MEDIA OUTLETS learned during the presidential campaign that televised bigotry sells. That's why CBS president Leslie Moonves, in explaining the 'round-the-clock coverage of Donald Trump's winning campaign, said, "It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS."
Moonves had a point. During the campaign, thousands routinely gathered to hear Trump's rants against Mexicans, Muslims, refugees and blacks. And TV networks capitalized on the ratings and revenue they received from broadcasting those hateful messages.
Now the cable network A&E has found another way to cash in on the culture of hate. Beginning Jan. 10, the network is scheduled to air an eight-part series on the Ku Klux Klan called Generation KKK.
In eight one-hour episodes, the series will center on four Klan-affiliated families. Each family has a member who says he or she wants to leave the group. Among those featured on the show are an Imperial Wizard grooming his teenage daughter as his heir apparent, an Iraq War veteran raising his 4-year-old son to embrace racism, a young man who views his Klan leader as a father figure and a fifth-generation Klan family whose members want to continue their racist legacy.
In an attempt to balance the focus on the Klan, the series also will document the efforts of former white supremacists and a black man who are trying to battle the growth of hate groups.
The network says it is airing the series to expose what it's like to be born into hate, but I don't buy it. In the current social and political atmosphere, where the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups are growing, dedicating eight hours to a racist terror group does not just expose what it's like to be born into hate. It promotes the Klan's beliefs.
By showing the image of Klansmen with their own small children, A&E effectively helps to erase the image of the Klan as the killers of four black children who died in a bomb blast while attending Sunday school in Birmingham, Ala. By portraying Klansmen with their own wives and daughters, A&E helps to neutralize the image of the Klan as the killers of black wives and children, as terrorists who tortured and murdered black fathers.
When a major network such as A&E presents members of the Ku Klux Klan as families sharing a tradition, that network helps to normalize racism, and none of us should be silent about that.
But America is a different place from what it was only a few weeks ago.
The Klan and other white supremacist groups who endorsed President-elect Donald Trump are openly celebrating because his victory essentially has moved hate groups into the political mainstream.
And while Trump has not explicitly claimed his support for the Klan, his tepid disavowal of endorsements from former Klan leader David Duke and other white supremacists has rung hollow. Especially since Trump and several of his Cabinet choices, including Alabama U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions and former Breitbart executive Steve Bannon, have histories of espousing or providing platforms for racist and bigoted views.
Given those realities, it's no surprise that Generation KKK would air on the eve of Trump's taking office. The subject matter is hot, thanks largely to the unfiltered bigotry Trump displayed on the campaign trail.
Sadly, this is not new. The Klan previously benefited from the convergence of politics and media.
The year was 1915, and the film was The Birth of a Nation. In it, director D.W. Griffith portrayed black men as brutes who preyed on white women and the Klan as heroes who restored white supremacy. Like A&E, Griffith told audiences he simply was telling a true story. In fact, a message from the director flashed onscreen at the beginning of the film. It said, "This is an historical presentation of the Civil War and Reconstruction Period, and is not meant to reflect on any race or people of today."
Black folks didn't buy it then, either. Unfortunately, President Woodrow Wilson did.
Wilson, whose own racist leanings have been exposed by history's lens, showed Griffith's film in the White House. He called it "writing history with lightning," and the film, Hollywood's first blockbuster, served as a recruitment tool for the Klan.
In the years following the film's release, the Klan grew by leaps and bounds.
African Americans suffered the consequences, as the Klan embarked on a years-long campaign of lynching and murder.
A&E must be made to understand that history. It must be forced to acknowledge that normalizing the Klan risks catastrophe.
At a time when a Trump White House is, at the very least, sympathetic to racist views, normalizing the Klan is not just a gambit for ratings and money. Normalizing the Klan puts black lives at risk.
And I, for one, am not willing to remain silent.
Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books. Listen to him mornings from 7 to 10 on WURD (900-AM).