Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Perils of Anti-Racist Triumphalism: The NY Times' Helpful Reminder That Not all White Supremacists Are Stupid

Last weekend, The New York Times offered a palliative for triumphalist American anti-racist triumphalism with its essay "The Data of Hate".

Conservatives and liberals both indulge in the habit; the Times' piece should be a wake up call and incentive to see the world as it actually is, not as one would like to imagine it being.

The Right is desperate to portray white supremacists as throwbacks and rare outliers in order to advance the twin lie that white racism no longer exists as a significant social problem in the United States as a means to advance a narrative of white victimology where the end goal is maintaining white privilege and white power.

The Left enjoys anti-racist triumphalism as a way to declare moral superiority over conservatives and while also celebrating the hard fought victories of the civil rights movement which (in the popular imagination) culminated in the election of Barack Obama.

"We" want to believe that white supremacists are toothless wonders, hillbillies, or country rube Southern primitives who put on Klan robes and shoot cockroaches with guns. Those easy caricatures exist to fulfill a fiction of social/racial integration and cohesion along the color line that legitimates America's multicultural corporate liberal democratic political regime.

The NY Times' "The Data of Hate" subverts those stereotypes:
VIKINGMAIDEN88 is 26 years old. She enjoys reading history and writing poetry. Her signature quote is from Shakespeare. She was impressed when the dialect quiz in The New York Times correctly identified where she was from: Tacoma and Spokane, Wash. “Completely spot on,” she wrote, followed by a smiling green emoji. 
I gleaned all this from her profile and posts on, America’s most popular online hate site. 
I recently analyzed tens of thousands of the site’s profiles, in which registered members can enter their location, birth date, interests and other information. Call it Big Hatred meets Big Data... 
POLITICAL developments certainly play a role. The day that saw the biggest single increase in membership in Stormfront’s history, by far, was Nov. 5, 2008, the day after Barack Obama was elected president. 
The top reported interest of Stormfront members is “reading.” Most notably, Stormfront users are news and political junkies. One interesting data point here is the popularity of The New York Times among Stormfront users. According to the economists Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse M. Shapiro, when you compare Stormfront users to people who go to the Yahoo News site, it turns out that the Stormfront crowd is twice as likely to visit 
Perhaps it was my own naïveté, but I would have imagined white nationalists’ inhabiting a different universe from that of my friends and me. Instead, they have long threads praising “Breaking Bad” and discussing the comparative merits of online dating sites, like Plenty of Fish and OkCupid.
White racism is not an opinion. It is a fact. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz's empirical work in "The Data of Hate" buttresses that reality.

The "backstage racism" of the post civil rights era has moved to cyber-space. White supremacy is remarkable adaptable. Print, radio, TV, film, and other media have been used to circulate and sustain it. Cyber-racism is the most recent iteration of how white supremacist ideologies adapt to new technologies.

Anti-racist triumphalism is comforting because it makes the members of the post civil rights and "post racial" generations feel safe and secure. Of course, the facts undercut the illusion. There has been an increase in the number of white hate groups in the United States since the election of Barack Obama. Anti-black and brown hate crimes remain all too common. The KKK and other white supremacist organizations are recruiting both active duty and newly retired members of the United States military.

The White Right is resurgent and its brand of white supremacy, nativism, and racism has fully taken over the Republican Party. White supremacists have infiltrated the Tea Party and identified its members as prime candidates for full conversion to their ideology. The Republican Party's electoral strategy involves the use of white racial resentment to motivate white voters while also limiting the ability of black and brown people to vote.

The contemporary Republican Party--what political scientists call a "party in government"--is a de facto white supremacist organization. The pundit classes bloviate and hand wring over Tea Party GOP obstructionism as though the origins of the behavior are a "great mystery" when the answer requires no great riddle. The Republican Party is a racist organization that must, by definition and commitment to its members and brand name, destroy the United States' first black president.

Social scientists have documented how racists are more fearful of social change, have high levels of out-group anxiety and a need for in-group solidarity, use basic decision rules and cognitive schemas for decision-making, and are more prone to authoritarianism and social conservatism. Racists are not necessarily less intelligent than their peers: many white racists who score high on traditional measures of intelligence are very skillful at hiding their racial attitudes as they conform to the public "colorblind" norms of the post civil rights era.

However, one must be careful in how they interpret the above findings: macro-level analysis does not tell us a great deal about individuals or their personal behavior.

Anti-racist triumphalism yearns for the racist throwback. But, what of the more dangerous white supremacist who works as a school teacher, college professor, judge, banker, police officer, financier, doctor, attorney, military officer, politician, or in the mass media? Anti-racist triumphalism provides cover for their social evil.

"The Data of Hate" details how white supremacists who frequent the website "Stormfront" are not necessarily stupid. They are socially unenlightened and lack cosmopolitan virtues. White supremacists (and white racists more generally) are also racially tribalistic.

It is easy for the public and the media to shame racists such as Cliven Bundy, George Zimmerman, Donald Sterling, Ted Nugent, or Paula Deen. Throwing garbage and rotten tomatoes at the designated racist "freak of the week" is easy sport. Confronting white elites, everyday white supremacists, and those black and brown conservatives who are their sycophants and boot lickers, that support, maintain, and advance a system of institutional white supremacy is much harder work. Thus, it is avoided by all but the most brave (or foolhardy?) souls.

"The Data of Hate" concludes with the question, "why do some people feel this way?"

This is a weak closing written to provoke thought and speculation by readers in the face of the faux "great mystery" that is white supremacy and white racism.

White supremacists hate people of color, Jews, those who are not "Christian", and the Other because they want to maintain, protect, appropriate, steal, and transfer any and all types of power, material, capital, and other resources to themselves while also sustaining and expanding the psychological wages of whiteness.

White supremacy is a social and political invention whose goal is maintaining white in-group dominance over people of color and "non-whites". Anti-racist triumphalism, and its idealistic dreamers on both the Left and the Right, want to deny the influence of white supremacy over American life and culture.

In reality, white supremacy is one of the core tenets and beliefs of the American political project, specifically, and "American civilization", more broadly. If anti-racist triumphalism blinds a person to that fact, they too, however unintentionally, are also doing the work of maintaining white supremacy.


D. Wright said...

"Anti-racist schadenfreude is comforting because it makes the members of the post civil rights and "post racial" generations feel safe and secure. Of course, the facts undercut the illusion. There has been an increase in the number of white hate groups in the United States since the election of Barack Obama."

I can't find the source, I think it was SPLC, but white hate groups have actually decreased in number recently, because their politics are becoming more mainstream. They don't have to remain on the fringe.

"'The Data of Hate' details how white supremacists who frequent the website "Stormfront" are not necessarily stupid. They are socially unenlightened and lack cosmopolitan virtues. White supremacists (and white racists more generally) are also racially tribalistic."

What do you make of the fact that Stormfront finds most of its recruits in the most cosmopolitan regions of America? The prognosis is bleak in my opinion.

chauncey devega said...

Great puzzle. White racial resentment and hatred triggered by proximity to non-whites. There was a social psych or econ article about that hypothesis a few years back I believe.

The way that hate groups area being mainstreamed is a frightening indicator of how Right-wing and cruel our political culture has become. What to do?

GoyaBeans said...

First time poster. I came across the site today and you have gained a new follower. Now that I have got that out of the way.

I just wanted to add my anecdotal experience with this situation. My current office features several older white men with different degrees of movement conservatism. They are never afraid to share their views with everyone else wanted or not....well I work very closely with someone who I really think is one of these high-functioning racist who has learned to navigate the "post-racial" Obama years. He has dropped clues like throwing terms around such as the war of northern aggression, the voter fraud epidemic, worst president ever, Obama-phones....
So I am surprised to actually meet someone who hold his views in person and to actual talk about them. I won't even get into the most extreme parts. What is most unsettling is his range of knowledge in religion, history and philosophy. I was bit shocked how someone who is "well-read" as he is can hold such shocking and appalling views. I'd like to think they are dying out but reading something like the Times article above gives me cause for concern...

Myshkin the Idiot said...

I met this person through a friends' facebook page from England who claimed to have an old Stormfront account that she hardly used anymore. She said they weren't white supremacists to which I gave her the statement from their page that detailed how they were indeed white supremacists.

She has Asperger's and when I told her they were racist she said something like, "Well, we Aspies prefer the truth." To which I was like, sooo, you're racist :( and you think their truthful :(:(. I shut that shit down.

They can think they're all smart and shit, but their entire belief system is predicated on lies and assumptions which sooner or later they will have to cling to in the face of reality, which compromises everything they think they know. GoyaBeans says the War of Northern Aggression, hahaha!

Miles_Ellison said...

The American artifice of white supremacy was not built by illiterate hood wearing hillbillies. They are merely its shock troops and enforcers.

chauncey devega said...

American aristocracy my friend.

chauncey devega said...

I have hinted at my proposed project before. It has been done the other way, but why not make some accounts and become part of that community?

chauncey devega said...

I have met these types too. Very very dangerous. They know enough to be dangerous but have reframed historical reality to fit their priors. I met one of these Right-wing conservative types in a recent class--he honestly believed that history is just interpretation and it means whatever he wants it to mean. I checked that immediately. Said student dropped the class.

Glad to have you. Do chime in some more. Cool name by the way.

chauncey devega said...

Can't wait to build on next season of the podcast. Featuring this comment. White supremacy is about race, class, gender, sexuality, and religion. How do you locate white women in the KKK women's and children's groups in your framework?

chauncey devega said...

I am sure you have some thoughts. Do share...

chauncey devega said...

Or imagine selling off your own children into slavery.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

I've thought about it. They police heavily to rid themselves of anti-racists.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

I would need some kind of endgame or object. Maybe even a community to revert to in order to process through posing as a white supremacist.

I read an article a while back, can't remember what about, but one of the top comments was some white dude saying, "well, you're setting the bar for racism pretty low. I think we should really be focused on overt acts of bigotry and violence as standards of racism, otherwise who knows who can be accused of racism."

I think we should keep the standard of racism "low" so that we continually to address the many faces of a racist society, not just howl every time someone says something obviously bigoted or some racist shoots up another mosque or young person on the street.

James Estrada-Scaminaci III said...

I must admit that I have not concentrated on the role of white women in the right-wing. I have not ignored it, but it is not a central focus. I do know from my research that the original building of the Christian Right came from Phyllis Schlafly mobilizing fundamentalist/evangelical women and Mormon women.

While the Christian Right is strongly orientated towards a male-dominated patriarchy, there is some scholarship indicating that the movement also has an ideological tendency toward complementarity in gender roles.

I do not focus on the role of white women except insofar as they are participants in the movement. What I mean by that trite statement is that whenever women-focused groups like Eagle Forum or Concerned Women for America participate in a movement coalition, I certainly mention that. But, they rarely offer anything different from what the male-dominated portion of the movement has proposed.

However, there is a new book on Concerned Women for America. I have read an article based on the book. Interestingly, CWA uses the rhetoric of "fear" and "chaos" to mobilize conservative evangelical women--essentially the same type of rhetoric used to mobilize conservative evangelical men into the Patriot militia, Patriot groups, Wise Use movement, etc. But, the entire movement is based on stoking fear, paranoia, and resentments, while exploiting any and all psycho-sociological weaknesses.

Where I do concentrate on women is in their role in the Tea Party movement, which is male-dominated but not as much. However, by putting women forward, and knowing that the Tea Party groups are linked to Oath Keepers and through them to the Patriot militias, it allows the movement to offer a less threatening female face to the overall movement. Prime examples are Pat Stout and Catherine Bleish.

But, none of that changes the movement's strategy, tactics, organizational networks, or overall objectives.

Research I read on "Massive Resistance" and included in a chapter showed that while white women played an important role in the movement, they provided two key influences: 1) they spurred white men to protect white women from allegedly "rape-oriented" black males, and 2) identified women's role as home-schooling their children into the culture of god-fearing white supremacists.

Anonymous said...

Well said. The current trend of 'colorblind' radical integrationism always mistakes (or intentionally misrepresents) proximity for equality and affection. As you say, Africans and Europeans were never physically closer than during the US's kidnap and forced labor period.

joe manning said...

Much of the Christian right regards women as baby machines in keeping with "be fruitful and multiply." And they tend to make a big deal out of women "submitting." They encourage recruitment by reproduction.

Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert routinely accuses O of not protecting "our women." He qualifies as a blatant racist.

Anonymous said...

Chauncey, I enjoyed reading this. But kind of off topic, and more food for thought than looking for a response, I notice that you regularly juxtapose racists to 'the Left.' You also tend to pair racisms that you call 'anti-black' and 'anti-brown.' In other words, it seems like your political rubric is 'people of color' vs Europeans, and 'the Left' vs 'the Right.' But then your writing strikes as very conversant in African American politics and also not oblivious to anti-African racism amongst Hispanics or leftists for instance and pitfalls of People-of-Colorism. I think it's clear from my comments here at your blog that my politics (and some other readers here?) differ from this characterization I've written of yours. So I guess I just find it interesting and am curious as to what the greater detail and bottom line of your politics are. I also wonder if and how your ethnicity plays into that detail and bottom line -- specifically, I wonder if you are African American or African Hispanic or some of both (your name, DeVega, is of course what makes me wonder if you're Hispanic.)

Anyway, just genuinely curious about your politics, not meaning to challenge or even elicit a response.

And thanks for another good article.

/s/ S. Farin

chauncey devega said...

Challenging is good. By all means do so. I am a black pragmatist--yes, that is a bit broad and complicated. You are right though in terms of the dangers of binaries. I guess I am reproducing the cultural norms and logic of America's racial project while trying to critique it. Much to ponder. There are racists on the Left and on the Right, but the latter in the U.S. at this moment and historically has had white supremacy as its core project. And as I and others often say, conservatism and racism are one and the same thing in this moment.

Maybe at some point I will write up something about "what I believe" and use that as an opportunity for others to share their thoughts too.

IrishUp said...

One thing that I see, is that prominent white women on the right are nearly universally positioned as / performed as "Exceptional Women". Exceptional women can hang with the boys, yet still do Lady Things.

On the Right, they will ALWAYS position their Motherhood(TM) over their "careers". They will be harshly critical of the "wrong kind" of women - feminists, trans* women, single mothers, poor women, career women & etc. But they are front and center in the Womb Wars - the pristine white Motherhood that they are tasked with flawlessly and fiercely defending.

The dark side here is that in order to trade UP on relative privilege, they have to consistently throw everyone else under the bus. They are allowed into the He-Man Women Haters Club at the price of their sisterhood.

I think the burden of cognitive dissonance that they are carrying (relative to your typical rich white dude) partly explains why so many of them are so BAD at defending their positions (a la Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman). But it may also be the stress of knowing that their position is particularly precarious - their betrayals are many, and they fear what any change in the status quo in which they've invested, will bring because of this fact. And on the other side of the coin, they know perfectly well they aren't REALLY "in" and any misstep in their performance gets them kicked out on their ass (traitors do not sleep easy).

Buddy H said...

In my experience, many liberals believe that racism is dying out with the older generation. They seem to feel in a few more years, after the racist grandpas and grandmas pass, there will be only peace and love. But I've seen more than enough examples of young white supremacists. For every old racist who dies, there are two young ones to take his place. I wish this wasn't so, but I have to believe my eyes and ears.

As far as the racists being well educated, I don't know. The ones I've met (the garrulous co-worker, the creepy dude at a party, etc) are good at faking erudition. They may have spent some time sitting in classrooms, but the amount of unbelievable bullshit they carry around, the half-baked theories, the bad science, the twisted religiosity, the propaganda accepted as truth... these aren't intelligent people. More gullible than anything else. Let them talk and you'll hear about The protocols of the elders of zion, the wisdom of ayn rand, the bell curve.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I'm so sick of encountering this dumb 'the racists are dying off' canard. Yes, they're dying off. They're also breeding like rabbits.