I have a friend who is racist. He wouldn't use that word to describe himself, and it's probably unfair of me to use it. But given what he's done and what he's said, I think most of the rest of the world (our part of the world, anyway) would say that he's racist. So I'm not going to waste time arguing about the definition of the word, or explaining that my friend doesn't actually hate people of other races. The fact is that my friend did something that most decent people with any awareness of our country's history would find abhorrent: He donated money to the campaign of David Duke, one-time head of the Louisiana-based Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
For the benefit of anyone who doesn't fully understand what the KKK is or was: The Ku Klux Klan was founded in the 1860s, and used violence to pursue the agenda of white supremacy. This included the extra-judicial hunting down, torture, and murder of thousands of black Americans between the 1870s and 1950s. We refer to these acts as "lynchings", but that word does little to convey the full horror of what was done. Nor does it fully convey the motivations behind the atrocities.
Lynching has come to be associated with vigilante justice as if it was simply one method used by angry mobs to punish those who they (rightly or wrongly) believed to have committed violent crimes. But that's not what lynching was all about. Yes, some lynching parties went after blacks and others who they believed to be criminals. But just as often, they sought retribution against blacks who were deemed too "uppity", who competed too successfully with white business owners. This was not about protecting white people from black criminals, but protecting them from social and economic competition. It was about – violently – keeping blacks "in their place." And the accounts of how that was done are stomach churning.
My Friend, the Racist
So I completely understand why anyone would be shocked and offended to find that the owner of their favorite Chinese restaurant was in any way associated with this organization.
Roger and I met in the mid-80s, at UC Santa Cruz.
I wasn't especially shocked when I found out that my friend had been "outed" for having donated $500 to David Duke's campaign. Roger and I have been friends for more than thirty years, but in recent years we have drifted apart as he became attracted to white racial-identity politics. I made a real effort to understand where he was coming from, and I know him well enough to know that he doesn't just take on a new point of view or philosophy without doing some serious study of that view. In the end, though, I see identity-based politics as being antithetical to civil society and peaceful coexistence, and none of the writing or thoughts he shared with me made me think otherwise.
So when I saw that there was a campaign to boycott his restaurant, the O'Mei, in Santa Cruz, because of his donation, and that the O'Mei's Yelp page and social media sites were full of comments referring to my friend as a "racist", "white supremacist", "Nazi", and a few other choice epithets, I wasn't entirely surprised. But when I learned, a few days later, that the O'Mei had closed, the news hit me like a stab in the heart.
Roger and I met in the mid-80s, at UC Santa Cruz. He was helping to start an alternative student newspaper (an alternative to the monolithically left-wing official student paper) and I became the editor of that paper. We disagreed about pretty much everything from the beginning. He was a conservative, with an appreciation for free markets, and I was an anarcho-libertarian. We both had an interest in China: He had lived in Taiwan many years ago, and had created what I was later to learn was one of the best Chinese restaurants in the Bay Area, and I was getting ready to head off for my junior year abroad in Hong Kong.