Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 746
Ron Stallworth's memoir, Black Klansman, "is an amazing true story that reads like a crime thriller" (Macmillan Publishers). The New York Times Bestseller has received praise from critics and readers alike. Stallworth tells us about his undercover investigation into the Ku Klux Klan while also reflecting on the state of racism in America.
Stallworth starts right off by describing the ad he found in the paper for information on the Ku Klux Klan. He wrote a note, thinking it would turn out to be a prank or that he would simply receive a brochure or some automated response. Instead, he received a personal phone call. Stallworth, the first black detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department, now had to play the part of a white man looking to join the cause of white supremacists:
I knew from being called a n*gger many times in my life, from small confrontations in everyday life that escalated to an ugly rhetoric, to being on the job when I was giving someone a ticket or making an arrest, that when a white person would say that to me, the whole dynamic would change. By saying “n*gger” he’d let me know he thought he was inherently better than me. That word was a way of claiming some false power. That is the language of hate, and now, having to pretend to be a white supremacist, I knew to use that language in reverse.
This quote is important because it gives us information on what Stallworth's experience was like as a black detective and black man in America. It also gives us insight into Stallworth's thought process. This quote is from the beginning of the book, and already we can see how Stallworth is going to play the part and use his personal experiences to further his undercover investigation.
In order for this to work, Stallworth needs a white detective to pose as him for any in-person meetings. Stallworth recruits his partner, Chuck, for the plan:
"They are planning burnings, white-only charity drives, recruitment efforts, and we need to know what else."
He started laughing. "A black cop infiltrating the Klan? This is nuts. Won't they know that you're black?"
"That's why we're going to be on the exact same page. I'll be listening to everything you and he say through the mic. And you'll be aware of everything I say to him on the phone. I'm the voice, you're the face."
"This is just about the craziest thing I've heard. I'm in," said Chuck through his wide smile.
I'm a fan of this passage because of Chuck's last line. Chuck is happy to help, although admitting what some of us might be thinking: this sounds crazy. "I'm the voice, you're the face," is the title of this chapter, and it explains the whole partnership.
Stallworth's writing is suspenseful, reflective, and funny at times:
The phone call ended, and we all started laughing. First they got their ideas about how to light a cross from a James Bond movie, and now they were bragging about secret handshakes. It was as if Dennis the Menace were running a hate group.
While the threat of the Klan is serious, Stallworth writes about the stupidity he deals with in the above and below quotes. These quotes show what Stallworth is dealing with and show part of his strategy.
As undercover investigators we would never have challenged Ken, who was—I can’t stress this enough—a total idiot. We stroked his ego, made him feel like a great leader. He would never be suspicious of someone who thought he was doing...
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a great job.
Stallworth also examines the Klan's influence in America and the persistence of racism. He informs the reader of David Duke's "upgraded approach to propaganda."
Publicly he would not talk about hate but about heritage and history. He spawned a new racism for the right-wing masses, one that melded the antipathy to blacks and other minorities to general dissatisfaction with government and fear of an ever-changing complex world.
A final quote that sticks out to me is a reflection of what Stallworth was able to achieve by going undercover to gain information.
Success often lies not in what happens but in what you prevent from happening
This refers to the fact that Stallworth uses the undercover investigation to prevent cross-burnings and other efforts from the Klan. This quote makes me think about how we can all make a difference.