy’s movie, Exit Through the Gift Shop, nominated for a 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary. As you can see in the clip at the bottom of this post, Banksy scrambles his voice and hides his identity throughout the film. He had to. His work, often executed under the cover of night, walks the line between public art and vandalism. It isn’t exactly legal. But because his work is creative and masterful and thought-provoking and entertaining, I’d love to sit down and chat with him even if I was denied access to his face.

Members of the Ku Klux Klan, on the other hand, whose free expression is protected under our constitution? I have to admit, I’d have trouble with that one. Here’s what Banksy had to say about the Klan:

banksy-kkk-in-birmingham

This image, painted at an abandoned gas station in Birmingham, Alabama in 2008 then quickly defaced, is credited to Banksy.

Before moving to Bucks County, PA in 2009 I lived in Berks County, a neo-Nazi stronghold. Because I lived on a small farm we avoided most confrontation. So I remember well the first time my son and I encountered the Klan standing in the busiest intersection of Boyertown. We were leaving his Tae Kwon Do class; they were handing out literature.

“Why are they in costume, Mommy? It’s not Halloween.”

“They fear being known for their opinions,” is all I could think of to say. “In America we are free to live here no matter what we believe. Unfortunately, these people don’t think the same way.”

As a writer I suppose it’s possible that if I were ever to visit with a Klansman, I’d find the evolution of his perspective fascinating. But it threatens everything I hold dear. I don’t think I’d want to do it, and don’t think I could stomach it if he wouldn’t remove his hood.

In the arts we often hear that we should do the thing we don’t want to do because it will have power. Maybe. But my unconditional love isn’t perfect. I might need a few more decades of convincing on this one.

It occurs to me that, like Banksy, the Klan has historically crossed legal limits under the cover of darkness to express itself (although as recently as 2004, in a racially motivated Boyertown area cross-burning). Yet I’m drawn to the former, and repulsed by the latter.

Maybe the two halves of the above photo provide a clue as to why.

Exit Through the Gift Shop (entire movie).

*Does empathy always make you stronger, or does it sometimes feel too dangerous? Who is it you would never want to sit down and visit with?