Kyla Giffin | A Cup of Dry Ice
Perhaps now more than ever, as the United States uncomfortably adjusts to a new and controversial president, and social movements arise among the people, white supremacy (without allowing for the unnecessary pollution of other labels like the neo-Nazi and Alt-Right movements) has been seen on the forefront of news.
Lately, white supremacy has also been an issue at the forefront of my mind. It was brought up as a possible topic to address in the club I founded this year, the Movers and Shakers Society, and also, as a rule, has become more prominent in everyday conversations. And while a negative light shone on it is, to say the least, a more than appropriate response to this horrific way of thinking, the question must be posed: are we approaching it as effectively and justly as possible?
The use of the word “justly” here would be understandably shocking to some. After all, how is it possible to approach a system of beliefs so unjust, in an equitable and empathetic way? When we have a thirst for justice, we yank it into our possession, and let the ends justify the means by which it was done. Simply, in our striving for a just effect, we may neglect the just cause.
However, the truth here is simple: the ends and the means are related in an inseparable way. So as we work to find the quickest and most satisfying resolution–also known as instant gratification–we must ask ourselves if it is truly a resolution that we are reaching.
To truly understand what I am arguing, it is vital to understand each and every corner of white supremacy, as well as the current common approach to it, and really to all examples of racism, sexism, bigotry, homophobia, transphobia, et cetera.
But first, allow me to clarify on one point: I am not trying to develop or explain my stance on white supremacy, though it will be brought up. It is not my opinion on white supremacy that matters here, but the importance of all people developing a well-thought out approach to white supremacy, and perhaps other systems of discrimination and inequality.
To specify what it is we are discussing here, Merriam-Webster defines a white supremacist as “a person who believes that the white race is inherently superior to other races and that white people should have control over people of other races.”
However, fully understanding white supremacy also requires people’s opinions on the matter. But whose opinions do we seek? After all, plenty of people are more than ready to offer their opinions.
Straight from the horse’s mouth is always a good place to start. Kate Storey wrote an article for Marie Claire in which she spoke of women’s participation in the white supremacist movement, which included her interviewing former female white supremacists. Shannon Martinez was drawn into being a teenage skinhead by the immensive fury that they felt, relatable to her as a girl who had been raped by two men at the age of fourteen. Perhaps what is most unexpected about her situation, though, is that both of her rapists were Caucasian. An anonymous woman identified as “Jennifer” in the article was also fourteen when she dated a sixteen-year-old skinhead who abused her.
Feelings of disconnection, anger, and self-reproach are commonly used to manipulate or pull people into the white supremacist community. Though it was much easier to be empathetic as I read about these two women’s backstories, and how they and others turned their lives around, and continue to do so–such as with the organization Life After Hate, which helps people transition out of the destructive system of white supremacy–I knew that it wasn’t enough to simply read an article. So I ventured where most have not gone before: to an actual white supremacist hate site.
“Welcome to Stormfront,” the home page reads. “We are a community of racial realists and idealists. We are White Nationalists who support true diversity and a homeland for all peoples. Thousands of organizations promote the interests, values and heritage of non-White minorities. We promote ours.”
Stormfront also describes itself to be “the voice of the new, embattled White minority!”
Diving deeper into the website, I found discussion forums, where members introduced themselves, using such usernames as “Disgusted1313,” “freefromsociety,” “White GeNOcide,” and “AryanHope88.” Many posts showed a hatred and blame towards Jews, a feeling of not belonging in the regions where they lived, and some of them, perhaps the most shocking of all, would have seemed like your average opinionated people. So why aren’t they?
One member that stood out was RaptorVigilante, a fourteen-year-old high school freshman in Pennsylvania.
“I am very [politically] versed and I appeal to adults as a very mature, very smart child,” wrote RaptorVigilante. “I can defend myself on many of my political ideals and I have deeply rooted my thoughts in national socialism as the best way to preserve the rights, culture, and cultural dominance of white western civilization.”
They continued on to say how they “resist teachings from my teachers that sit on the left side of the spectrum, but respect their lessons that they teach me. I am not afraid to stick up for myself and my view in school, and, I’ll admit, it has gotten me sent down to the [principal] once or twice. I am glad to be a part of this forum as I have used it to gather information that I can use in my political battles.”
Reading more, there were forum threads on “Ideology and Philosophy,” “History and Revisionism,” “Money Talks,” “Youth,” “Science and Technology,” “The Women’s Forum,” and even “Classified Ads,” “Opposing Views Forum,” and “Poetry and Creative Writing.” In the last section, there was a thread titled “white rap,” and the first post is exactly that–using derogatory terms such as the “n” word, calling Caucasians “the masters” and African-Americans “evolutionary disasters.” Under “Opposing Views Forum,” Holocaust stories were discounted as lies taught in both public and Christian schools, and it was also argued where Asians lie on the spectrum of inferiority to whites.
The things discussed are perplexing and disturbing, and those were just the couple of sections that I decided to venture into. However, they also give an insight into the minds of those we share this world with, whether anyone likes it or not. And no matter their way of thinking, there was no question that these particular white nationalists appeared to have found a community among like-minded others.
I expect it to be alarming to readers that I visited such a website. I expect it to be more alarming, for those who have only read or know about white supremacy indirectly, to see such words and things said. However, I could not, in good conscience, offer an opinion on something I did not have any experience or knowledge in. After all, the memes on punching Nazis provide nowhere near enough information.
But it is not unreasonable to say that such resources, along with news, is as much insight as most people get into such a topic. And while it may be enough to allow someone to form a basic opinion on white supremacy, is it enough to teach us how to approach the topic?
Since I mentioned the punching Nazi memes, let me clarify before I go further: nothing here begs the question of whether or not it is right to punch Nazis. That is merely a representation of how we want to, or actually do, approach white supremacy. Rather, what I say here begs the question of whether or not we, by approaching the issue of white supremacists like we tend to, besides disregarding their humanity–for they are still humans–are we also forgetting our own?
Humanity is a difficult subject to be discussed alongside white supremacy, for the simple fact that that particular set of beliefs regards those who are not white as not human. However, a study by David Broockman, a professor at Stanford as of last April, and Josh Kalla, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, also as of last April, has proven that a face-to-face conversation in which one shows empathy toward and asks the other how and why they feel the way they do, can change opinions in a miraculous way.
This study was directed towards people who did not believe in marriage equality or rights for transgender people, and employed a method they called “deep canvassing.” Canvassing is a method, usually door-to-door, used to gain voters in political campaigns. What makes deep canvassing so different and effective is that the prospective voters were given the chance to openly discuss how they felt, and learn more about the canvasser, who, in return, learned more about the potential voter.
Through a single conversation, what was seen was that the originally opposing person changed their stance on the issue, and that opinion would persevere for at least three months following.
It is not agreement with others which constitutes a reason for empathy. Empathy constitutes a reason for agreement. If two people can connect as humans, even if they do not end up agreeing on all levels, they can find a way to relate to one another, and find their minds opened, their hearts changed, and people brought together. But, as anyone knows, not only does this take time and patience, but it will not always succeed.
After looking at the words of white supremacists, I cannot say that I immediately learned empathy for them. I cannot say that I have fully developed that as of now. However, as we move along, we find that our understanding of one another must also move along. And as our understanding of each other increases, so must the understanding that the “Love Trumps Hate” slogan that Hillary Clinton used in her latest campaign is not a pick-and-choose concept, and that even as others may show hate, in such a way that white supremacists do, the appropriate response is not an eye for an eye, and hate in retaliation. Nor, even, is the answer always love.
Sometimes, the answer is a question: Why do we think and feel the way we do? And, with that, what influence do we have on one another? There’s no simple way, then, to answer these questions, except by asking them of anyone and everyone, no matter who they are and what they did or think. No one ever slayed a dragon they didn’t face first. After all, the beast was never just another beast. It breathed fire.
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