Last fall I had the—well let's call it pleasure—of seeing the Queens of the Golden Mask at the the Ivoryton Playhouse here in Connecticut. The Ivoryton is such a quaint throwback—a summer crowd mainstay—that seeing a play like this one was almost jarring. If it wasn't jarring, it was certainly disturbing.
That new play, written by Carole Lockwood and set in 1961, centers on a klatch of Southern women—genteel and somewhat patrician, whose husbands happen to constitute the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. The ladies converse about whatever people in 1961 conversed about, but the shadow of the Klan—almost translucent at first—grows in darkness as the story progresses; and the shocking climax at the end of Act I leads only to another at the final curtain.
Nobody in the audience leaves without feeling at least a bit shaken, but as with any other experience, the effect fades with time. And then along comes a photo of the Virginia governor, and it all comes back.
We've all read about the Klan in its differing permutations over the past two centuries. There have been times when they were fearsome; others when they seemed an afterthought. The one thread that has remained constant, though, is their race hatred—their certainty that the white race must subjugate all others.
Of course we all know this—but that play, for me, put a face on the evil...which... in a circuitous way leads me to this: if we ever hope to see an end to racism in the United States, we need to put a face on it. Electing Donald Trump may have been a paramount example of American dereliction of duty, but his inveterate and undisguised racism—his empowerment of people like Jeff Sessions— has disabused us of what many believed: that America had turned the corner on racism.
Sure, a black man and Hispanic woman sit on the Supreme Court, a black president occupied the Oval Office, mixed-racial couples proliferate in TV-ads and on TV shows. We can't be blamed for thinking that America had finally renounced its ugly past.
Welcome to your ugly past, America.
I don't pretend to know what Virginia's Governor Northam should do beyond being humiliated and apologizing to the universe. Ditto the state's Attorney General. But the Virginia fiasco should open our eyes a little wider: the Klan did not die when Obama took the oath of office; white supremacists did not throw in the towel when Condoleezza Rice became Secretary of State. We continue to live in a racially divided country, a point which our president has inadvertently illustrated to us. Trump's legacy, beyond his entrenched criminality and his undiluted incompetence, may be that he ended racism in the country by showing us its ugly face firsthand—the same ugly face that made Queens of the Golden Mask so disturbing.
I'm not ready to thank him for it, but even a narcissistic sociopath can do something good, even if by mistake.