Today saw Reddit tackling a weighty issue: racism, particularly as preached by organized hate groups.
Rather than speculate on the reasons people might choose to identify as a neo-Nazi or Klansman, the thread goes directly to the source, prompting recovered racists to explain why they succumbed to anger and how they ultimately escaped some of the more vile ideologies prevalent in our society.
For many posters (some of whom protected their anonymity by using throwaway accounts), prejudice against other ethnicities began young and was dissolved by a changing circumstance. One explained how the late-’80s/early-’90s crime waves and immigrant influx in Dade County, Florida, created a racial powder keg in which it was natural for a white kid to become a skinhead. But upon enlisting in the army following 9/11, with dreams of protecting the country from brown-skinned enemies, he saw that his fellow soldiers in basic were of every possible background—united by one common cause. “I now have a group of friends that looks like one of those fucking diversity posters from an HR department,” he wrote.
People who grew up poor in urban settings noted that this strata of the population is often split along gang lines, with whites, blacks, and Latinos often resenting one another for “taking jobs” or “ruining” once-safe neighborhoods, which creates an atmosphere in which racism and de facto segregation are the accepted norms. Especially in areas where whites were the minority, Caucasian children seemed quite susceptible to canards about intrusive, lazy immigrants who were “taking over” the country, only later questioning these preconceptions.
Others were simply brainwashed by parents or charismatic hate-mongers who seemed to have all the answers about the state of the world and who was responsible for it. But as they were pulled deeper into these subcultures—again, often as impressionable teens just looking for a niche and some coherent viewpoint—many realized they were not of the violent, paranoid, and hypocritical temperament their peers held fast to. When members of skinhead gangs turned out to be unintelligent thugs who exploited the welfare system (i.e., the very people they were supposedly against), logic and empathy triumphed.
The most moving stories about a change of heart, however, are those that involve a single person capable of refuting racist dogma by mere example. The top-voted post was an anecdote about how, as a young man dedicated to the “fight” against minorities, the author had planned to beat up an African man riding the bus with his child. But as the boy disembarked, the father said simply, “I love you, my son; be good.” From this, something clicked: “He was just a father who wanted his son to be good, he loved him just like my father loved me. For some reason this changed everything for me.” It’s heartening to remember that humans are capable of such reversals.
Photo by Martin/Flickr