The terrible specter of all ethnic traditions is racism and bigotry. Whether it is as simple as ethnocentrism, saying that someone who isn’t part of an ethnic group has no business being involved with those customs and beliefs under any circumstance or it is a broader form of general racism like white nationalism or black separatism, it will always be a problem. What we can do about it is provide effective counter arguments. Those counter arguments can’t be effective if they are militant or dismissive. The effective counter argument is made not to change the mind of someone who already holds a racist opinion. The effective counter argument is made to dissuade the uncommitted from following others down that dark and empty road to hate.
We need to look at what it is we need to address in order to work against the racist agenda. Alienation. The problem comes from a sense of being alienated from yourself and from society. So, lets break these down a bit and explore the two ways in which alienation works to help promote hate.
Alienation from ourselves comes from having no sense of where we come from and no sense of history or identity. This is why the “white power” movement focuses on “white” and not “Irish” or “Italian” or “French” identity. As Americans, we exist in a nation that has no distinct ethnic character. The “melting pot” of American society has stripped a lot of people of all but the most superficial ethnic characteristics. For some, even those are gone because of their rather bland Anglo surnames. We haven’t replaced it with much more than a minimal sense of national identity but nationality is a political sentiment. Ethnicity is a social identity. When we have no sense of social identity we lose a sense of who we are. Humans are, by nature, creatures of classification. We put things into nice little boxes in order to make sense of the world around us. As with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, there is also an emotional and psychological hierarchy that must be satisfied in order to develop as a person. A sense of who we are and where we come from, an ethnic identity, sits at the base of the pyramid. The first questions we try to answer about ourselves is “Who am I and where do I come from?” Without these answers, a person simply can’t move up the ladder in development.
The white power movement provides adherents with an answer. Because there is no actual cultural identity, they are fabricating one based on race. While any educated person knows that culture is, by definition, non-biological they are providing an answer that is false but emotionally satisfying to people who need it. When we look at their arguments, we regularly see references to “white culture” and so on. It’s a false creation but it provides an answer to people who don’t know that it’s false or why it is. By saying to someone struggling with this problem of who they are that they are “white” and that means something, they can point to all of the accomplishments of “white” ethnic groups and say “This is what we have done.” It is a heinous form of cultural appropriation but to the unknowing, it is a satisfying answer.
Secondly, we see a sense of alienation from society. This is something that they seek to reinforce by teaching their members that they, as white people, are persecuted by race traitors and non-whites. The world is against them and only by “coming home” to a white nation can the world be forced into a proper order of serving them instead of kicking the shit out of them every single day. The establishment of a persecution mindset is critical in all authoritarian groups. We see it in fundamentalist evangelical Christianity. They are part of the dominant religious group but they are always being told that they are “under attack” by various groups who want to stop them from living as they want and believing what they want. The same is true of the white power movement. It’s always the blacks, the Jews, the race traitors, and all the others who want to commit acts of genocide against them that they are told to be against. It becomes a fight for survival in their mind and so long as a person is in a state where they are fighting to have their next breath they cannot be reasoned with. They are in a primal state where, frankly, the use of violence is the only solution.
So, where does the social alienation start? After all, the prime recruiting targets aren’t coming from households where the family is invested in their local community. The alienation comes from a lot of different places including economics and other socio-political states. It’s not limited to that, mind you, but they are major contributing factors. What is important is that the recruit already has a feeling of not belonging to the community in which they find themselves. It’s helpful if they already blame members of that community for their sense of loneliness, but if they don’t they can be taught it. They simply aren’t invested in the community around them. As social creatures, we need to feel involved.
This is where the first point loops back in. In addition to telling them who they are and where they come from, they also provide them with a group to belong to. This, more than anything, is what we are going to have the worst time fighting against. Even if we insert doubts about false identity, it is even harder to convince someone to walk away from their idea of a community. Not only are we asking them to give up their sense of self, we are asking them to give up the fundamental order of society that they exist in. That’s a big challenge. People aren’t likely to turn their backs on their community unless they already feel separated from it. This is how police get gang-bangers to roll over on their crews. They insert the thoughts of being left out on their own into their minds and then hammer on that wedge until they break. The same thing is part of interrogating terrorists.
So, in order to counter the arguments of the specter of racism, we need to provide answers to these questions in a healthy way to those who need them. This is where we often fail the most because we can barely articulate it to ourselves, let alone as a group. This is what we need to improve on. How we do that, I don’t know. I see the problem but I’m still working on a solution.