The Lodge

Hidden hate

America's struggle with hate within

Photo: Illustration by Emily O'Connell

Photo: Illustration by Emily O'Connell

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The image of uniformed men chanting racist slogans and carrying torches is not new to the minds of most Americans. We see this a lot in our history classes when we watch films of Nazi or KKK parades. But that was in old black and white stock footage from decades before our parents were even born. Yet just this summer an eerily similar scene unfolded in the quiet college town of Charlottesville, Va. The tension between the protesters and counter-protesters erupted into violence that left many injured and one person dead.

No one saw this coming.

How could white supremacists terrorize a small American town in 2017? Sadly the blame in part lies with us. For too long we have been sweeping under the rug the simmering hatred that is alive in today’s America.

As Americans the way we have dealt with hate speech in the past few decades is simple. We have ignored it. In our daily lives on social media and in person we shut down these people and close them off from our communities. After the events of Charlottesville, one of America’s most prominent Neo-Nazi publications, The Daily Stormer, found itself without a website because the companies that hosted the site, GoDaddy and Google, revoked their domains. Of course this is the natural reaction for a society that has come so far in the ways of equality, but it might not be the most effective approach.

All we did was just cover up the problem. We don’t hear the hate anymore, but these bigots still communicate with each other, building their own communities over the years while the rest of the country ignored them.

In a recent New York Times article the paper interviewed a white nationalist living a seemingly average American life. Although stating that he is not a Nazi, his ideas are almost exactly the same as theirs, they just go under a different banner. His hate now goes by a new name, but it still retains many of its racist ideas.

Fighting an ever-changing ideology of hate may seem futile, but there is one proven way to defeat it: talking. If you can engage with someone who holds these ideas out in the open, you can accomplish two things.

First you make them show their true colors to the point that no amount of rebranding can hide their bigotry. If you shut someone down just because they call themselves a white nationalist, you run the risk of sending them underground and making them infinitely more dangerous. Some of the most harmful bigots in history were the ones the world never even knew existed until they had struck.

Men like Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and the Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof were relatively unknown by the world until they violently exploded onto the world’s radar.

The second benefit is that by engaging with these people you may be able to change their hateful opinions. An article in The New Yorker described how Megan Phelps-Roper, a member of the hate group the Westboro Baptist Church, decided to leave the group after having conversations with people on Twitter, who exposed her to parts of society she had not been able to see. They approached her as a human being and not as a monster.

A more influential figure who left a life of hate came in the form of Senator Robert Byrd. He started out his career in the Senate as a white supremacist-supporting Southern-Democrat who filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He ended that career as one of the strongest supporters of civil rights in the Senate and advocated for the creation of the National Monument and Memorial Day for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Although some may argue this man just changed with the times, the many relationships he made in the Senate, including his strong bond with Senator Ted Kennedy, were contributing factors in his change of heart.

America loves to quote our heros but rarely do we ever heed their advice. Dr. King said “darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” So why do we think putting hate mongers into a dark corner will ever change their ways? Time has proven that it won’t. Only the light of our attention can drive out this darkness. As Dr. King said, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

 

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