Due to the recent horrific events, I decided to deviate from my series on identity to weigh in on the state of race relations in America. This is a major focus in my course on violence and society and an important issue I’ve previously discussed in my post on how the KKK is recruiting veterans.
When I posted my article on the KKK two years ago, I started it by stating the following: “The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) might sound like a cultural relic, hardly taken seriously in the 21st century, but it is actively recruiting American Veterans.” Who would have guessed the state of public discourse would come so far since then. Along with Nazism, these “cultural relics” have been revitalized by an unmasked mob of protesters openly advocating for white supremacy. To make matters worse, the president himself is apparently unwilling to fully denounce the movement.
So what is going on in the minds of those drawn to the ideas?
According to recent research by psychologists who surveyed 447 alt-right supporters:
…results suggest that members of the alt-right feel that the social positions of their favored groups are under threat…
Feeling like victims, their activities are conceived as a form of “justice”. As I stated in my previous article on the KKK, their group was birthed as a support-group for disenfranchised and disgruntled confederate veterans. Here is their original mandate:
“To protect the weak, innocent and defenseless from the indignities, wrongs, and outrage of the lawless, the violent, and the brutal; to relieve the injured and oppressed especially the widows and orphans of ex-Confederate soldiers”
Taking out the last line, one might mistake this for a contemporary social justice initiative or a counter-terrorist mandate. How could this be the mandate of one of the most infamous hate groups? This is because throughout history, the most extreme acts of violence are often committed for a perceived sense of justice.
There are many examples of violent conflicts throughout the history where this is the case, including the early crusades and countless acts of both domestic and international terrorism. Even murder-suicides are shown to result from this sense of justice, as argued by Thomas Joiner in The Perversion of Virtue.
So if “all sides” are motivated by the same sense of perceived “justice”, who is to blame? Whose version of “justice” is based in facts and whose is a perversion of fact?
Let’s take a closer look at the reasoning behind the white supremacists in the study mentioned above. The psychologists state:
…supremacists were most notably distinct from populists in their willingness to derogate other groups, including but not limited to Blacks. To illustrate, in addition to perceiving Black people half-way between the ape-like human ancestor and the modern “full” human (M = 51.45, SD= 33.35), supremacists similarly dehumanized Democrats (M = 52.15, SD= 33.90) and journalists from mainstream media outlets (M = 51.48, SD = 34.29), and rated both Muslims (M = 44.78, SD= 34.68) and feminists (M= 46.88, SD = 34.19) closer to the ape-like human ancestor than the modern human.
This bias stems from a racist narrative in early “scientific” accounts where whiteness was associated with the Ancient Greeks and their supposed “evolved” form of facial flatness, as represented in the following image:
When it comes to fact, anyone advocating for white supremacy has distorted reality to fit their idea of justice. Although it is obvious that racism is wrong, it is important to recognize that those who advocate for these ideas perceive themselves as victims in a world where their status has come under question. A 2014 study in Psychological Science corroborates this point:
…making the changing national racial demographics salient led White Americans (regardless of political affiliation) to endorse conservative policy positions more strongly. Moreover, the results implicate group-status threat as the mechanism underlying these effects. Taken together, this work suggests that the increasing diversity of the nation may engender a widening partisan divide.
Like the recent resurgence of open white supremacy, it is important to unmask the truth behind their motives through open discussion. Bringing these ideas out of the dark allows us to shine the light of reason on them. This is one goal I’ve maintained throughout my sociology courses and one I also uphold on this blog. I am interested in hearing your perspective, so feel free to share your own ideas and experiences.