He was groomed from childhood to one day be a key leader in the white nationalist movement. Then, after being outed at his liberal arts college as a racist streaming-radio personality and son of a one-time KKK Grand Wizard, students were left debating how they should respond. Most were not feeling particularly conciliatory.
Then a Jewish student invited the declared “heir” of the white nationalist movement to dinner. In a recent Washington Post article, Eli Saslow tells the story of the patient friendships that changed Derek Black’s life.
Once a proponent of the message of the sort of intolerance and racism now roiling within the Republic Party, Black today is working to make amends. Son of Don Black, creator of the largest white nationalist website, Stormfront, Derek isn’t shocked by recent turns in U.S. politics.
“I’m kind of banking on the Republicans staking their claim as the white party,” he told Saslow.
This is a modern tale of peace and reconciliation. It’s a sadly unusual story. When violent confrontation on all manner of race-/equality-based struggles is the media message, these tales of kindness and patience are virtually invisible. Just as I found at Standing Rock, a land of healing and restoration of relationships, the story is of violent confrontation.
Yet it was not street fights that enabled Derek to find his way through the lies of white nationalism. It was openness and patience and acceptance, which led to the gradual expanding of Derek’s worldview.
Yet how many would be willing to share a meal with a racist? How many are able to hold the door open for change? I’m guessing that’s the power of religious tradition, pushing hearts open beyond what they would otherwise tolerate. Commandments to love, etc.
(That clearinghouse of solutions, wikiHow, neglects to illustrate the sharing of the dinner table on its “How to Reduce Racism” post.)
May more find the courage to reach out their hands, open their homes, and listen in the coming year.
From the Washington Post:
Their public conference had been interrupted by a demonstration march and a bomb threat, so the white nationalists decided to meet secretly instead. They slipped past police officers and protesters into a hotel in downtown Memphis. The country had elected its first black president just a few days earlier, and now in November 2008, dozens of the world’s most prominent racists wanted to strategize for the years ahead.
“The fight to restore White America begins now,” their agenda read.
The room was filled in part by former heads of the Ku Klux Klan and prominent neo-Nazis, but one of the keynote speeches had been reserved for a Florida community college student who had just turned 19. Derek Black was already hosting his own radio show. He had launched a white nationalist website for children and won a local political election in Florida. “The leading light of our movement,” was how the conference organizer introduced him, and then Derek stepped to the lectern.
“The way ahead is through politics,” he said. “We can infiltrate. We can take the country back.”
Years before Donald Trump launched a presidential campaign based in part on the politics of race and division, a group of avowed white nationalists was working to make his rise possible by pushing its ideology from the radical fringes ever closer to the far conservative right. Many attendees in Memphis had transformed over their careers from Klansmen to white supremacists to self-described “racial realists,” and Derek Black represented another step in that evolution.
He never used racial slurs. He didn’t advocate violence or lawbreaking. He had won a Republican committee seat in Palm Beach County, Fla., where Trump also had a home, without ever mentioning white nationalism, talking instead about the ravages of political correctness, affirmative action and unchecked Hispanic immigration.
He was not only a leader of racial politics but also a product of them. His father, Don Black, had created Stormfront, the Internet’s first and largest white nationalist site, with 300,000 users and counting. His mother, Chloe, had once been married to David Duke, one of the country’s most infamous racial zealots, and Duke had become Derek’s godfather. They had raised Derek at the forefront of the movement, and some white nationalists had begun calling him “the heir.”
Now Derek spoke in Memphis about the future of their ideology. “The Republican Party has to be either demolished or taken over,” he said. “I’m kind of banking on the Republicans staking their claim as the white party.”
A few people in the audience started to clap, and then a few more began to whistle, and before long the whole group was applauding. “Our moment,” Derek said, because at least in this room there was consensus. They believed white nationalism was about to drive a political revolution. They believed, at least for the moment, that Derek would help lead it.
“Years from now, we will look back on this,” he said. “The great intellectual move to save white people started today.”