The white flight of Derek Black
October 17, 2016 8:27 AM   Subscribe

 
This is an amazing and hopeful read and really does deserve its own post.
posted by lalex at 8:31 AM on October 17, 2016 [35 favorites]


I enjoyed reading this after someone posted it in an election thread but I almost think it should be reframed out of the Trumpsphere in the OP; it stands on its own.
posted by selfnoise at 8:42 AM on October 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


Thirding: Anyone who stumbles into here, take the time to read this.

I'll remember the name Matthew Stevenson for a long time, I think.
posted by seyirci at 8:50 AM on October 17, 2016 [17 favorites]


Really good story, thanks for the post. I had started reading this when I came across it in one of the election threads, but never finished.

Well worth the read.
posted by nubs at 8:51 AM on October 17, 2016


I was just about to post this. Sadly it's my life story without the fame.
posted by R.F.Simpson at 8:53 AM on October 17, 2016 [40 favorites]


This reminds me a lot of the story about the woman who grew up in the Westboro Baptist Church. It's really hard to keep your kids wedded to your bizarre fringe ideology if you give them the tools they need to think independently. That's a pretty good reason, I think, that many fringe ideology people don't allow their kids to get a decent education.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:54 AM on October 17, 2016 [52 favorites]


Serious question: What is the difference between the previously and this one? I did see this being shared across various social media
posted by infini at 9:04 AM on October 17, 2016


Excellent and hopeful, thanks cosmic osmo.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:09 AM on October 17, 2016


A very poignant read. It's inspiring to read about someone who is willing to accept that they maybe do not know everything and that mistakes were made. It takes a lot for an individual to make those concessions. Too often, people are filled with pride and fear and those overpower their ability to accept that a change may be in order.
posted by Fizz at 9:10 AM on October 17, 2016


Fascinating. I'm impressed both at the way Derek's friends made a personal connection to him as a human being before trying to talk to him about his beliefs, and his own intelligence in questioning and ultimately renouncing the ideology he was raised to propagate.

Also, it amazes me how much the white nationalist/supremacist links with Trump are marginalized in the national conversation, when in reality they show exactly who he is and what his candidacy rests upon.
posted by bearwife at 9:12 AM on October 17, 2016 [14 favorites]


Fight for education.
posted by amtho at 9:14 AM on October 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


I went through a vastly milder version of this.

The simple fact is that it's hard to maintain a hateful, othering ideology when you're breaking bread with the people you supposedly stand against. His friends took exactly the right approach by not permanently ostracizing him, instead maintaining their friendship and engaging his intellect. It was surely a costly, emotionally laborious task for them to undertake, and while they certainly weren't obligated to do it, their willingness to do so paid off tremendously.

I'm so grateful for the people in my life that did likewise, even when I wasn't in a position to appreciate it at the time.

I now find myself having a milder version of that conflict with my parents and family; I still don't really know what I'm going to do, but I (perhaps naively) hope that mine turns out better than his.
posted by Sokka shot first at 9:16 AM on October 17, 2016 [38 favorites]


Also, this is why it's good to talk about the _benefits_ of emotional labor instead of just the _costs_.

Organizing those dinners? Taking the time to listen to people, to show up to a dinner where you know you'll be uncomfortable and might be harassed? Taking the time to discuss things in that campus forum, to have difficult discussions, to risk being friendly to a person who holds hateful views? These are incredibly challenging, and not everyone could do them.

Those are expensive actions that cause stress and mean that the people doing them need comfort and stress relief elsewhere (more emotional labor).

The benefits, though, are quite impressive.
posted by amtho at 9:19 AM on October 17, 2016 [85 favorites]


Seems appropriate to link this here: Life After Hate. These groups aren't that different from gangs, or cults or whatever. People need to relearn how to live, especially if they grew up immersed in it.
posted by jonmc at 9:42 AM on October 17, 2016 [9 favorites]


So glad to see this posted. I wanted to post it myself but didn't due to a conflict (New College of Florida pays my salary).

I got to know knew Matthew Stevenson pretty well when he was here. He's every bit as decent a person as the story makes him seem. And he never mentioned this to me, which is immensely to his credit. He clearly respected his friend and was not in it for any kind of personal credit.

Finally, yes, a terrific story. Note that it's from Eli Saslow, probably the best writer in American newspapers today. He wrote this piece on Diamond Reynolds, the women who live-streamed the shooting death of her boyfriend Philando Castile, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning series on hunger in America; this was my favorite piece.

Hope that's not a derail; just saying that if you liked this piece, there are many more like it.
posted by martin q blank at 9:45 AM on October 17, 2016 [75 favorites]


His Dad wrote a long piece on Derek's rejection of White Nationalism and it's a good read if you google for it (I won't link to Stormfront here) he basically says that his son either has Stockholm Syndrome or is on Drugs. Take from that what you want.
posted by NiteMayr at 9:50 AM on October 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


By then Stormfront had become his full-time job, even though he wasn’t making much money and the family was getting by on Chloe’s salary as an executive assistant. Each morning, she would go to work, and Don would go to his crowded desk in their single-story house..

Nice to see the big alpha guy - the head of the family - depend upon his wife making money, so he can sit by the computer typing hate.
posted by kariebookish at 9:53 AM on October 17, 2016 [31 favorites]


It is a heartwarming story, but I marvel at the burden Matthew Stevenson and others took on themselves to make this connection to Derek. It's great that a Jewish person would take it on himself to connect through to someone who was so anti-Jewish, but it's asking an awful lot of someone.

White nationalism is a white problem; it should largely be the responsibility of white people (like me) to do the heavy lifting of eradicating it.
posted by Nelson at 9:55 AM on October 17, 2016 [18 favorites]


Michelle Obama's "When they go low, we go high" quote has been circulating a lot these past few days, and it's impossible not to think about it when reading about people like Matthew Stevenson.

Also, conservative Christians should take note: Matthew Stevenson is Jewish, and just preached your gospel better than you ever will.
posted by schmod at 9:59 AM on October 17, 2016 [40 favorites]


Good article. Also, the kid looks like a young James May.
posted by -1 at 10:01 AM on October 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Michelle Obama's "When they go low, we go high" quote has been circulating a lot these past few days, and it's impossible not to think about it when reading about people like Matthew Stevenson.

People have been saying that quote to me a lot lately and I'll be honest I'm not totally sold.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 10:18 AM on October 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


His Dad wrote a long piece on Derek's rejection of White Nationalism and it's a good read if you google for it

I'm... not going to read that, but I did find fascinating the end of the WaPo article, where it mentions Don and Derek continue to have cordial conversations about their differences of opinions. Perhaps there's hope yet for the elder Black?
posted by psoas at 10:35 AM on October 17, 2016


Yeah, it was interesting to hear Don Black took action to moderate racial slurs and whatnot from stormfront posts. It's easy to dismiss that as political expediency as it does say he wanted more legitimacy in the mainstream media, but I get the sense from this piece that, like his son, there is an intelligent and empathetic person underneath who's been steeped in hatred for so long that he can't see past this ideology. So maybe his own son can eventually breach that wall of hate and help him to question everything he's spent his life proclaiming, although perhaps that's too much to ask.
posted by TwoWordReview at 10:46 AM on October 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


I get the sense from this piece that, like his son, there is an intelligent and empathetic person underneath who's been steeped in hatred for so long that he can't see past this ideology.

Can you share what specific parts of this piece made you think that? Everything about Don Black in this piece makes me think he's a true believer. I'm not getting a lot of intelligence or empathy from Don Black in this piece.
posted by 23skidoo at 11:03 AM on October 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


This is an excellent article and a fascinating read. I couldn't help wonder though, if Derek would have had the same transformation if he had chosen a large, public university? I suspect he would not. Mostly because at a large school he would have found it easy to hook up with kids (and adults) who are also white supremacists. The fact that Derek was at a very small college where he could not disappear into the crowd, and a college that is proudly liberal, and apparently has very patient, caring students, made all the difference.

Also, those crazy, creepy, conservative fundies are right! Liberal education can destroy* their children!


*heal/save
posted by pjsky at 11:16 AM on October 17, 2016 [16 favorites]


Interesting that his parents let him go to a liberal university. No doubt other White Nationalists are taking notes and not gonna make that "mistake".
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:29 AM on October 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


Homeschooling. Should set off alarm bells.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 11:29 AM on October 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm... not going to read that, but I did find fascinating the end of the WaPo article, where it mentions Don and Derek continue to have cordial conversations about their differences of opinions. Perhaps there's hope yet for the elder Black?

I don't know--I think it's relevant that Derek went through his conversion in his early 20s, while going to college. His story is vastly more dramatic than that of most people but it's not unusual for people to give up their parents' beliefs while in college, due to liberal arts classes and maybe having contact with other kinds of people for the first time. I have doubts that people can radically change their beliefs past a certain age, without some sort of life-changing event or catastrophe happening to them.

This is a really sweet story and I'm glad I read it.
posted by armadillo1224 at 11:37 AM on October 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh I absolutely think he's a true believer and it's entirely possible I'm being too charitable and optimistic in my comment above, but the line about 'We attract too many sociopaths' indicates to me that there are limits to his hatred (although you would think that would be enough to make you question why you attract too many sociopaths). He was the only one in the family that would still engage with Derek, spent hours trying to understand where his son's new beliefs came from even though he ultimately arrived at the wrong conclusion (stockholm syndrome vs "oh shit, we're the bad guys") he did make an attempt to listen and understand, he hasn't disowned him and is still willing to discuss their respective ideologies rather than ignoring it to continue the relationship on a surface level.
posted by TwoWordReview at 11:43 AM on October 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yeah, it was interesting to hear Don Black took action to moderate racial slurs and whatnot from stormfront posts.

It's because a lot of these people don't think they are Actual Racists. They will identify as "racial realists" or "white nationals" or whatever other shitty euphemism it is that they want to use. "Actual Racism" to them means "using the n-word regularly" and that's literally pretty much it. Everything else like privilege, systemic oppression, institutional racism, is PC lefty academic talk that they are glad to rail against, but SLURS is where most will actually draw the line because Actual Racists use racial slurs, and they are definitely not Actual Racists, no sir, they are political thinkers and philosophers who just happen to engage in bizarre race theory/conspiracy as a central point of their politics.

It's fairly similar to how a lot of mainstream conservatives actually think (Actual Racism = slurs, and that's pretty much it) just taken a few notches to the extreme.
posted by windbox at 11:49 AM on October 17, 2016 [20 favorites]


It's a great article, and I'm glad it got its own thread. It reminds me of the story of Megan Phelps-Roper, daughter of the Westboro Baptist clan, who was also deprogrammed through gentle intellectual (Jewish!) engagement.

There;s probably no culture like Jewish culture with the same experience of dealing with prejudice through persistent, non-confrontational educated debate. Would that it could be adapted to mass media, but with the right people it works very well.
posted by Devonian at 11:57 AM on October 17, 2016 [15 favorites]


Not doubting the importance of Jewish culture in dealing with prejudice, but in my experience, the black church is right up there with them.
posted by 4ster at 12:38 PM on October 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


@infini: Serious question: What is the difference between the previously and this one? I did see this being shared across various social media

This one goes into the all-important "how". Derek Black was treated like a human being by people he'd been taught to hate.

Also how I was brought out of destructive fundamentalist evangelical beliefs. In my case they were white atheist friends who never once tried to "convert" me to atheism, btw nor did I ever try to convert anyone as an evangelical, I never believed in it. They just talked to me, asked questions, answered any I had, and were true friends. That was all I needed to make my decision to get out of a hate-filled system.

Interestingly, our wider school-acquaintance group has zero Trump supporters. We have about as differing belief systems as you can imagine, including the type of conservatives Trump and his supporters target... yet none of them have gone for it. Score a few for empathy and, yes, the good side of emotional labor.
posted by fraula at 12:47 PM on October 17, 2016 [12 favorites]


23skidoo--I think you can infer from Don's somewhat nuanced reaction (for example, leaving his own birthday party to spend time with his son, after his racist family told him it was them or the son, and his 10-day depression after Derek's announcement) that he has a lot of emotional capacity. Unfortunately, a lot of it is directed toward non-whites.

Hard to tell how smart he is, but it's obvious he still loves his son in a way that others in his family refuse to. There is at least a kernel of empathy there, the ability to see that his son has "gone astray" but still love him. It's the sort of "love the sinner, hate the sin" feat that so many claim to aspire to but fail utterly to practice in reality. To hold two contradictory ideas at the same time is a measure of intelligence, and all that.
posted by radicalawyer at 12:48 PM on October 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


I tip my hat to Matthew for his courage. While it was certainly the right thing to do, moving away from his upbringing, his family, and what seems to be his entire ideological foundation to find his own truth, while still being able to recognize and admit his faults... I think that would be exceptionally difficult for almost anyone. That openness, that willing/desire to truly learn, that honesty and willingness to take responsibility really impresses me. It also gives me a lot of hope in a time where I haven't been feeling all that much of it.

I wish him luck.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 1:12 PM on October 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


This story gave me some hope in a very dark time. It makes me feel like the kids are all right. These are some Snake People who are very much welcome on my lawn.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 2:29 PM on October 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


All I can think about is the circle at Mother Emanuel. They also opened their study group to an aggressor.
posted by eustatic at 4:03 PM on October 17, 2016 [13 favorites]


I loved this article, it is so hopeful and reminds me that there are good people whose goodness will out eventually.

I think that while Derek gets a huge amount of credit for being so thoughtful and eager to seek out knowledge and willing to change his mind when the evidence told him he should, his Shabbat friends deserve so much credit too for being open minded, and not reacting to who they thought he was rather than who he actually is. They gave him a chance to see and experience the other side, and that in turn played a large role in his enlightenment.

This is a truly wonderful story.
posted by biscotti at 4:09 PM on October 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


White nationalism is a white problem; it should largely be the responsibility of white people (like me) to do the heavy lifting of eradicating it.

Something about this statement combined with the article makes me wonder though - does that even work? I mean for sure its nobody's job to educate people who hate them but I'm not sure there's anything as effective as actually getting to know some real members of the group. As a person of Jewish ancestry I think I would be willing to reach out to a guy like this but it's kind of a particular situation because - despite worrying recent trends - I'm used to being taken as a slightly unusual flavor of white in the U.S. so it would almost be a novelty for me to engage with racial animus toward myself. Which of course cannot be said for members of a lot of minority groups.
posted by atoxyl at 7:19 PM on October 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Homeschooling. Should set off alarm bells.

Not really. There's a very significant and quickly growing population of secular homeschoolers. Many Black families choose to homeschool in part to avoid racist patterns of discipline and racist educational outcomes in public schools.
posted by sudama at 8:01 PM on October 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


I've been thinking a lot lately about what part I play in a culture that creates and cultivates members with such hate and pain. We're all in this together, and really the kindness that his group of friends showed in welcoming him and gently working with him to bring him around is the only way we can truly change things. This racism and hate comes out of fear and anger. I'm not sure I'm strong enough to be that patient and kind, to be honest. But this inspires me to try more.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 11:38 PM on October 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


Wonderful example of the power of kindness. Welcome . . . truly one of the most important words and acts in any language.
posted by chance at 5:26 AM on October 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is why, in some ways, I'm sad to live in a community where it's hard to find people who don't believe as I do. As this story shows quite dramatically, there are still ways for different-thinking people to connect. That's easy to forget as communities become more polarized, both geographically and online. Besides, lack of challenges to your beliefs turns you into a lazy thinker.
posted by the_blizz at 6:48 AM on October 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


« Older Sex, Drugs, Guns, Death (California Edition)   |   The Cleveland Team Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments