Filler: Long Island's different style of racism

Advocates and anti-bias task force leaders say they Advocates and anti-bias task force leaders say they are monitoring with caution the recent distribution of KKK ads, shown on Aug. 25, 2014, in Hampton Bays.

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Lane Filler Portrait of Newsday editorial board member Lane Filler

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board. He came to Long Island in 2010 ...

The idea that the Ku Klux Klan could attract members by distributing pamphlets recently in Hampton Bays reveals the group's ignorance about our region. With Labor Day approaching, no one out East will be doing anything that requires white robes for months.

But seriously, what was the KKK doing recruiting anywhere on Long Island? Burning crosses and bedsheets are not how we do racism and xenophobia here. We hate classier than that.

Since July 25, police say, at least four Hampton Bays residents have complained of receiving KKK pamphlets on their driveways or wedged in their mailboxes. Many more mentioned getting them but took no action. According to Mark Potok, who tracks hate groups for the Montgomery, Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, the pamphleting has been going on in at least seven states since spring, but isn't widespread or effective because, well, the KKK is kind of a joke, now.

It hasn't always been. In the mid-1920s the KKK had 4 million members, and it was responsible for some of the worst racial violence of the 1960s. But today, Potok said the KKK probably has 4,000 to 6,000 members nationally. And while fringe groups and militias have grown tremendously since the election of President Barack Obama and intensified on the immigration issue, the Klan has been eaten up by infighting and ineffective leadership.

"The truth is that the rest of the 'radical right,' groups like the neo-Nazis, look down on the KKK," he said. "They're considered sort of the trailer park rednecks of the movement, less educated and sophisticated than other elements."

As a Jew and a person with an IQ greater than that of ceramic tile, I don't generally have sympathy for the KKK, but, wow. If you're white, Protestant, and full of hatred for black people, brown people and Jews, and the other "Mein Kampf" readers, goose-steppers and skinheads think you're too trashy to hang with, that's got to sting like kosher salt on a new swastika tattoo.

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The leader of the KKK's Loyal White Knights has said Hampton Bays is home to a chapter. Still, this group does not present the type of racism on Long Island that worries me.

Here, the damaging racism comes from people who may not even recognize their feelings as hatred, or their actions as prejudiced. It comes from the landlord who will not rent an apartment to black or Hispanic people because there's no sense in making the neighbors mad -- particularly when the accessory apartment isn't legal. I hear some residents in Stony Brook are even upset at the Asian college students who've moved in. What complaints are normally leveled against Asian students? Studying too loud? Making residents' children look bad with their polite behavior?

On Long Island, the damaging racism is in code: We cannot build apartment complexes or affordable housing because "we'll turn into the sixth borough" or "they won't have ties to the community" or "it will bring down our schools."

On Long Island, the damaging racism can be couched in fears for the community. We can't give temporary shelter to children who are immigrant refugees in Bethpage or Commack because they might be gang members. We're not anti-Hispanic, just anti-marauding.

On Long Island, the damaging racism comes out when a cop harasses or robs or beats a person of color and the community says nothing, or reflexively takes the side of the cop.

Studies say Nassau and Suffolk counties combine to create the most segregated suburban community in the United States, but we don't have to worry about the KKK here. Long Island will reject the KKK not because its members are racists but because they're clumsy amateurs at racism compared to many Long Islanders.

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

 

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