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

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Last weekend, The New York Times offered a palliative for triumphalist American anti-racism 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 Stormfront.org, 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 nytimes.com.

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 remarkably 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.