Hate sells, and it’s profitable as hell. This isn’t anything new or revelatory, I know. Lillian Smith pointed it out in Killers of the Dream when she talked about wealthy whites, in order to maintain their power, enlisted poor whites in hate against African Americans and others following Reconstruction and into the Jim Crow era and beyond, flattening whiteness. Martin Luther King, Jr. pointed it out countlessly as well, notably in “The Drum Major Instinct” where he spoke about talking to one of the white wardens and, upon learning how much the warden made, asked him why he wasn’t protesting alongside of King and others. King told the warden, “You ought to be marching with us. You’re just as poor as Negroes. . . .You are put in the position of supporting the oppressor. Because through prejudice and blindness, you fail to see the same forces that oppress Negroes in American society oppress poor white people.”
Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru’s Superman Smashes the Klan points out the pyramid scheme of hate where those at the top benefit profusely from pitting those beneath them against one another. Matt Griggs, the Grand Scorpion of the local chapter of the Klan of the Firecy Kross, takes some members and attacks the Daily Planet. Superman arrests them, but within hours Matt gets released and goes to see the Grand Imperial Mogul of the Klan. Matt tells the Mogul that the Klan is in danger and asks for him to send up, but the Mogul declines. The Mogul raises his hood, and we discover it is none other than Dr. Wilson, one of the men we meet early in the narrative that welcomes the Lee’s, a Chinese American family, to the neighborhood and who hires Dr. Lee at the Metropolis Health Department as their chief bacteriologist.
Matt and the Klan have continually attacked the Lees, trying to get them to leave the community. They kidnap Tommy Lee and leave him to drown in the river before Superman saves him. They bomb the Unity House where kids from all of the community gather. They attack the Daily Planet and take hostages. They do all of this in order to maintain white supremacy and their belief in the superiority of their whiteness and Anglo-Saxon identity. What Dr. Wilson points out, though, is that all of this is a fraud because the hate that those at the top of the organization promote merely serves as a money-making scheme.
Dr. Wilson cuts Matt off and tells him that he is the one that has endangered the Klan due to the attack on the newspaper. He rises from his seat and points at Matt as he says, “All this bad publicity, just when we’re about to launch a new membership drive! They would have paid us one hundred dollars each for initiation fees! And another 25 dollars for robes and hoods! You’ve cost us thousands upon thousands of dollars, Riggs!” Matt looks at Dr. Wilson incredulously and asks what money has to do with any of it. At this, Dr. Wilson slaps Matt, calling him a fool.
Matt is dumbfounded by Dr. Wilson’s comments, even more so when Dr. Wilson asks Matt where he has put the money that he makes from the membership drives. Dr. Wilson scoffs suggesting that Matt gave it to charity, and Matt tells him he has reinvested it into “purifying America!” Dr. Wilson stands amazed that Matt believes the “‘One race, one religion, one color’ rot” that those in power feed as “slop” to “the little nobodies who want to believe that some other race is inferior so they can feel superior!” He continues by telling Matt, “We are in the business that deals in the world’s oldest commodity: hate!” Hate becomes the weapon, the commodity, the source to continued rule and dominance. It serves as the wedge driven between individuals to create false enemies, a smoke screen that misdirects individuals from the real threat.
Dr. Wilson uses racism to maintain power, and he views Superman, an alien and an immigrant and a citizen, as the ultimate threat to that power. As such, he develops a weapon to harness Kryptonite to destroy Superman. As he explains the weapon to Matt, Dr. Wilson points the weapon at Matt and says, “You stupid fool! You think the world is divided by race, but really, it’s divided by power! I have power! And you do not! Our skin may be the same color, but you and I are nothing alike! You are an insect, I am a God!” Dr. Wilson lays bare the playbook by telling Matt that race is nothing more than a social construct used as a weapon to secure and maintain power.
Just before Dr. Wilson shoots, Matt luges towards him screaming, “You traitor!” The next panel shows Matt above the reader staring down as he chokes Dr. Wilson to death. We only see Dr. Wilson’s hands, and Matt’s face is contorted in anger as he yells, “You’re a miserable traitor to your own kind, Wilson!” Matt has taken in the poison of hate that Dr. Wilson peddles. Instead of recognizing any solidarity with the Lees or others, he has bought in to the hate.
Lillian Smith knew the playbook. She told a crowd of SNCC members gathered at Mt. Moriah Baptist Church on October 16, 1960, “The Devil knows that if you want to destroy a man, all you need do is fill him with false hopes and false fears. These will blind him to his true direction and he will inevitably turn away from the future and destroy those close to him.” She knew that the creation of these false hopes and false fears caused people to believe them, to buy into them, to sustain them to their own detriment. She continued by stating, “It is as true of a nation: fill its people with false hopes and false fears, and they will do the rest; they will go straight to their appointment with Death; and they will drag all nations friendly to them down into the maelstrom of their moral and mental confusion.”
Dr. Wilson filled Matt with “false hopes and false fears.” He pumped him full of these lies to profit from the hate. He ran, as Betsy Phillips and others have pointed out, the Klan pyramid scheme that benefited him, and he though Matt, while causing those beneath them to suffer and do their dirty work in the streets. This continued fueling, as we have seen, drags the nation “down into the maelstrom of their moral and mental confusion,” causing them to get lost in their own manufactured hate. This all connects, as well, to fascism and its manipulation of society. I’ll look at this in the next post as I examine Bill Campbell and Bizhan Khodabandeh’s The Day the Klan Came to Town.
Until then, what are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on Twitter at @silaslapham.