Sunday, December 4, 2016
Once, I knew a white supremacist...
I once knew a budding white supremacist. This was a long time ago — Carter was president, and the internet, at least in its present form, was undreamed of. I've forgotten his name now, but I remember the boy himself pretty well: a tall chubby kid, face of a mean cherub, who always carried a few knives and ninja stars, which he loved to pull out and display, trying to impress me. He seemed to think I was his friend. I believe I qualified for this status because I was the only girl who would talk to him.
I never reacted much when he waved the weapons around or tested out his race rhetoric on me. He was clearly trying to shock, and I knew better than to take that bait. And anyhow, it was more interesting to keep quiet and see what he'd say. He struck me as equal parts creepy, repulsive, and pitiful. Typical teenage girl that I was, it was his pitiful aspect that fascinated me. I felt sorry for him, or at least thought I should. He was evasive when I asked about his home life, but from hints he dropped here and there, I gathered that his mother was absent and his father was a tough guy, a bully. He despised his dad but really wanted to be just like him. I suspect he succeeded.
I've thought about that kid a lot over the years, and recent events, of course, bring him to mind again. I see him in Dylann Roof and in those well-groomed young fascists Sieg Heiling around DC. Bannon actually looks a bit like I imagine my pal would after growing old and seedy. I wish everyone could see the screwed-up 16-year-old behind the cruelty and madness of our current crop of devout racists. It's not that I think we should pity those people. God forbid. I'm not a teenage girl anymore and I spend my pity a little more sensibly now. And I don't mean to downplay the danger they present. But to effectively answer the danger, I do think it's essential to keep in mind how utterly ordinary they are.
There's nothing special about hate mongers. They don't carry any evil gene or suffer from some unique pathology. They're simply people who've made decisions about how to relate to the world. Their decisions make exactly the same sense to them that ours do to us. They don't know their own corruption. That's why we've got to remember that resistance doesn't just mean outwardly opposing them and their agenda. It means, for some of us, building up an immunity to it within ourselves and among our own. "Nice" white people can believe we're deaf to the siren song of racism, but we never are. And those of us who grew up with hellfire religion know that the first step to conversion — to the con of "salvation" — is fear. Fear makes the mind soft and the heart stupid. It makes us pliant. It makes us doubt ourselves and scramble for what feels like safety without questioning whether that feeling is true. So above all else, we've got to refuse to fear the haters. Don't let them scare you. They're just fucked-up little twerps, desperate for our attention.
Vision, Odilon Redon, 1883