In a utopian society, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s stirring “I have a dream” speech would have made short work of American racism. So succinctly did he put the history of oppression when he said: “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood,” that no one could deny the righteousness of his rhetoric.
Unfortunately, as recent events in Ferguson, Baltimore, and Charleston, among others, have shown, racism still crackles under the veneer of constitutionally guaranteed universal suffrage and Ivy Leagues full of racial minorities. Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman never went for a long lunch and walking tour of Savannah, in other words.
Rather than gauge racism through incidents, such as the murder of the seventeen-year-old in Sanford, we opted for a more empirical approach, tallying the number of active hate groups per state in 2014. Although there are many kinds, we picked the “Big Three”: KKK, Neo-Nazi, and White Nationalist. If you’re curious, keep reading, and find out the 12 most hatefully racist states in the Union.
Of all the states on this list, many of them are, unsurprisingly, in the South. The first of these southern states is Virginia, which holds two KKK chapters, five Neo-Nazi groups, and four White Nationalist groups, for a total of eleven hate groups. What is surprising is that Virginia has so few KKK chapters. Although two is hardly few, it is fewer than one might imagine for Virginia, the state where Robert E. Lee, the general of the Confederate army (which fought, may we remind you, against the emancipation proclamation), was born.
In her book Suburban Warriors, Lisa McGirr describes the rise of the new right, which she argues germinated in Orange County. She acknowledges that it’s odd that Southern California would share the same politics as the southern states, because SoCal doesn’t have the same history of racial tensions. Why would there be so many hate groups in a historically less “racialized” state? Well for one, there are no KKK chapters in California. But there are six neo-Nazi groups and six white nationalist groups, for a total of twelve active hate groups in the sunny, west-coast state. It appears racism in the States is not only anti-Black.
People tend to think of Pennsylvania as being really friendly: the Quaker oats guy smiles in his Colonial dress, Amish people wave hello to you as they crawl by you in their horse and buggy, the Fresh Prince of Bel Air was from there… But it’s not all fun and games in the state of the City of Brotherly Love – there are 12 active hate groups: 4 KKK, 4 Neo-Nazi, and 4 White Nationalist. It looks like the only thing they don’t discriminate is who they discriminate: they spread the hate as evenly as Philadelphia cream cheese.
Martin Luther King name checked Georgia three times in his famous speech. It might be because that was his birthplace, but it might also be because Georgia has a rich history of hateful racism. It has 12 active hate groups and of them, 2 of them are KKK, 5 of them are neo-Nazi, and 5 of them are white Nationalist. Although it might seem like a relatively tolerant place, Atlanta being a port for the international trade of black American culture, Georgia remains a high-ranking racist state.
Alabama is another state infamous in the national narrative of racial oppression. It hosted the Montgomery Bus Boycott after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. But it was also the state that elected Bull Connor to office, the Commissioner of Public Safety who attempted to enforce racial segregation and tiered citizenship by instructing his public servants to use guard dogs and fire hoses on the peaceful protestors of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. It’s no surprise that Alabama would have twelve active hate groups: 5 KKK chapters, 1 Neo-Nazi party, and 5 white nationalist groups.
Indiana doesn’t exactly spring to mind when someone mentions racist America, but the Midwestern state has a surprisingly rich history of racism, specifically Klan racism. Although today there are only five active KKK chapters in Indiana (of its 12 active hate groups), the Klan was particularly nasty there at the beginning of the 20th century. The song “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday was based on a poem written about a photo of a lynching, the most famous such photo of a lynching in Marion, Indiana in 1930. The other hate groups are two neo-nazi and five White Nationalist.
On Glee, the characters constantly refer to the intolerance of their state of Ohio. This seems odd, since it was one of the states whose cities were flooded during the great migration (Columbus, Cincinatti, etc.) But in the terms we’re using, with thirteen hate groups, Ohio is more racist than Georgia, Alabama, and Virginia, which were all in the confederacy. Granted, there are two KKK groups and four White Nationalist groups in the state, the bulk of its racial ire coming from Neo-Nazism, of which there are a whopping seven groups. In other words, don’t shave your head in Ohio or someone will heil Hitler you.
Good ole Mississippi never disappoints at being backwards. More than its Deep South brethren, the second-counter state comes in at thirteen active hate groups. It has three KKK groups, two neo-Nazi groups, and a stunning eight White Nationalist groups, which by the way are more or less the same as white supremacist groups, which seek to defend the imagined superiority of white people. This is especially offensive considering 37.5% of the state’s population is black, compared to the larger country’s 13.2%.
At two more than Mississippi, Florida has a total of fifteen active hate groups in its borders. Of them, two are KKK, seven are Neo-Nazi, and six are White Nationalist. One would think that in states where there were many hate groups, most of the number would come from the mix of White Supremacist and KKK, seeing as the Southern Poverty Law Center acknowledges that the KKK could be considered white Supremacist. But in Florida, the Neo-Nazis and the White Supremacists, which are arguably not terribly different from one another, split the bill for racial intolerance.
3. New York
Although listing racist states could easily become an exercise in South-bashing, it’s also apparently a humble pie of the face of the North. New York is one of the three most racist states in the Union, even though it has a giant statue called the Statue of Liberty that has the words: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Of the fifteen, one single group is KKK, five are Neo-Nazi, and nine are White Nationalist.
Everything is bigger in Texas, even apparently the number of racially intolerant hate groups. At two more than New York, the Lone Star State has seventeen total racist cells. Of them, five are KKK, seven are Neo-Nazi, and five are White Nationalist. It’s interesting how often in the media, Texas and New York are presented as diametrical opposites: Texas is down-home comfort and New York is cosmopolitan snootiness. But look how close together they are in their hatred for racial minorities. Maybe the two states are not so different, after all.
At two more than Texas (and SEVEN more than California), Tennessee clocks in at 19 active hate groups. Tennessee, for comparison, has 6.5 million inhabitants to Texas’s near 30 and California’s near 40. How can such a small state have so many opinions? Well for one, it’s the birthplace of the KKK. This might explain why the state has 12 total KKK groups within it. The four Neo-Nazi cells look like nothing next to that, and the three White Nationalists like even less. Just based on the numbers, we don’t recommend moving to Tennessee if you are black – or anything, really.