Ron Stallworth’s illuminating memoir Black Klansman shows modern readers just how present racism still was in Colorado in the late 1970s. Throughout the story, Stallworth recounts his experience as a young Black police officer, encountering racist behavior from citizens and colleagues alike. Thankfully, he persisted and led a noteworthy infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan itself. As a result, Black Klansman offers readers relevant insight into the complicated roots and evolution of hate groups and anti-racist groups. Stallworth’s no-nonsense, often amused tone, however, keeps the story from becoming an extended history lesson.
Stallworth’s strong personality shapes both the events themselves and his retelling. In his only true in-person meeting with David Duke, then-leader of the KKK, Stallworth shows exactly what he thinks of this organization in an amusing way, defending himself with the power of his law enforcement position when it becomes necessary (135-9). Among the daring fun of catching Duke off guard, Stallworth seriously discusses what this incident means to him (139-42); this mix of humor and depth is evident throughout the memoir.
In his memoir as in his life, Stallworth doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable realities. This story contains many instances of “the language of hate” (Stallworth 3), which are not easy to read. The inclusion of such language both illustrates how normalized it was as well as its impact on those who wielded it and those who spoke or acted against it.
In the Afterword, Stallworth discusses how the racism of the past still thrives today alongside the changes that have been made (Stallworth 185-7). Ultimately, though, Stallworth’s memoir is a hopeful story, a fine example of the good that can be accomplished when people join forces against racism; it is the inspiration readers need right now.
Stallworth, Ron. Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime. Kindle ed., Flatiron Books, 2018.