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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.

The White Right is resurgent and its brand of white supremacy, nativism, and racism has fully taken over the Republican Party. White supremacists have infiltrated the Tea Party and identified its members as prime candidates for full conversion to their ideology. The Republican Party's electoral strategy involves the use of white racial resentment to motivate white voters while also limiting the ability of black and brown people to vote.

The contemporary Republican Party--what political scientists call a "party in government"--is a de facto white supremacist organization. The pundit classes bloviate and hand wring over Tea Party GOP obstructionism as though the origins of the behavior are a "great mystery" when the answer requires no great riddle. The Republican Party is a racist organization that must, by definition and commitment to its members and brand name, destroy the United States' first black president.

Social scientists have documented how racists are more fearful of social change, have high levels of out-group anxiety and a need for in-group solidarity, use basic decision rules and cognitive schemas for decision-making, and are more prone to authoritarianism and social conservatism. Racists are not necessarily less intelligent than their peers: many white racists who score high on traditional measures of intelligence are very skillful at hiding their racial attitudes as they conform to the public "colorblind" norms of the post civil rights era.

However, one must be careful in how they interpret the above findings: macro-level analysis does not tell us a great deal about individuals or their personal behavior.

Anti-racist triumphalism yearns for the racist throwback. But, what of the more dangerous white supremacist who works as a school teacher, college professor, banker, police officer, financier, doctor, attorney, military officer, politician, or in the mass media? Anti-racist triumphalism provides cover for their social evil.

"The Data of Hate" details how white supremacists who frequent the website "Stormfront" are not necessarily stupid. They are socially unenlightened and lack cosmopolitan virtues. White supremacists (and white racists more generally) are also racially tribalistic.

It is easy for the public and the media to shame racists such as Cliven Bundy, George Zimmerman, Donald Sterling, Ted Nugent, or Paula Deen. Throwing garbage and rotten tomatoes at the designated racist "freak of the week" is easy sport. Confronting white elites, everyday white supremacists, and those black and brown conservatives who are their sycophants and boot lickers, that support, maintain, and advance a system of institutional white supremacy is much harder work. Thus, it is avoided by all but the most brave (or foolhardy?) souls.

"The Data of Hate" concludes with the question, "why do some people feel this way?"

This is a weak closing written to provoke thought and speculation by readers in the face of the faux "great mystery" that is white supremacy and white racism.

White supremacists hate people of color, Jews, those who are not "Christian", and the Other because they want to maintain, protect, appropriate, steal, and transfer any and all types of power, material, capital, and other resources to themselves while also sustaining and expanding the psychological wages of whiteness.

White supremacy is a social and political invention whose goal is maintaining white in-group dominance over people of color and "non-whites". Anti-racist triumphalism, and its idealistic dreamers on both the Left and the Right, want to deny the influence of white supremacy over American life and culture.

In reality, white supremacy is one of the core tenets and beliefs of the American political project, specifically, and "American civilization", more broadly. If anti-racist triumphalism blinds a person to that fact, they too, however unintentionally, are also doing the work of maintaining white supremacy.