My first exposure of the black Klansman was when I was scrolling through YouTube, and found the movie trailer, though I didn’t know at the time that it was based on a true story. I simply disregarded it as a comedy, of a regular black man who somehow accidentally joins the KKK, and hilarious hijinks ensues. I kept this perspective when I, needing a book to write a book review for the Write the World prompt, noticed autographed copies of “Black Klansman” in my local Barnes & Noble, and decided to review it. I still didn’t realize what the phrase “a memoir” on the center left in the cover meant, and I became completely perplexed on why the author “Ron Stallworth” put himself as the protagonist when he himself started answering the ad to the KKK like in some fanfiction. That’s when I finally realized, that the book was an autobiography, a recounting of a real person and his infiltration into a group that hated his own kind, as well as his experience as the first black policeman in his department and meetings with prominent civil rights leaders. It was amazing but even more fascinating that a Black Klansman wasn’t a fabrication of Hollywood but instead a true story, and it kept me engaged till the last page to learn how the author managed to trick the KKK.
I then realized a significant problem in trying to review this book. How can I review a memoir, like some fictionalized world, where characters and their obstacles are constructed by their author when all of that is a retrospective look of the authors life? It’s harder to criticize the plot or characters when that’s how it factually occurred. It’s like trying to criticize a non-fiction book on the bombing of pearl harbor. Upon further consideration, I begun to see that reviewing the book was indeed possible but not in the traditional way of reviewing. I needed to ignore such things as plot and characters since it should be already provided by history but focus how these events and their important figures are analyzed and showcased in the book. For example, a non-fiction book that not only discusses the portion of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but also the events leading to the bombing and the aftermath like the The navy’s failure to spread the message of an incoming invading air fleet, the subsequent American angry outcry and FDR “a date which will live in infamy” which will induct America into WW2 and forever change their pacifist ideology to become a more assertive country in modern international affairs. A non-fiction book that contains these details and more will always be better than the non-fiction book that does not. So, without further ado, let us reflect on this autobiography in terms how successful it was in talking about the Black Klansman.
The memoir is direct in stating that Ron, a young police officer in the Colorado Springs police department, notices an ad about joining the KKK, and decides to reply to it with interest as he initially assumes to be an elaborate prank, in what would be his most notable aspect of his career. While Ron could have simply continued a lone narrative of his Klan investigation, he decides to give context to himself. He talks about his childhood El Paso, TX during the ongoing civil rights movement, his original ambition to become a P.E. teacher in high school, but how instead became a police cadet in Colorado Springs. He explains further that he was the first African American in the cities force, and that he was told to have the integrity of being like Jackie Robinson, to never lash out, no matter how offensive or cruel their remarks are. It continues on Ron trying persistently to get into the narcotics unit but always politely turned down, until Stokely Carmichael, an active member of the Black Panther party turns up in Colorado Springs to give a rally, giving Ron his first assignment with the narcotics team to undercover investigate the speech at a black bar. Eventually Ron would be integrated into being an investigative undercover office, which would then lead to the Klan. Its information like this that allows us not only to know about who the sequence of events are, but also the author’s personal thoughts and sentiments on the investigations, fellow officers, Klan members, Civil rights Activists, and more. Stallworth gives a clearer view filled with context and details without derailing the book with an overabundance of unnecessary information. His book has proper world building in a non-fiction sense, even if some information has remained unknown to him.
All in all, I think that the sheer irony of a black man being “accepted” into the KKK, and the story of it, is properly executed in a memoir decade after the said investigation, is not only interesting but poetic. What became a simple prank on the KKK became one of the most interesting cases in our known world. Its true stories like these that show that even the most expertly crafted fantasy, Sci-fi and dramatic fiction books are still challenged by the Non-fiction genre in their somehow real, bewildering stories. While Tolkien’s middle earth’s war may remain fascinating and epic, History’s wars of progressively improving weapons, technology, and strategies will always hold an edge, and while Shakespeare may remain the master of tragedy, catastrophes like the Titanic and 9/11 will always saddened more. In a broad sense, fiction books are always trying to emulate humanity, while non-fiction books are humanity recorded and thus not only do I encourage people to read the ‘Black Klansman’ but to pick up other non-fiction books that can prove that sometimes reality is stranger than fiction.