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Neo-nazis and the Ku Klux Klan are victims of racism too, says Danish author, photographer, and Ku Klux Klan member, Jacob Holdt, in a lecture to mark Auschwitz Day at the University of Copenhagen
Jakob Holdt is a popular man in the United States.
Having presented his slide show American Pictures over 6.500 times, he is the most often booked speaker at American universities.
It is amazing then, that he has never made his famous presentation at the University of Copenhagen. Until today.
He addressed an auditorium full of Danish and Swedish high school students in an event to commemorate Auschwitz Day, at the University of Copenhagen, Amager.
»I am a member of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK),« he started his speech, having noticed a high-school girl dozing in the second row of the auditorium. »See, now I am provoking you,« he laughs.
»The KKK don’t speak with hatred, not like people in Danish high schools, who use words like ‘perker’ (a derogatory term for immigrants) and speak badly about Muslims.«
Jakob Holdt is a writer and photographer. He speaks of love and believes in the good in all people. He has dedicated his life to fighting racism, by speaking of acceptance and understanding the root causes of anxiety, pain and frustration.
He notes, for example that almost all of the KKK members he has encountered have suffered sexual abuse or violence during their childhood.
Indeed, as a member of the Ku Klux Klan he knows the people who make up its ranks, and has spent time living with and becoming intimately acquainted with leading members of the group, which is usually known for racist violence. He counts mass murderers and gangsters among his life long friends.
How can a KKK member speak to students about genocide? The answer is, that he believes and lives the idea that there are no evil human beings.
»Dangerous ideas come when we don’t try to see the human being in others,« he explains.
»Nazis, those who vote for the Dansk Folkeparti (Danish People’s Party, a right wing political group in Denmark, ed.) and the KKK are not dangerous – only when we give them power they do not deserve by hating or fearing them.«
In the 1970’s, he travelled as a vagabond through the USA and was held up at gunpoint on his first day by three African Americans. Ever since then, he has sought to understand where such violence and hatred comes from.
He hitchhiked through the states and was attacked and sexually assaulted a number of times, until he learned to approach the inhabitants of the ghettos, criminals and gangsters as human beings.
His own fear had been communicated through non-verbal signals and had provoked the attacks, he says.
Much of Jakob Holdt’s message to the high school students was that people are not bad. If they commit acts of violence and hatred, it is because they themselves are hurt and crying out for love.
It might sound like a long-haired hippy philosophy; a relic of the flower-power days. He does indeed have wild long hair and a plaited beard, down to his chest.
However Jakob Holdt’s words and technically naïve images have a ring of honesty to them.
He believes what he is saying, and has lived according to his beliefs for many years.
He chose, for example to publish his book in Denmark, since no publishers in the USA had a significant proportion of Afro-American employees. Institutional racism, he says.
He also asked drug addicts and gangsters to sell his book, to »beat the white man with the book instead of weapons«, and he suffered a number of economic losses as a result.
Many of them were killed before they had a chance to repay him.
Holdt feels that his understanding of the world can bring about positive changes.
He is not university educated, having been thrown out of school in the second year of high-school.
He baulks at one high-school student philosophing over the question of whether taking one human life is worse than taking 7.000.
He wishes to keep the discussion concrete and, as in his images and stories, takes real individuals and life-histories as his point of departure.
While some of the questions following Jakob Holdt’s lecture indicated indignation (»Are you really saying that it is not that bad to kill someone, if you had a bad childhood?«) it was clear that Holdt’s words had started off some thought processes in the young people present.
One girl shyly asked for his email address.
Jakob Holdt currently has an exhibition at the modern art museum Louisiana. On Sunday at 13.00, he will show a group of Muslims, including some young people for the socially disadvantaged area Tingbjerg, around the exhibit Faith and Hope.