Learning to Speak Alt-Right

White liberals who were appalled by the alt-right rally in Charlottesville need to lean into the kinds of stories white nationalists use, not recoil from them.

Screenshot from “Who Are We?”

On August 12th, 2017 the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA ended with the murder of a counter-protester and injuries to many others. Since then, I’ve been watching the shocked reactions of white liberals and shaking my head.

Most want to dismiss the Charlottesville tiki-torchers as hate-filled bigots. If those guys are bigoted assholes, maybe some of that’s because we, the “good” white people, failed to build relationships with them? We were too busy feeling superior maybe?

But we can still learn. There may not be much hope for coaxing back dedicated white nationalists, but there are a LOT of white guys who are still stuck in neutral; they won’t show up to an alt-right rally (not yet, at least), but they also won’t show up to the BLM march.

We damn sure had better learn how to get to those guys first. And the white nationalists already have a head start.

“Unite the Right” rally, Charlottesville, 2017

Look at this picture of a river of unmasked white men marching for fascism. This tells me that the alt-right knows how to speak to these guys at a frequency they can hear. They are taking on real risk in being here as openly as they are. What is inspiring them to step into such risk?

The 4 minute video below offers some answers.

“Who Are We?”

This video is a direct appeal to my soul as a white guy. It’s unafraid to speak to me sincerely about my pain and isolation (unlike most of the snarky liberal media I come across these days). As I watched this video repeatedly, I realized something strange: I — dedicated antiracist white guy — agree with many of Spencer’s ideas here.

66% of them, in fact. Because Spencer and I are in full agreement that white men are in the midst of total crisis. We just happen to think really differently about what we should do about it.

Here are some of Spencer’s words in italics, then my analysis of those words:

Who are you?
I’m not talking about your name or your occupation. I’m talking about something bigger, something deeper. I’m talking about your connection to a culture, a history, a destiny. Our ancestors had a very strong sense of their identity…To be exiled from their communities and identities would have been a fate worse than death.

So far, I agree. White people have mostly lost touch with the cultures of our European ancestors in the process of becoming “white.” Most of us aren’t really rooted to the land we live on or to the cultures of our ancestors.

Screenshot from “Who Are We?”
Man lives and dies for a homeland. For a people, and its future. For beauty. For the power of being part of something bigger than oneself. Who are we? We aren’t just “white.” “White” is a checkbox on a census form. We are part of the peoples, history, spirit, and civilization of Europe.

I agree. We want to find home again, to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, bigger than “whiteness.” But what Spencer doesn’t say is that “whiteness” is a made-up concept created by the 1% in order to maintain political power. It’s a bribe — “Hey kid, here’s some basic advantages over your peers. Accept them, and don’t question why a handful of people can have private jets while millions live in poverty.”

Screenshot from “Who Are We?”
No chance to make our future. No chance to find another horizon. So who are we? I guess the real question is, are we ready to become who we are?

Yes — we are on a path towards destruction. And from this point on, we disagree. Spencer thinks that the solution is ethnic cleansing. I think that the solution is overcoming our fear of facing our past. White people, on the whole, are terrified of owning up to our history, which makes sense since it’s littered with land theft, genocide, rape, and enslavement. But if we could muster the courage to face it, we could start healing.

Screenshot from “Who Are We?”

“Umm…so you agree with a white nationalist?”

Well, while other white men might be more pure and holy antiracists, it turns out that, paradoxically, me and Richard Spencer have quite a lot in common when it comes to our views on race.

For example, we both spend a lot of time thinking about what whiteness is, and how most white people are so confused about race. We both are afraid about the future of our people, and are willing to sacrifice in service of our dedication to the hearts and souls of white people.

Frankly, if I were at a dinner party with a bunch of white men, Richard Spencer would be one of the people I could most easily talk with. The white liberals in the room by and large wouldn’t want to talk to me, because so many of them are terrified of confronting whiteness. But not Richard Spencer. In fact, he’d probably be quietly recruiting guys off to the side while I argued with the liberals about what MLK really meant.

White man whispering

So when are we, the white antiracist men, going to show up as fearless as the alt-right does, to preach our own liberation gospel to our brothers?

Or maybe “when” is the wrong question. Maybe the question is, will we show up at all? Maybe we’ll just continue surrendering that ground to the white nationalists.

But not me. Fuck that. I’m going to show up. I’m going to learn to beat them at their own game. I’m going to become dangerous — I’m going to learn to speak their language.

Screenshot from “A Vast Audience” (1928)

Imagine a stage facing a huge, murmuring audience of white men. There are two microphones. Richard Spencer and his kind are crowded around one of the mics, speaking directly and loudly to the audience with messages of belonging, acceptance, and pride.

The other microphone stands alone, mostly unused. Antiracist white men occasionally approach the microphone, but they speak too softly, or have too much self-doubt, or convey an alienating sense of superiority, or speak in a language that the crowd mostly doesn’t understand.

What if we started approaching that microphone to tell a story with the same degree of confidence and I-don’t-give-a-fuck-ness that the alt-right does? What could that story be?

  • A story that unapologetically targets white men. Many progressives clutch their pearls at the thought of white men organizing our own kind. Of course, white men are the most prominent terrorists in this country, so we need to hear and consider these critiques, but we can’t let them paralyze us. We can’t wait for someone else to give us permission to save ourselves.
  • A story that exists in accountability to movements led by women and people of color. Our organizing of white men has to produce results when it comes to supporting movements led by women and people of color. Our stories need to be informed by theirs. Our unique contribution to movements flows from our ability to invite other white men to step into freedom struggle alongside us. But it’s the testimonies of oppressed people that hold the insight needed for us to understand systemic oppression and how to resist for the long haul.
  • A story that helps organize white men towards collective shifts in our behavior and culture, not just individual change. The dominant culture in this country focuses on individualism, and so our own transformation has to be done as a part of collective efforts. We white men have a particular superpower in working with other white men for racial justice — the ability to speak with the magical “I.” I can tell my story of the pain I’ve felt specifically as a white man, which can open up space for other white men to confront their own pain. This is where the bonds of brotherhood come from. The alt-right knows this and has been exploiting it while we’ve been wringing our hands. We don’t have time to waste.

So what would such a story look like? Could it look something like this?

Like where this video is going but think you could do it better? Please do so and share your link below!