“Stereotypes are what make the world go ‘round.”
My friend was driving her son home after getting takeout. She almost missed what he said, but then it registered. That’s strange. What does he mean by that?
What followed was a conversation with her son that had her going to his YouTube account and blocking an Irish white supremacist. It was a “Recommended Video” that popped up on her son’s YouTube homepage.
What disturbed her the most was the video appeared to be directed at young white boys.
This is how white supremacy comes to a home near you. It starts off subtly, with seemingly benign phrases about stereotypes being good and diversity being bad. Throw in a little talk of white heritage, sprinkle in some talk of being proud of your race. Before you know it, the talk escalates to things like “white genocide.”
Today’s brand of white supremacy doesn’t wear a white hood or a tattoo of a swastika (although they still exist.) No, today’s racists are more palatable. They are well spoken, intelligent. They dress nicely and are clean-cut. They speak reasonably and calmly and present their ideology with (false) numbers and (flawed) studies that back up their claims of racial superiority. They will look at you with doe eyes and say they simply want to preserve the heritage of white people in our country and blink innocently when they ask, “Why is racial pride so bad?” and earnestly insist that they mean no harm to minorities, but black, Muslim, and Jewish people are inherently inferior. They seem…rational — if you don’t actually pay attention to the words and their message. And if you push back enough, eventually they spit words like “cuck” and “Jew lover” and other slurs that blow their cover.
Today’s brand of white supremacy is growing and more cunning in their methods. And their recruitment is ever-present. Their ranks include country boys with Confederate flags to YouTubers to comic book writers to our country’s leaders.
This week, Rep. Steve King tweeted praise for a prominent Dutch white nationalist (read: white supremacist). He was called to task by liberals and Democrats.
Speaker of the House and leader of the Republican Party, Paul Ryan, weighed in ever so softly and gently with a polite rebuke and generously provided an off-ramp for King, “I hope he misspoke.”
King responded: Nope. Meant every word.
In the wake of King’s purebred, eugenics-loving tweets, someone else weighed in via Twitter. A popular YouTuber whom your 10-year-old has likely watched many times: JonTron tweeted his support of King’s tweet. In a two-hour interview that was intended to give him a chance to explain himself, he doubled down on his ideas. His words and language echoed those of popular Neo-Nazi/KKK website, Stormfront.
JonTron is not the only popular YouTuber with millions of followers to come out of the racist woodwork. PewDiePie, YouTube’s most popular personality, lost a deal with Disney after he posted videos promoting anti-Semitism and genocide as a “joke.” His “joke” videos are not so funny when you consider that it could be your kid watching them and not understanding the “joke.” When it could be your kid interpreting a joke as an endorsement from a YouTube personality they love and look up to.
JonTron had 3 million subscribers.
PewDiePie had 50 million subscribers.
That’s a lot of kids who are being subjected to white nationalist rhetoric and bigoted “jokes” and carefully worded racism. And how many kids realize that these things are, in fact, racist? How many echo and repeat and absorb what these personalities say, whether they are intended as jokes or not? (The subject of racist jokes is a subject that should be discussed as well.)
My friend’s son did not realize that he was watching a white supremacist. He didn’t seek out the videos. He was a PewDiePie fan. After watching a PewDiePie video, YouTube “Recommended Videos” showed up on her son’s page, and one of those videos was the Irish YouTuber. And this YouTuber wasn’t posting “joke” videos. He was preaching white supremacy.
This is how white supremacy comes to your home.
It doesn’t necessarily wear Jackboots and brown shirts and goose step down your tree-lined streets. No. This brand of white supremacy comes wrapped in jokes and pranks that appeal to a marketable demographic of 7- to 16-year-olds — a captive audience of impressionable minds and malleable ideology.
It doesn’t shout in your face that it’s here to convince you that minorities are inferior. It doesn’t scream at you in vein-bulging rage. It is a comment in the middle of a video game stream. It is a tweet that seems innocuous at first glance. It is slowly planting seeds of words and phrases. Little by little, getting your brain used to hearing them. Until one day they hear a more forceful message that is tinged with hate. One that exploits a tragedy as proof of why you should be afraid of brown people. They use the words and phrases you’ve heard before. You’ve heard them in jokes, you’ve read them in chat rooms or comments on social media. You’ve heard the president say them. And it all feels…normal.
It feels normal to a young teen who isn’t familiar with coded language. Who cannot instinctively spot a racist dog whistle when he hears it. Who doesn’t realize that white nationalism and racist regimes don’t start with a bang. They start softly with whispers. With casual words meant to brand them. Others. They use rhetoric to play on fears.
Hitler and Goebbels didn’t start off talking about murdering Jews or genocide. Nazism was based on white nationalist ideals. It started with words. Words that were brushed off or minimized or ignored by a hurting population.
Words that emboldened other racists and comforted anti-Semites. Words that stoked fears and sowed divisions.
This is how white supremacy comes to your country. To your neighborhood. To your home.
Be loud in your refusals to accept it.
Be clear with your children on exactly what it is and why it’s wrong.
And when you’re confronted with it, whether it’s said in the language of theorists and philosophers or whether it’s said in mind-numbing ignorance, stand up to it. Call it out. Make sure everyone within earshot hears you. Don’t give them an inch to dispense their hate. Don’t try to reason with them politely. Don’t offer soft, gentle rebukes. Don’t allow it to become normalized. And for the love of humanity, don’t give them an out. Don’t give them a pass. Don’t give them an off-ramp.