I’ve spent a couple of hours recently wandering down rabbit-holes of Internet filth. I’ve been reading the comments sections on white supremacist websites. And I have a professional opinion. (And a few unprofessional ones.)
I’m an advertising copywriter. If I’m an expert in anything, it’s the way words feel when they fall on your ear.
The feeling I get when I read the posts—and especially the comments—on white supremacist sites like the ones Dylann Storm Roof frequented is easy to identify. It’s hatred.
These websites claim to decry violence and threaten to ban anyone who encourages violence, yet they are filled with comments glorifying violence against blacks in general, African-Americans in particular, Jews, and Latinos. They are rife with vile racial and ethnic slurs and caricatures. They openly bait and mock anyone who doesn’t valorize their overtly aggressive, just-itching-for-a-fight posturing. Make no mistake: They want a race war, because they believe they’ll win. They are convinced that whites will some day wipe out all the inferior races, and the Stars & Bars will fly free over every statehouse in the land.
I’m not going to link to these sites or even name them. They’re easy enough to find. It won’t add any joy to your life to go there. But it’s useful: If you want to understand the enemy, you have to look at their propaganda machines. (Little wonder that hatred of “the mainstream media” is ubiquitous on white-power sites.)
Of course, everyone has to back away from mass murder. Just as the white supremacist websites Roof visited abhor his actions (kinda), so Fox and Rush and the rest of the Chattering Right must back away from their further-right brethren.
But the linkages are real. What they say on the radio and on Fox News has huge influence: The hateful “us versus them” tone of commentary on every issue and every circumstance has turned what should be meaningful, thoughtful national dialogue into a hair-pulling pop culture reality show.
Which is bad enough. But the viciousness and divisiveness of their brand of crazy leaks into and emboldens the fringes. The idea of “white genocide”—another popular term on the white-power sites—doesn’t come out of nowhere. It comes out of ignorance fueled by blowhards blathering about “taking our country back.”
When you look at those message boards, your first instinct is to fight back. (Actually, your first instinct is to wash your eyes out with Lava.) I’ve tried that. It does nothing but fuel the flames of hatred.
It’s no use appealing to the stupidity of their claims of racial superiority based on biology. In biology, there are no races. We’re just one big human race.
But the white supremacists can’t see that. Blinded by statistics based on bias and influenced inexorably by centuries of slavery, segregation, and marginalization, the white-power patriots can’t see the scientific fact that we’re all the same inside.
So if we can’t fight them directly, how do we stand against this sort of hatred? The sort of hatred that might stop short of murdering blacks and Jews and Latinos, as long as it could build a fence around them?
For starters, we can be more honest and consistent in the labels we apply to ourselves. As in, you can’t be a white supremacist and a Christian. You can’t invoke the Founding Fathers on the Second Amendment and fail to understand the American ideal of freedom for all, regardless of race, creed, or color.
That’s the America I learned about as a kid—the Higher Good symbolized by the flag I pledged allegiance to every morning. Turns out the reality was far from the ideal; it was from the beginning.
But that doesn’t mean the ideal isn’t still the North Star.
This week at work, we were talking about Kurt Vonnegut and how he would be a poor representative for an optimistic cause. His novels weren’t very hopeful.
“And yet,” I said, “If he had any advice, he’d say we should be kind.”
In fact, he said it in 1965. Perhaps this fact alone justifies Vonnegut’s pessimism.
But even Vonnegut knew that, if we had a chance, kindness was the key. And kindness means compassion. Community. Inclusion. Understanding. Education—mutual education. Diversity of expression. Love and respect.
Kindness is a freedom not just worth dying for, but worth living for. Maybe it’s time to take it as seriously as we take our guns.