Ron Stallworth, author behind 'BlacKkKlansman,' gives talk at UT

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Ron Stallworth explains to the audience how his boss feared he would sound “too black” when speaking on the phone with the KKK prior to their investigation. “Tell me what y’all think a black man sounds like,” he said. “I’ll shoot you down.”

Photo Credit: Chloe Bertrand | Daily Texan Staff

Ron Stallworth, the best-selling author whose story is the basis for Spike Lee’s film “BlacKkKlansman,” spoke Tuesday at the Student Activity Center.

Hosted by the Texas Politics Project, the conversation was dedicated to Stallworth’s memoir “Black Klansman: Race, Hate and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime.” Published in 2014, the memoir details Stallworth’s story as the first African-American detective for the Colorado Springs Police Department and his infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan in the late 70s. Along with his police career, Stallworth also spoke about issues of modern-day racism and the role society needs to play to address racism on the individual level and the institutional level.

“Everyone has a role to play,” Stallworth said. “I had to fight within the system of the Colorado Springs Police Department. It was a lily-white institution. I fought (racism) from within, and you all have to do the same. You can fight from the outside, but you also have to fight it from the inside to create change.”

Film director Spike Lee adapted Stallworth’s story and released the film “BlacKkKlansman” in 2018. The film recently won an Oscar for the Best Adapted Screenplay. 

Ya’Ke Smith, a film director and radio-television-film professor, said the film is important because of its improved representation of African Americans and other people of color on and off the screen. The improvement is in contrast to the historical racism and classicism that continues to affect the film industry and society as a whole, Smith said.

 

“These are not new problems,” Smith said. “But I think, in this day and age, especially in the era of Trump, these things are being exhumed. What Spike Lee is doing here is showing that these problems have always been here … and are repeating themselves, because we have not really dealt with them in a meaningful way.”

The audience packed the room and consisted of both UT students and other community members. Biochemistry junior Sadiat Agboola said understanding different kinds of people and cultures is the key to ending bigotry and fear.

“Educate yourself on other people and cultures in order to better connect with them and actually make progress,” Agboola said. “A lot of hate stems from fear and ignorance when there’s nothing to be afraid of. There’s nothing you can’t learn.”