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raceAhead: The Nazi Next Door

November 28, 2017, 8:02 PM UTC

What to make of the Nazi next door?

Over the weekend, The New York Times published a story about a man named Tony Hovater, an Ohio welder by trade and a Neo-nazi by calling.

It opens with a peek inside the newlywed Hovater’s registry, a sign of the point to come: “a muffin pan, a four-drawer dresser and a pineapple slicer.” See? Nazis are just like us. Hovater has cats. He enjoys Seinfeld. He and his young bride eat at Applebee’s. He’s just a normal guy who happens to think that Hitler was right and the races would be better off apart.

The critiques were immediate and pointed. Journalist Soledad O’Brien pointed out that racists have long been regular Joes and Janes. “Notice all the kids in the front row of this lynching photo!” she tweeted. “They seem nice and normal!” Liam Hogan, my favorite Irish historian, shared photos of good-looking people enjoying a pro-Nazi rally in Madison Square Garden, in 1939. “They described it as a ‘pro-American rally’ and a ‘mass demonstration for true Americanism,’ he tweeted.

Damon Young, editor-in-chief of Very Smart Brothas pulled no punches. Stop with the puff pieces. “Of course, profiles of the people directly harmed by [Charlottesville] hate speech and violence would be much more compelling. But that would require whiteness—white maleness, specifically—to be uncentered,” he said.

What was clearly intended to be a chilling look at how insidious hate can be when it blends into middle America’s normcore aesthetic had the opposite effect. Hovater himself was largely unchallenged. His path to hate and its deadly ramifications were unexamined. As a result, the piece appeared to make Hovater seem mildly acceptable: Just a young man getting started out in life who happens to have some unpopular opinions.

The Times was forced to respond almost immediately. “We understand that some readers wanted more pushback, and we hear that loud and clear,” said national editor, Marc Lacey. And Richard Faucett, who is an excellent journalist, shared his thinking along with a bit of his soul in this reflection. What made Hovater turn? What was the catalyst? “After I had filed an early version of the article, an editor at the Times told me he felt like the question had not been sufficiently addressed. So I went back to Mr. Hovater in search of answers. I still don’t think I really found them,” says Faucett.

My guess is that Hovater will never be able to provide those sorts of answers, in part because the foundations of his convictions are largely invisible to him. In that way, he is very much like most of us.

For help in understanding how deep hate and racism run, I turned to another of my favorite historians, Ibram X. Kendi, the author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. “These ideas always come from somewhere,” he told raceAhead in a recent interview. “Just because we don’t know or care to learn where, doesn’t mean they lose their power.”

In part, Mr. Hovater can thank an Englishman named Richard Pory for his own American hate. Born in 1572, “Pory appears to have been America’s first known articulator of racist ideas in a murky and complex history that can be traced back to those early years of the colonial era,” says Kendi in this must-read essay.

Here’s the short version. Young Pory had fallen under the spell of a man named Richard Hakluyt, a colonialist zealot who published propaganda material in the guise of travel stories, designed to inspire Englishman to seize their divine destiny to civilize and Christianize the non-European world. (One of the travel writers Hakluyt promoted was Captain John Smith, who founded the first English settlement in the New World and would only later become known as Pochahontas’s rapist.)

But Pory created an impressive body of faulty scholarship on his own, all specifically designed to justify the glory of the white race and the slave trade to come. And he seemed like a fun guy to have around. Pory’s work influenced Shakespeare, who baked his racist ideas into the play, Othello. He served in British Parliament, where he helped to popularize the “curse theory” of white supremacy, the ugly idea that “Negroes and blacke Moores” are “descended from Ham the cursed son of Noah,” and are therefore destined for enslavement.

And when he arrived in the New World around 1619, he was welcomed by the great colonial thinkers of the day, including Tom Jefferson’s great-grandfather. He was ultimately appointed the first Speaker of the Virgina Assembly. Stamped from the beginning indeed.

Pory was, no doubt, a man of means and manners, a gentleman who was kind to (white) children and dogs. But his early influence on his ambitious and like-minded audience helped establish a point of view that allowed every subsequent iteration of white supremacy — from colonial genocide to slavery to Jim Crow and beyond — to appear reasonable and necessary to a vast number of otherwise lovely people.

This is partly why Nazi-next-door and voter deep-dive stories so often fail. It will take a lot more than some bonding over muffins to address hundreds of years of this type of calcified normal.

On Point

It's #GivingTuesday. Let's talk about the “new power”Blackbaud, which has been tracking #GivingTuesday activity since 2012, expects the movement to post its highest number of online contributions to date. #GivingTuesday has helped organizations raise more than $177 million from 1.64 million gifts in over 98 countries in the last six years. While you’re giving from your heart today, do your mind a favor and read this grand treatise by Henry Timms, the founder of #GivingTuesday, and Jeremy Heimans, the CEO of Purpose, a business that builds social movements. It is a prescient look at the emergence of “new power” in business and society and how it can and should be shaping the world. Old power is a currency, owned by a few. “New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven.” This article became the basis of a book which is set for release April, 2018 and not a minute too soon.HBR

The Baptist Church continues to wrestle with its racist origins
Lest you believe that all this history talk isn’t relevant, let me take you back to June of this year, when all hellfire broke loose at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting. At issue was a resolution to condemn white supremacy and the “alt-right” movement, a particularly sensitive topic since the denomination had been explicitly founded to support slavery. The resolution, put forth by a black pastor, specifically asked that the curse language which condemned black people to slavery be removed. When the resolution failed to pass, a devastated attendee tweeted his dismay. And that’s when Richard Spencer chimed in.
The Atlantic

Here’s what happened when a First Nation community elected an all-female leadership council
The short answer: Things have begun to improve. Last January, the Saik'uz First Nation, located in Canada’s British Columbia, elected a new slate of councilors, all women, ranging in age from 31-72. It was a complete surprise, but the women got right to work streamlining their priorities. "The old system was funneled," said one, talking about a "portfolio" system of governance that's been in place for the past 30 years. "That really hasn't made enough of a change." Recently, all five attended a leadership conference where they shared both the progress they’ve made and the challenges that lie ahead. The women spoke emotionally about elders, aunties and female role models. They also talked about trauma, addiction, the loss of fluent language speakers and the politics of reconciliation.

President Trump insults Native Americans during ceremony to honor Native Americans
Trump has a long history of problematic remarks directed toward Native people. But yesterday, in a ceremony designed to honor Navajo Code Talkers, he referred obliquely to Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas,” widely seen as a slur. “In this day and age, all tribal nations still battle insensitive references to our people. The prejudice that Native American people face is an unfortunate historical legacy,” said Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye in a statement. “[T]his was supposed to be an event to honor Navajo Code Talkers, who risked their lives during World War II,” said Steve Benen. “It wasn’t open-mic night at a right-wing gathering, so there was no need for Trump to use this as an opportunity to attack a political opponent.”

The Woke Leader

Leave millennials alone: Chapter 10,967
Jia Tolentino has written the latest, greatest critique of the never-ending attacks on the millennial character, the capriciously narcissistic, drowning in self-esteem and perennially failing to launch generation. Her meta-analysis includes a thorough reading of the now significant body of research on the hapless cohort, which has spanned the gamut from “they want global fame,” to “they actually just want health insurance.” But she digs deep into the socio-economic forces that have hamstrung many younger professionals, both with unwieldy debt, but also as players in an evaluation economy. Who can survive when you're constantly rated and reviewed online, while crowdsourcing your medical expenses? “[W]hen humans learn to think of themselves as assets competing in an unpredictable and punishing market, then millennials—in all their anxious, twitchy, phone-addicted glory—are exactly what you should expect,” she says.
New Yorker

Let Native designers design
Clothing designer Sage Paul tried to reclaim a nasty pejorative in her latest art show called “Indian Giver.” The Toronto based designer of Dene First Nations origin, asks the audience to consider what would happen if indigenous people appropriated from themselves for a change. “Accountability is only coming up now, because we finally have a voice to say, ‘Wait a minute, you can’t use our name for that or our ceremonial objects for your poster!’,” she told Anupa Mistry. “It's very new, but this turn of accountability is not enough. We're just at the beginning of the conversation.” Come for the concept, stay for the photos.

Twenty-five years of Clarence Thomas: A review
Dorf on Law, a site run by law professor and U.S. Constitution scholar Michael Dorf, typically offers well-reasoned and accessible gems for legal eagles or armchair judges. But this guest essay, posted for the 25th anniversary of the nomination of Justice Clarence Thomas, has a bit more grit. It explores the judge’s history with financial disclosure forms, his near total silence from the bench, his odd hiring practices, and more importantly, his troublesome stance on affirmative action, all subjects which have new relevance today.
Dorf on Law


[T]here has arisen in the United States a growing menace to political order and justice that seeks to reignite social animosities, reverse improvements in race relations, divide our people, and foment hatred, classism, and ethnic cleansing… this toxic menace, self-identified among some of its chief proponents as “White Nationalism” and the “Alt-Right,” must be opposed for the totalitarian impulses, xenophobic biases, and bigoted ideologies that infect the minds and actions of its violent disciples…
—William Dwight McKissic, Sr.