As the title suggests, this little essay is going to be a stark departure from the usual fare that I’ve thus far produced for this blog. I acknowledge that my chosen topic might seem irrelevant to NYAP at a glance--and by extension, irrelevant to the blog. So before diving in, I would first like to say: One of the most valuable things that the New York Arts Program has done for me is help me find my voice. It would be a waste of my time with this platform not to amplify that voice.
A little over three weeks ago on March 15th, two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand--the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre--were attacked by a 28-year-old white man. The perpetrator livestreamed the act and published a manifesto explaining his racist intent. He murdered 50 people and injured 50 others.
From Charleston to Charlottesville, the Christchurch shooting is only one of many recent examples of violent acts committed due to radical white supremacy--though undoubtedly one of the most deadly. The radicalization of young white men is a topic that many people who are much more knowledgeable than I am have tirelessly researched and reported on, but the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto exemplified how seemingly “harmless” mainstream rhetoric stewing in darker corners of the Internet can pave the way for atrocities. What frightens me most about the Christchurch shooter was that he could have been anyone. He and his racist ideals were not isolated from the rest of society in some bunker, where violent tendencies develop independently of what is “normal.” Prior to committing his act of terrorism, he was a “normal” person, indistinguishable from countless other young white men who spend their days learning everything they know about race relations from the Internet.
White supremacist ideology preys on disaffected young white men to the end of radicalizing them to carry out acts of violent racism. It’s a process that takes place gradually, and failure to understand how ostensibly “normal” people fall victim to the rhetorical tactics of the alt-right is how we end up with avoidable tragedies like Christchurch.
It does not take a deep dive into the dark web to find white supremacy taking root. It barely even takes a Twitter search. Recently on Twitter, the hashtag “#MyWhitePrivilege” was trending. It had started as a call for white people to tell stories about “outrageous” things they had gotten away with which they believe a non-white person would have been punished for. In almost no time, the hashtag had been co-opted by people expressing their outrage at the very notion of white privilege. From there it only took a few clicks to find accounts and Twitter threads espousing some truly racist alt-right rhetoric, intermingling with users who just came to watch the chaos unfold.
It goes without saying that not all young white men are primed to become terrorists, and most never will. Still, I don’t think it’s wrong to point out that we can do better than this. Radicalization doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and the difference between today’s “ironically” racist Reddit user and tomorrow’s terrorist could be made in simply challenging what appears to be “harmless” racism. Sometimes that means confronting our own habits and thought processes, or those of family or friends. Usually, it means having difficult conversations. But difficult conversations are overall more painless than a hailstorm of bullets.
Written by: Sarah Beard