Tribalism Midwifed the Alt-Right, Part II
And we’re back.
In the opening monologue of episode 6 of her new Hulu show, I Love You, America, Sarah Silverman exclaims “I’m here to talk about hate speech!” with as much jaunt as if she just said, “I’m here to perform a trapeze act!” She then states the obvious, “it feels like hate speech has made somewhat of a comeback.” The audience audibly affirms her declaration. She continues, “but as a Jew with a Twitter account, I know it’s always existed.” A mixed reaction of silence and muffled laughter. She grins deviously, as if to say wait til you motherfuckers hear what’s coming. She paraphrases the common sentiment of replies to her Tweets as, “Sarah Silverman is a horse faced Jew who should jump in an oven.” The audience gasps. An @ reply to one of Sarah’s Tweets is then projected full screen, it’s text: “If only the holo-hoax gas chambers were real we wouldn’t have had to endure Sarah Silverman.” More gasps. Sarah clutches her heart like she’s just been told her dog Mary (whose graphic grooming proclivities serve as seamless lede to the show’s next segment, entitled Punching Up Hate Speech) deserves to be an Instagram model. After a heartfelt aww, Sarah replies, “this must be so jarring for you guys. I’m so dead inside. This happens multiple times a day.”
As a member of a demonized minority group, Sarah Silverman has become impervious to death threats using methods of murder that undoubtedly killed more than one of her ancestors. For a person who identifies as ethnically Jewish (and whose material often grapples with her complicated relationship with the religion) these responses are par for the course. People often respond negatively to her material- whether it’s because she’s a woman, a Jew, political, offensive or unfunny is in the subjective eye of the beholder. Whatever the motivation, the responses are often directly tied to anti-Semitism. They are so frequent that Sarah has wrapped herself in an immunity blanket that enabled her to be in her words, “dead inside.” The audience’s righteous shock strikes her as endearing in its empathy. She seems to have forgotten that the words in these Tweets are objectively horrifying.
This desensitization and resignation are analogous attitudes to those reflected in Dave Chappelle’s SNL monologue from January of this year, and later in the Election Night skit he starred in with Chris Rock. In both, he observes with an amused smirk as white people are overcome with disbelief that a man who wears his racism as proudly as a Girl Scout brandishes her sash won the presidency. For a member of a perpetually disenfranchised minority group, this victory came as no surprise. As Chappelle says while sitting amongst a group of assured white liberals on the set of an NYC apartment that could only exist on TV, don’t be so sure of a Clinton victory, “it’s a big country.” And as a Black man in America, he has seen and experienced what white people in this big country are capable of. It ain’t good. When the inevitable demise of the great, white liberal hope eventually comes at the end of the skit, he and a newly arrived Chris Rock have a good chuckle at the expense of their white friends’ naiveté. They aren’t as shook. They’ve simply just turned the page to a new chapter of America’s never-ending anthology of oppression.
Speaking of shook, I walked into one of Crown Heights’ myriad coffee shops on Sunday morning to purchase my favorite $4 latte. Sitting in the corner of the very small shop were two white men in their 40s having a very loud conversation. Both were the type of hipster dads who wear fitteds and liberally use the word “woke” while being anything but. Their very animated discussion was one of disbelief. They could not believe that Matt Lauer had such a long history of sexual misbehavior. They were asking each other questions like “How many of these men are out there?” and “Why didn’t NBC do anything earlier?” And making statements like, “It must be hard to be a woman in the workplace.” One hipster dad insisted with pride, “I always spoke up if I knew something off was happening” to which hipster dad number two threw up his hands and said, “oh yea man, me too, me too.” (I’ll let the irony of phrasing sit with you for a second.) They seemed particularly concerned with how to reconcile a man’s work with his misdeeds. One said, “I mean, Harvey Weinstein revolutionized independent film in the 1990s. This has been really hard for me.” At that evidence that this misguided man was truly ASLEEP, I rolled my eyes and walked out.
All signs are pointing toward a Roy Moore win in Alabama on Tuesday. Especially after a ringing endorsement from our Troll in Chief. On Monday, Trump insisted that Republicans “needed Moore”. They need him to push their agenda on health care, immigration, taxes and whatever political whim strikes our volatile president during his morning viewings of Fox & Friends. His vote would secure a Republican majority in the Senate. This need for plurality is paramount. It completely erases the accounts of eight women who have accused him of obliterating their childhood. Their pain is irrelevant in the face of political capital.
The news alert of Trump’s endorsement pushed through on Monday afternoon while I was leading a professional development session at a school in Harlem. Distracted murmurs rippled through the room. Everyone was pissed. Only a few people were surprised, all of them were men. The women in the room were not surprised, and we won’t be surprised next week when he wins. Why not? Because this is the world we’ve always lived in. Power, political or otherwise, is our society’s leading currency. It Trumps decency. It Trumps morality. It Trumps humanity. And in this society a woman’s humanity, and her dignity, are negotiable.
Our reality is not confined to the media’s coverage of high profile sexual harassment cases. They are the tip of a nasty iceberg. Our reality is incessant street harassment. It’s “you’re too pretty to..” or “you’re too big to…”. It’s “maybe if you had a man you wouldn’t be so stressed.” It’s “calm, down. It was just a joke.” It’s “has your butt always been this big or do you do squats?” It’s “you have a soccer player’s legs. Can I touch them?” It’s “you’re gonna get it with those ______ (insert item of clothing or body part here).” It’s “girl, your man let you out the house dressed like that?” It’s our Uber driver telling us we look “healthy” and asking us if we live with our boyfriend, to which we lie and say yes. It’s being called “sweetheart”, “baby”, “bitch”- anything but our name. It’s men masturbating in public. It’s the question, “well, what were you wearing?” And, “how much did you have to drink?” It’s “locker room talk.” It’s “boys being boys.” It’s “grab ‘em by the pussy.” It’s trading war stories with your female friends at Happy Hour. It’s “don’t you just want to be treated like a princess?” It’s “how do you manage being a working mom?” It’s “when are you going to have kids?” It’s “the clock is ticking…”. It’s “you aren’t taking his last name?” It’s “when do you think you’ll stop working?” It’s never being taught how your body actually works. It’s being told that your sexuality is something to be ashamed of. It’s “slut.” It’s “prude.” It’s “freak.” It’s porn. It’s men standing too close to you on the subway. It’s men watching porn while standing too close to you on the subway. It’s the stranger who now has a picture of you in his phone. It’s being groped on the dance floor. It’s birth control that makes you feel like shit, but you can’t live without. It’s being interrupted constantly. It’s shaving every part of your body. It’s Brazilian waxes. It’s being followed. It’s always being nervous when you go for a run by yourself. It’s carrying your keys between your knuckles. It’s faking a phone call when the delivery man lingers too long outside your door. It’s being told to act like a lady. It's Ray Rice. It’s Chris Brown. It's Eminem. It’s 53% of white women voting for Trump. It’s “you were asking for it.” It's this entire fucking article.
In every way explicitly and implicitly possible we have been told that we are nothing more than an amalgamation of tits, ass and the ability to validate a man. No story of assault, harassment or run-of-the-mill chauvinism is an unexpected outlier. It’s a drop in the toxic cesspool of bruised male egos we’ve been wading through our entire lives. We’ve been trying to tell you about it for years. If you’re still surprised, you’re not listening.
I. This week in Tribalism: The Tax Bill & International Discord
As promised, this week's issue will dig into how America's tribal discourse gave birth to our most hateful extremists. But first, let's look at the tribal implications of the proposed tax bill passed through the senate late Friday night- complete with handwritten notes in its margins. In a stark reminder that our legislators vote in tribal blocks, the scoreboard reflected that all 48 Democrats voted no, while all but 1 Republican (Bob Corker) voted yes. Below are five provisions tucked into the scrawled mess of this legislation, all but one are only loosely related to taxes. Most were inserted as attempts to sway Republican senators who were on the fence about the bill. If this bill is signed into law, which at this point is almost inevitable (unless the "glitches" covered in this Politico article published on Wednesday are enough to stop it), these five things threaten to deepen our cultural divide. All are sourced from the 12/4 episode of The Daily unless otherwise noted:
- The repeal of the Johnson Act: Covered in last week's issue, this repeal allows churches to endorse and contribute to the campaigns of political candidates while still maintaining a tax-exempt status. This is an obvious affront to our long accepted doctrine of the separation between church and state. It is expected to electrify the evangelical right.
- Healthcare: The bill eliminates an ACA mandate that everyone must buy insurance to avoid a tax penalty. This elimination could lead to 13 million less people having insurance over the next decade, according to an estimate by the Congressional Budget Office. Why is that? If younger, healthier people are not required to buy health insurance, they won't. This leaves just older generations and the chronically ill in the insurance pool which will jack up premiums for everyone- and some people simply won't be able to afford it.
- SALT deductions: It eliminates deductions on federal tax returns for those who pay a lot in state taxes- namely those in high tax states like New York, New Jersey and California. All these states are blue, duh. The political motivation here is that people in those states will request cuts to state budgets which will trickle down to the social services state's provide. This is seen as a forced attempt to create smaller government across the country, a reflection of the longstanding Republican philosophy.
- The environment: The bill opens up much of the previously protected Alaska Wildlife Refuge to drilling. Republican lawmakers from the state have been fighting for this provision for years, arguing that is a boon to their economic future, but it obviously threatens the welfare of the many animals that call it home.
- University Endowments: The bill eliminates tax exemptions for university endowments, leaving less money for universities to provide financial aid and scholarships to disadvantaged and minority students. It will make it harder for those students to gain access to premier universities, threatening higher education's race and class diversity. It also decreases available funds for fully funded graduate programs like PhDs.
- BONUS! The "fetus" tax: This provision gives in-utero fetuses right to tax sheltered college savings accounts. In an effort to slip an anti- abortion agenda into a "tax" bill, Republicans are priming themselves to make a future argument that fetuses are human beings since they are already beneficiaries of savings accounts. :)
In other horrible news, our president wielded his arrogance to erode America's already fragile reputation in the international sphere in two norm shattering ways. Both impose our tribalist way of life on international relations:
- On Tuesday, Trump announced that he would officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel by moving the U.S. embassy there, spitting in the face of peaceful progress between Israel and Palestine- not to mention subverting an accepted tenet of international relations. On Wednesday, he ordered the State department to begin preparations to move that embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Violent riots are expected and all U.S. government workers stationed in Israel are being advised to stay home. The 12/6 episode of The Daily addresses why this decision is problematic, its potential consequences and why Trump is even doing it (it mostly has to do with a promise he made to a rich casino magnate).
- Last Wednesday, Trump retweeted three videos posted by a British alt-right hate group called Britain First. They claim to depict violent acts perpetrated by Muslim immigrants in the UK. All three are rife with confirmed factual inaccuracies. The retweet has rocked America's relationship with our closest ally. Prime Minister Theresa May condemned Trump's idiotic decision in a Tweet of her own. Trump attempted to rebuke her contempt, but tweeted at the wrong Theresa May, criticizing a private citizen with 6 Twitter followers. Jayda Fransen, Britain First's pathetic leader, responded in all caps "GOD BLESS PRESIDENT TRUMP!!' See her walk out of an interview with Vice News when the interviewer presses her about the Tweet's inaccuracies on the 11/29 episode of Vice News Tonight on HBO.
To the president who thinks he has the power to speak for all of us and misrepresent America's attitudes towards our international neighbors, I say- with no respect whatsoever- fuck you.
II. Tribalism Midwifed the Alt-Right:
This week I bring you the stories of three former members of America's most dangerous tribe- the alt-right AKA white nationalists, AKA neo-nazis, AKA skin heads, AKA Stormers, AKA The Westboro Baptist Church, AKA white terrorism, AKA the infinite titles assigned to our nation's leading arbiters of hate. Their views were once thought to be on the fringes on the internet's darkest corners. Now, thanks to a president who has blown the Overton Window of acceptable discourse so wide open that the resulting shards of glass are splintering lives across this country, they've emerged from the shadows feeling more empowered than ever. In profiling the three subjects in this segment, I will focus on four things: their background, how that background led to their involvement in extremism, their breaking point, and how they are counteracting their past offenses. Afterwards, I will synthesize the trends that connect the three- but you're saavy readers, I suspect you'll pick them up along the way.
What to know before we begin:
- Since 9/11, more Americans have been killed in violent acts of terror committed by white male perpetrators than those committed by perpetrators of all other races and ethnicities combined.
- The alt-right, or alternative right, is a loosely defined group of people with far-right ideologies who reject mainstream conservatism in favor of white nationalism. White supremacist Richard Spencer initially promoted the term in 2010 in reference to a movement centered on white nationalism and did so to distract the press from the movement's overt racism, white supremacism, neo-fascism and neo-Nazism. Spencer is also credited (or more accurately, blamed) with wedging Nazi sentiments into the mainstream throughout Trump's campaign and his subsequent election. During a neo-fascist conference in D.C. last November, Spencer shouted "Hail, Trump" from a podium hovering above a crowded room, to which the crowd responded with the unmistakeable Nazi salute.
- Three relevant terms to know:
- The Overton Window (referenced above): the range of acceptable discourse in society. Frequently referenced on White Nationalist message boards, Trump's influence in expanding that range is one of the reasons he is so popular in this movement.
- "Red-Pilled": An obvious, misguided tribute to The Matrix. Originally the name of a Reddit message board associated with antifeminist "men's rights" groups, men of the alt-right bestow this descriptor on themselves as recognition of their "finally seeing the reality of society." In their eyes, that reality is one where white men are victimized and emasculated by predatory women and minorities who have come to usurp their power.
- Dog-Whistle: Refers to subtle messaging present in public political discourse that is meant to be understood only by a specific audience because an explicit mention would be too controversial. An example, when Trump refused to mention Jewish people during a speech on Holocaust Rememberance day he was validating a common white nationalist belief that the Holocaust was a hoax.
- The first two of the profiles below are of guests on Sarah Silverman's show, I Love You, America. The 30 minute news/ sketch show streams on Hulu with new episodes every Thursday. The premise of the show is like that of many other journalistic efforts in the wake of the election, in order to combat tribal friction, we need to listen to each other. In each episode Sarah performs a monologue on a timely topic, then she or a comedic friend travels to meet with an American who does not live on either coast to have a chat, and ends with Sarah interviewing a guest. I think the show is timely and brilliant, and incredibly relevant to the topic of this Haut Takes series.
Christian Picciolini (pronounced like peach-olini for those of you unfamiliar with odd Italian consonant pronunciations), former neo-nazi and co founder of the non-profit Life After Hate.
Tribalism Pull Quote 1: "When I was a neo-nazi we would turn away those we deemed average American racists because they weren't extreme enough, now the movement looks like Brooks Brothers."
Tribalism Pull Quote 2: "People who are seeking identity, community and a sense of purpose are looking for very black and white answers."
- Background: Picciolini is the only son of Italian immigrants. His 1980s Chicago childhood was lonely due to his parents hectic work schedule. He felt abandoned and alienated from the Italian-American community in which he lived. When he was 14, he was approached by a 26 year old neo-nazi while smoking a joint in an alley. The neo-nazi pulled the joint from between his lips and says, "Don't you know that this is what the Jews and Communists want you to do to keep you docile?" Picciolini notes that he had no idea what a communist was and definitely had never heard the word docile, but for the first time he felt like someone was actually looking at him. He was struck by this man's charisma and his apparent care for Picciolini's well being.
- The Indoctrination: By the age of 16, Picciolini was completely entrenched in the nazi lifestyle. He had totally bought into the idea that he could blame his self-doubt and loneliness on an anonymous "other". He was part of a skinhead band and travelled the world to spread their message as a young leader in the American Neo-Nazi Skinhead movement. During the interview, pictures of Picciolini's shameful past fill the screen. All feature him with a tight crew cut glaring at the camera, a swastika arm band in the foreground. One shows him standing in front of a German Holocaust remembrance museum, hailing Hitler while horrified museum guests look on. These photos lstill eave Picciolini speechless and ashamed.
- The breaking point: in 1995, Picciolini opened a record store in Chicago. At this point, he was a 22 year old dad who was starting to feel conflicted about his role in the neo-nazi movement. The patrons of his record store represented a cross section of people he has never interacted with before. He distinctly remembers his first conversations with a gay person, a black person, and a Jewish person. These conversations started out about music, but quickly evolved into something more meaningful. He came to learn that they were a lot more alike than they were different. He began to extradite himself from the movement.
- The counteraction: His non-profit, Life After Death, is dedicated to filling what Picciolini calls the "potholes" of what might draw a person to the alt-right. Those potholes could be abuse, trauma, mental illness. Their origin is less important than their effect. He says these potholes leave people feeling empty, desperate for identity and purpose- and for someone to blame. Neo-Nazism and other radical extremism offer all three of those things. For those that see neo-Nazism as the only antidote to their loneliness, Picciolini tries to offer them a lifeline. His services include: job training, mediated conversations with those they have discriminated against and tattoo removal (this one shook me with its American History X vibes). He insists that when given the opportunity to fill the potholes with a different type of community, one based in compassion, even the most hateful can reform. He believes that most people are not monsters, they are broken humans doing monstrous things.
- His opinion of the current moment: Picciolini says it best, "I don't hear dog whistles, I hear bull horns." When Trump openly opposes the removal of Confederate statues or insists that there was violence on "both sides" it works as a recruitment tool for the alt-right movement. When the president affirms their views it is no longer fringe, it is mainstream. He also reminded us that "alt-right" and "white nationalist" are names they've given themselves, and we should just call it what it is- white terrorism.
- Related media: If you want more Picciolini, watch episode 6 of I Love You, America and check out his Google Talk and his memoir Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead.
Megan Phelps-Roper, Former member and social media manager of the Westboro Baptist Church and current social media activist:
Tribalism Pull Quote: "I was convinced that I was loving my neighbor by protecting them from gays."
Tribalism Pull Quote 2: "We cannot isolate extremists and pretend like they don't exist. We must present a constructive argument and address their positions for the sake of society."
- Background: You've seen the jarring images of zealots with fluorescent signs reading things like "God hates your son" and "God hates fags" (also their current domain name) picketing military funerals across the country. These are the blindly devoted members of the Westboro Baptist Church. Started by Fred Phelps in Kansas in 1958, the church is now recognized as both a hate group and a cult. Megan Phelps-Roper is Fred Phelps' granddaughter. She participated in her first Westboro picket line when she was five years old, holding a sign that she couldn't yet read, it said "Gays are worthy of death". She was formally educated to believe that the world was comprised of two groups: the members of her church and the alien "others" who were trying to destroy them. These "others" included gay people, Jewish people and anyone who was not white. She and her fellow followers, including most of her family members, believed they were constantly at odds with the world and the only way to protect themselves was to bring down their "enemies".
- The Indoctrination: Phelps-Roper was entirely immersed in the Westboro way of life. The only time she left her community was for a protest or for media appearances where she spread the word of the church. She remembers being a guest on the Howard Stern show where she explained that being a part of Westboro was the only way to do good in this world. In 2009, at the age of 23, Phelps-Roper brought Westboro's hateful doctrine to Twitter as their "social media manager". Here she tweeted slightly longer versions of their protest slogans.
- The breaking point: Her Tweets were obviously controversial. The replies were hurt, angry and confused. Phelps-Roper noted that she usually responded with some mix of bible verses and smiley faces. To her surprise, a large number of people continued to converse with her, and their conversations were friendly. People were interested in having extended conversations about her beliefs and theirs. A few even showed up at the picket lines to meet her in person. These conversations had what Phelps-Roper considered an unexpected result, she began to see the people she was protesting against as human beings and to see the flaws in her arguments. In her words, after she understood the horror of what her church was doing, she could no longer be a part of it. She and her sister left the church in 2012. No one in her family has spoken to since.
- The counteraction: One of her most engaged Twitter followers was a man named David whose handle was @jewlicious. David showed up at a protest in New Orleans a year before her decision to lead the church. He brought her Jewish desserts from Jerusalem and was determined to change her mind. After she left the church, David invited Megan and her sister to meet and interact with Jewish leaders. She recalls sleeping on the couch of the Hasidic rabbi who she had previously protested with a sign reading "your rabbi is a whore." She and David eventually married. She is now an activist who works with schools on anti-bullying campaigns and with police departments on dealing with and preventing hate crimes. Her philosophy? We need to talk and listen to those we don't agree with. Most extremists are psychologically normal, they have just been persuaded to believe bad ideas. Unless they are presented with logical, conflicting beliefs there is no reason to expect they will abandon their own ideologies.
- Related Media: Phelps-Roper appears in this Ted Talk that appeared in NPR's radio series guided by the question If you're raised in hate, can you reverse it?
Derek Black, Former white nationalist
The information below comes from the August 22nd episode of The Daily where black is interviewed by host Michael Barbaro. The episode aired as part of a week long series reacting to the violent events in Charlottesville. His story was originally told in this profile published in the Washington Post in October of 2016.
Tribalism Pull Quote: "After Obama's election in 2008, I witnessed the white backlash in my own community. There was an immediate belief that there would never be another white president, so we wanted to use this election as recruitment. We thought Republicanism could be the vehicle for white supremacy. We are a two party system, all white people had to go somewhere."
- Background: Black (yes, he is aware of this irony of his name) is the son of Don Black, the founder of StormFront the internet's first white nationalist website. David Duke is his godfather. Black grew up attending white nationalist rallies in West Palm Beach, FL across the river from Trump's Mar-a-lago resort, which he remembers driving by every day of high school in his red pick up truck with a confederate flag sticker on the back (more irony for ya). He remembers the white nationalist community being both tight knit and far reaching Black's house was one of the first in his neighborhood to have Broadband internet, which allowed him to communicate with other white nationalists around the world. He remembers chatting with another nationalist youth living in Europe who told him that America's invasion of Serbia was indicative of the Jews' control of the military. This comment directly aligned with his family's reigning philosophy that whiteness was under attack, and needed to be protected. They believed they were working towards a cause against a common enemy. This "enemies" were the Jewish and Black people who they fundamentally believed had lower IQs than they did. Sound familiar?
- The Indoctrination: At the age of 12, Black started a white nationalist website for kids. It included pages intending to educate kids about how to get involved in the movement and to get them excited about the Lord of the Rings movies. In 2008, when he was 19, Black won a local country election. In his acceptance speech, Black expressed the sentiments in the pull quote above; Obama's election was a catalyst for recruiting to their movement. This same year, Black started school at New College in Sarasota, FL. He attempted to blend in with his fellow students, most of whom were liberal social justice advocates. Black never discussed his family with his new friends, but he continued to call in to co-host his father's white supremacist talk show every week day (here, The Daily intentionally cuts to a soundbite one of Duke's appearances on the show, whom Black introduces as "a spokesperson for white rights). Black knew that his double life would eventually be found out. It was. After a student at the school discovered Black's ties to the movement, it spread like wildfire. Black was shunned.
- The Breaking Point: The only student who continued to socialize with Black was an observant Jew who Black had befriended during his freshman year. This friend continued to invite him to his weekly Shabbat dinners, which black always attended. During conversations at these dinners, his friends patiently debunked his arguments that his movement's enemies were manipulative and less intelligent. Black began to remove ideas from his "ideological toolbox". After a few years, Black suspended his belief in the white nationalist movement. He wrote a letter to the Southern Poverty Law Center discrediting the tenets of the movement, they published it in their newsletter. He chose the SPLC because it was the "gossip mag" of the white nationalist movement. White supremacists subscribe to the civil rights group's newsletter to see what other hate groups are up to and what they have to say about their own activities. Essentially, he knew his parents would see it. His father called him to let him know he'd been hacked. When Black revealed that he had in fact written the letter, his father replied, "I think it might have been a bad idea to have a son if this is the pain that would come from it."
- The counteraction: Unlike the Picciolini and Phelps-Roper, Black has not chosen a life of activism. He shares his story to "give context" to white nationalist actions. He does think about his own role in this movement every single day.
- What he thinks of our current moment: Trump's "both sides" comments salvaged the white nationalist's message. He notes that white nationalist's are used to operating on the fringes. Their rallies are swiftly condemned by politicians, so they've always seen themselves as anti-establishment- until now. Trump's comments, along with his silence on the Saturday of the actual rally, were a ringing endorsement in their dog whistling power. They validated their cause and made them it a part of the mainstream conversation. Black insists that anyone who was on the fence about joining the movement will likely be galvanized to do so. Black chillingly calls Trump's speech the "most important moment in the history of the white nationalist movement."
So what's to make of all this?
These three people were inundated with hateful ideologies at the most vulnerable moments of their lives. Two were children who were born into communities who completely isolated them from so called "enemies". Another was lured into a movement that exploited his unmoored loneliness. The movements were able to convince them of the validity of their ideas by giving them a sense of purpose and a cause to fight for. They were also given the tools and resources to further that cause. Their options seemed limited to immersing themselves into one tribe, joining the tribe they've been convinced was the pinnacle of evil or being completely tribeless and adrift.
They were all prompted to cut ties with their tribes after interacting with members of another. These interactions were meaningful and empathetic and personal. They burrowed deep into the root of fear that served as the foundation of their beliefs. They humanized the "other" and created a common understanding. They offered exposure and diversity which in turn offered insight into the participant's role as individuals, rather than faceless representatives of a collective group.
We can all agree that open lines of communication are the key to bridging the canyon between our tribes. But how do we actually facilitate them? How do we convince a white supremacist to sit down with a Holocaust survivor or a Black Lives Matter activist or a leader in the LGBTQ community or vice versa? And if we do convince them to come to the table, how do we ensure that the conversation will be respectful and productive? I don't have a conclusive answer to any of these questions. I am not exactly a model of empathetic discourse. I am easily angered in conversations where a point is raised that I perceive to be prejudiced. And as we've discussed, most of us choose to interact only with members of our own tribe. So how do these conversations even begin?
This brings me to my own experiences. I think about my own experience. I was not raised to be open minded. My mom's family are the type of Italians who believe that Black people are causing this country to devolve into a pit of despair. They harbor resentments stirred up during the Newark riots of 1967 that they think destroyed their city. Racial epithets were exchanged in jest at holiday dinner tables and called out in frustration while watching football games. Just last year down The Shore, a distant cousin asked me if I went to school "strapped" when I taught in Newark. Their anger is misdirected. And one of my primary motivations for writing this newsletter is to help them understand that.
My high school was a private Catholic school positioned high on a hill in a small town in Connecticut. The hill was an obvious metaphor for its attempt to distance themselves from the common folk below. My sister and I were easily some of the "poorest" students there. Our parents worked incredibly hard to send us there because they valued our education, but making ends meet was really hard. Most of the students were from those old money New England families who proudly culture void neighbors of the Kennedys. We were loud multiethnic sisters who were definitely never taught the correct way to hold silverware. Unlike the school's lower income students of color, Lindsay and I were able to "pass" as wealthy and "well bred" because we were white. So we ingratiated ourselves with those who were raised in a seemingly different world. I talked like them, I dressed like them, I played their sports (I was once a squash player y'all) I lied about my summer plans, I had my dad drop me off blocks from the school so they wouldn't see the cleaning supplies in the back of his truck. And you better believe I participated in their specific type of casual, highbrow racism. It was all part of Canterbury School starter pack of popularity. If you didn't like it, there was a subpar public school just down the street.
I tell you this to emphasize we have all done things to become someone who "belongs". Our primary motivation is often finding a community to guide us through a life that can be really challenging. I was conditioned to believe that there were two groups of people and one was simply better than the other. And I believed this for the first 18 years of my life. It took active participation in a slew of a different communities to peel away the layers of ignorance I'd been cloaked in. I live my life completely differently than I did fifteen years ago. While I was never an extremist, my ideals, beliefs and actions are not compatible with those of much of my family, my former friends and my former self. I appreciate the value of my foundation but it is not who I am. I credit interactions with my friends, students and credible media for helping me identify my true self.
I am not sure how to translate my experience into a transferrable process of transformation, but I think it starts with identifying members of our most extreme tribe who are merely orbiting its outer shell. These are not the Donald Trumps and grand wizards of the world, but those who are looking for communities to validate their anger and love them in spite of it. Maybe all it takes is offering them an alternative avenue that will be patient with them as they come to terms with the sources of their own fear and hate. Or maybe, that's easier said than done? Is it presumptuous to expect recipients of their hate to fix them? Sigh, I might be back at square one- and I'd love to hear your thoughts.
III. Need more proof? These companion articles from the December 2017 issue of The Atlantic convincingly position the alt-right as a safety net for the isolated and the lost:
- The Making of an American Nazi, Luke O'Brien: O'Brien profiles Andrew Anglin, the creator and editor of The Daily Stormer, the millennial internet's leading cesspool of white supremacy. O'Brien chronicles Anglin's need to belong, specifically his transformation from his days as a vegan, neo-liberal activist to the fascist instigator of the Charlottesville protests. A former friend of Anglin's is straight up quoted as saying, "he was always just trying to find his tribe." Unfortunately the tribe that has accepted him so wholeheartedly is the one who has made him an alt-right celebrity. (Note: I originally planned to profile Anglin in the section above, but he is so disgusting and hopeless I decided not to devote any more energy to him than this paragraph called for.)
Tribalist Pull Quote: "Right now, a divide is happening. And there are only going to be two sides. Either you are with the Social Justice Warriors or the Fascists," Andrew Anglin.
- The Lost Boys: Brotherhood of Losers, Angela Nagle: The subtitle of this article says it all, The alt-right offered angry, unmoored men a sense of belonging. Nagle explains that the recesses of the internet's white nationalist movement affirms young men who feel increasingly marginalized by what they consider the "liberalization" of society. She also argues that Charlottesville alienated less bombastic members of the movement in its explicit violence. The movement is currently fractured, and what comes next will shape America's political future.
Tribalist Pull Quote: "While everyone else was telling these young white men to check their privilege, the alt-right was speaking powerfully to their millennial woes."
IV. A few more related links:
- When recruiting for ISIS, the same rules apply: Dina Temple-Raston profiles Abdullahi Yusuf in the latest issue of New York. Yusuf is the now 20 year old son of Somali refugees who was arrested in 2014 while boarding a plane bound for Syria. He, along with a surprising number of Minneapolis teens of Somali descent, had been recruited by ISIS to join their ranks. Yusuf was the first to be assigned to an experimental rehab program in lieu of jail time. In this program, conducted by a non-profit called Heartland, Yusuf is assigned to read one book or essay a week and discuss it with a counselor. He is both regretful and remorseful. When asked what inspired him to join ISIS in the first place, Yusuf explains that he felt truly alone and wondered if he actually belonged in America at all. The ISIS recruiters assured him that he didn't.
- On 11/25 the New York Times published a profile of a white nationalist and Nazi sympathizer in Ohio. It was NOT received well. Readers accused the NYT of normalizing nazism and highlighting the subject's politeness rather than his racism. Here is the piece and the Time's response to reader backlash.
- Sean Hannity is tribalism's proudest spokesperson.
Let's wrap it up:
- Something to watch AND listen to: I just finished Netflix's update of Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It. It's not for everyone. If you're not a fan of Spike's penchant for hitting you over the head repeatedly with theatrical political messaging (the man knows nothing of subtlety), you should avoid. If you're looking for a show that throws issues of gentrification, race, race relations, community-police relations, sexuality, economics and feminism straight into your face, tune in to the Fort Greene happenings of Miss. Nola Darling and her trio of men (One of which is the 2017 version of Mars Blackmon, portrayed by Lee himself in the movie version, played by Hamilton's Anthony Ramos who is easily one of the most beautiful human beings I have ever seen.) And it wouldn't be a Spike Lee joint with out a bad ass soundtrack that spans many decades. The lead song is The Root's The Seed (2.0) which is an all time Haut Takes favorite.
- Speaking of Spotify: It's that time of year when you can "unwrap" yours Spotify stats. Visit this website and link your account. It will display some very specific listening stats (like your total number of listening minutes, top artists and songs) with some very fun graphics. In case your wondering, I listen to 91,537 minutes of music this year. My top songs of 2017 are here, which led me to one of those moments when I realized damn, I have great taste in music (it also reminded me that I listened to Salt n' Pepa's None of Your Business A LOT this year- timely stuff).
- It wouldn't be a Haut Take without a shout to the BadGal herself: Yesterday, Spotify declared Rihanna their most streamed female artists of 2017. work,work,work,work,work,work.
- If you've forgotten there are good people in the world: Check out Father Gregory Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries, an L.A. based non profit that helps former gang members start over. He has a lot of media coverage, but I suggest starting with this essay Boyle wrote for American Magazine back in March entitled I thought I could "save" gang members. I was wrong.
- If you haven't read or watched the NYT's Executive Editor Dean Baquet's interview with Jay-Z for NYT Style Magazine, get on that! It is so much more than the much covered soundbites about his relationships with Kanye and Beyonce.