Critical ThinkingEducationFeaturedHigher Education

Walking Away From Hatred

“Hey dad, you know that racist online empire you’ve devoted so much time to building? I think I broke it. Oh and you know that group of guys you really love, the ones who made you a grand wizard or whatever? I think I might’ve broken them too.”

 

Derek Black is the son of Don Black, a well-known former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, member of the American Nazi Party and the founder of the “Stormfront” white supremacist website. Derek is young man who attends college and who has gained no small amount of infamy due to his activities within the Stormfront organisation. He’s spoken at various Stormfront rallies and he’s been an active moderator of the website’s forums in past years.

 

On July 17th of this year, Derek Black sent an open letter to the Southern Poverty Law Center in which he renounced his pervious white supremacist views, apologised for the serious harm he has caused through his past actions in the movement, and explained why he now believes that the very concept of “white supremacy” is deeply flawed and highly racist.

 

The full text of the letter is here. It really is worth a read.

 

Of course, I’m not inside this young man’s head and I have no way of knowing whether he really truly believes the things that he says in this letter. It could be a publicity-seeking ruse or some kind. He could still be an appalling racist.

 

I really, really want to believe him.

 

The letter isn’t just a series of “I’m sorry if you were offended” and “Let’s all just move on” sound bites. He seems to show quite a deep understanding of the social concepts behind race relations in his writing – a deeper understanding than might be shown many social activists, even.

 

So, assuming that Derek Black is serious about this abandonment of his white supremacist views, how could it have happened? This is a young man who has lived deep within a major Klan family, who has been brought up by a father who started one of the most notorious depositories of online racial hatred out there. A lifetime of family indoctrination from an environment like that can’t be at all easy to tear apart.

 

Derek offers an explanation for what brought out his change in his own letter.

 

Education.

 

It took just a few years of college-level education to bring this person to the point where he could pen a letter like this, where he could rationally and clearly explain exactly why his previous world view was wrong. Just a few years of education, of mixing with people and talking and debating and learning, were enough to break down an entire young lifetime of prejudice and indoctrinated views.

 

Again, we have no way of knowing how sincere Derek Black is. Words can be cheap. However, the more I read his letter the more I find myself believing that he really has learned and grown and come to view the world differently. He does not offer weak platitudes. He writes with intelligence and with reason.

 

If Derek Black really means what he says, he might just be a perfect example of what School of Doubt is striving for. Here is a young person who held the most unpleasant, irrational, illogical beliefs. A young person who had been brought up in a poisonous and corrupting environment for all of his young life. A young person who was exposed to high-quality education and who used that education to change for the better.

 

If the son of the leader of Stormfront can be educated to the point where he turns his back on and publicly dismantles the white supremacist views that he has followed all his life, then there must surely be hope for others.

 

The young person in your class who uses racial slurs without fully understanding the weight of what they’re saying. The teenager who hates gays because his dad hates gays. The individual who lives in a household where the entire world is filtered through Fox News. If education can allow Derek Black to write the letter he wrote, it can help young people like these too.

 

Please don’t let us down, Derek.

 

Featured Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Alasdair

Alasdair

Alasdair is a high school English teacher in Scotland. He's a passionate skeptic and science fan, which is why he runs a discussion club for young skeptics in his school. He loves space and astronomy more than pretty much anything and is studying for a physics degree in his spare time in order to become qualified to teach science.

He lives with a cat made of distilled hatred and spikes.

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