I ran across an article in our local media today: White Pride Group Free to Speak — Under Watchful Eye: Human Rights Activist. Long story short, a group near London calling themselves the Southern Ontario Skinheads has insisted, loudly and publicly, that they have legal right to hold a gathering of like-minded white people; organizers claim “It’s about pride in your heritage, not hate.”
What prompted this blog post wasn’t the story itself, it was one of the comments on the page where an outraged (and anonymous) reader demanded: “So whites have no right to pride in their own heritage?”
People of European descent absolutely have a right to take pride in their heritage: They can speak the language of their forefathers, eat traditional foods, wear culturally-significant clothing, have holidays which celebrate their ethnicity, and so on. No problems there. By all means, you should take pride in the achievements of your ancestors… so long as you don’t gloss over their sins, as well. (It could be argued, in fact, that my hobby — the Society for Creative Anachronism — is an effort to get in touch with my European ancestry. I study medieval European culture, re-create armoured combat, wear garb typical of medieval times, and so on.)
And nobody, nobody is saying that’s a problem. Not the police, not the city of London, not even the various anti-racist groups the media have interviewed.
What they’re saying is that a gathering of self-professed skinheads should be watched carefully.
Read the article: Nobody is saying this group doesn’t have the right to their opinions. Hell, the article actually quotes a lawyer for the African Canadian Federation of London and Area, one Lakin Afolabi, saying that it would be offensive if police cracked down on these people for their views. And he’s right: it would be profoundly offensive if the police did so.
But no one who’s legitimately trying to explore their European heritage is going to describe themselves as being part of “White Pride”. The phrase White Pride has a very specific connotation in our culture — that of racially-motivated violence and hate.
I tried looking up the Southern Ontario Skinheads’ webpage mentioned in the above-linked article, and I won’t be linking it to my blog (not least of which because it tried to “update” my browser without permission — and who the fuck uses Angelfire anymore?) Let me just say this: When your gateway page specifically mentions National Socialism in the first paragraph, then your organization isn’t focused on — as a random example — celebrating the rich and diverse tradition of beer-brewing across the European subcontinent. It’s focused on how much better the (fictional) White Aryan Race is than everybody else, and how unfair it is that white people aren’t on top of the heap anymore.
And you know what? “White supremacy” is just fucking pathetic.
Full disclosure: I’m white. Really white. Whiter, as Weird Al Yankovic once memorably said, than sour cream. On my mother’s side I’m descended from British United Empire Loyalists who left New Jersey during the American Revolution; on my father’s side I’m second-generation Hungarian-Canadian. My paternal grandfather fought in the Hungarian army during WWII — which if you check the score means he was on the losing side. Of course, millions of soldiers fought on the losing side of that war, and not all of them were Nazis; in fact I suspect that most of them weren’t. They were young men who saw a duty to serve their country during wartime (or were at least were unwilling to suffer the consequences of refusing to serve their country.) There’s no shame in that: almost every young man of that generation in Europe fought on one side or another of the conflict; my grandfather was one of five brothers who served in four different armies on both sides of that war, as a specific example.
National Socialism was a racially-motivated totalitarian regime which spent a lot of time and effort on pseudo-scientific efforts to catalog various “races” with an eye to “racial purity” and so on. The most egregious example of this is, of course, the Holocaust… but one of the odder footnotes in my family history is the fact that during the Nazi occupation of Hungary our family was issued a certificate of “racial superiority.” This is a designation which becomes quite funny (in a morbid sort of way) once you’ve had the opportunity to meet my relatives… and it has gone quite a long way, at least in my mind, to disproving the whole notion of “scientific racialism” once and for all.
I love my family, but I maintain no illusions at all that our genetics are somehow superior… although I must admit to a certain lasting satisfaction at the thought of old Adolf’s reaction to that allegedly superior genetic stock being combined through my marriage to a partner of mixed Quebecois and Jewish heritage.
And that’s why I find the whole notion of “white supremacy” so pathetic: there’s no basis for it, no actual proof behind it. It’s nothing but lizard-brain xenophobia and 19th-century colonialism with a veneer of pseudoscience pasted overtop. It would be laughable… if that pseudoscience hadn’t been used within living memory as a justification for the murder of upwards of six million Jews and approximately eleven million other “undesirables” of various types.
It’s easy, almost sixty years after the defeat of the Nazis, to poke fun at groups like the Southern Ontario Skinheads, to dismiss them as ignorant and unsophisticated yokels clinging pathetically to a defunct and disproved philosophy of racial superiority because they can’t get their shit together enough to compete on a halfway-level playing field. And I’m not saying we shouldn’t laugh at them: that sort of racism is literally ridiculous, as in “worthy of or inviting derision and mockery.” If you’re going to publicly espouse views like that, then a little ridicule is the least you should expect.
But we can’t let that urge to ridicule blind us to the reality that such groups tend to serve as a focus for violence because they attract the kind of ignorant person who’s going to be frustrated by the perceived lack of opportunity that their life holds, and will be inclined to direct that resentment against people they view as unacceptably different rather than address the far more sophisticated root causes of their disempowerment. Or to put it a little more plainly: When your life sucks it’s easier to kick the shit out of people who look different rather than putting any work into fixing it.
Yes, these skinheads have the legal right to gather, the legal right to hold odious opinions and even the legal right to make bogus claims of racial superiority and victim-hood… but not, under Canadian law, to advocate violence against others. Calling yourself a skinhead is a pretty good way to announce to the world that you consider racially-motivated violence to be a completely viable option, and you’d have to be stupid if you thought that wouldn’t get attention from the police. This skinhead group is walking a very fine line, but so far they’ve stayed on the correct side of it: if they’ve got any smarts at all, they won’t cross it.
But on the other hand, considering how hard these folks are trying to get the non-issue of their “right to gather” into the public eye, I have the sneaking suspicion that attention is exactly what they’re after… and if they had smarts, they wouldn’t be buying into sixty-years-stale Nazi bullshit.
Pride in your heritage is going to Oktoberfest or marching in a St. Patricks’ Day parade, it’s wearing a kilt or learning to Morris dance — hell, it’s even building a suit of armour and learning historical swordplay techniques. Pride in your heritage isn’t making excuses for genocidal lunatics who started a war which killed one person in forty on our entire planet, and it sure as hell isn’t advocating a replay of that tragedy… on whatever scale.