A Tale of Two Racisms

If “Knights of the Open Palm” criticizes the KKK, McCann correctly points out, it criticizes it not from a position of antiracism, but from a position of superior whiteness. “Race Williams represents the true nature of whiteness,” McCann writes. “The nature of that quality is to scoff at the Klan’s fraternal bonds and to pursue an uncompromising personal liberty” (61). Although I agree with McCann that what this story is staging is a conflict between two different types of whiteness, I would like to suggest that there is, at the very least, another dimension to this conflict besides the binary McCann sets up between whiteness-as-community and whiteness-as-individualism. Central to the story, I would suggest, is the notion of whiteness as work.

Crucial for the question of racialized work is the passage McCann points us to on page 436 of the Daly, where Race says “Oh, I’m a pretty tough egg — none tougher, I guess, but I felt as white as my robe in comparison with most of this gang.” To understand this passage, I think we need to look at a passage earlier on the same page, where Race describes the Klansmen to whom he is comparing himself: “…the new citizens [Klan members] swear never to tell anything nor give evidence against a Klansman unless he’s committed rape, willful murder or treason. Hot dog! Burglars, counterfeiters, and check raisers welcome — also arson might be appreciated — I don’t know.” Most of the crimes listed here are crimes that make money, which fits the earlier narrative of Dumb Rogers joining the KKK so he can more easily rob people. Crucially, the Klan members make money buy stealing, and although Race is “a pretty tough egg” he is ultimately construed as whiter than the Klan, I would argue, because he makes his money through work.

In “Knights of the Open Palm,” we are perhaps seeing the beginning of the shift from a racism that defines whiteness through a construction of moral and sexual purity, to a racism that defines whiteness as “hard work.” This is particularly apparent on page 436, where Daly’s narrator/protagonist says those who make money through any means — theft, fraud — besides “hard work” are by definition not truly white.