Friday, May 31, 2019

Multicultural White Supremacy

Buzzfeed has an interesting piece up on the 4chan/ex-MAGA/reddit trolls who have been flocking to Andrew Yang's presidential campaign. Of course, being 4chan/MAGA/reddit trolls, they're also engaging in vicious harassment of a Yang staffer they've come to dislike.

But that's not what I want to talk about. Buzzfeed reports that Yang has gotten enthusiastic backing from some luminaries of the White supremacist right -- folks like Richard Spencer or the Daily Stormer. Despite, you know, clearly not being White.

And he's not the only one. Tulsi Gabbard already picked up an endorsement from none other than David Duke, who also infamously praised Ilhan Omar for supposedly being willing to tackle the "Israel lobby". Several far-right figures have reported being inspired by Ben Shapiro. The self-described "Imam of Peace" Mohammad Tawhidi garners endorsements from notorious Islamophobes like Tommy Robinson and Paul Joseph Watson. In his "Skin in the Game" article, Eric Ward recounted how he -- a Black man -- was able to be accepted in far-right White nationalist circles based on a presumed anti-Jewish alliance. And it cuts both ways: last year Arun Gupta had a fascinating article on young men of color outright joining far-right, White supremacist organizations.

I'm not saying in any of these cases that the White supremacist praise was invited by its recipients. There's no reason to think Yang or Gabbard or Omar or Shapiro are anything other than repelled by the prospect of being "endorsed" by White supremacists (Tawhidi is actually a potential exception). And often what one White supremacist hand giveth, another taketh away: the Yang story, after all, is about this same quadrant of "support" turning on his campaign with a misogynist vengeance. Omar is regularly targeted with death threats from the far-right, and Shapiro is the most harassed Jewish journalist online by some measures. So I'm also not saying that any of these figures are simply and without qualification beneficiaries of White supremacist grace.

But that's not the point. The point is that this sort of affinity -- in any form -- wasn't supposed to be even possible. White supremacists aren't supposed to be enthusiastic about non-White public figures. That's kind of their whole shtick. So what do we make of this seemingly bizarre phenomenon: multicultural White supremacy?

I am not the first to come up with that term -- as best I can tell, it was coined by Dylan Rodriguez at the cusp of the Obama presidency. But we are using it slightly differently. Rodriguez is speaking of how, in his view, the standard liberal multicultural political arrangement -- exemplified by someone like Obama -- nonetheless can uphold a broader structure of White supremacy. My focus, by contrast, is on "traditional" White supremacists who nonetheless come to praise and work with non-White public figures.

So what gives?

One answer is that it's all a form of trolling -- a way of leveraging their own toxicity against groups who they otherwise hate (think Richard Spencer calling his ideology "White Zionism"). There might be something to that -- I think something like that probably was in play when Duke "praised" Omar, for example -- but I don't think it's the whole story. The outright endorsement of Gabbard goes well beyond what can be explained by mere "trolling", for example. Likewise the favor with which many on the far-right hold Shapiro.

Another answer is that it falsifies the idea that the figures in question are truly "White supremacist".  Literally: how could they be White Supremacist if they're praising those whom are deemed non-White! Under this view, the fact that these supposed "White supremacists" sometimes praise and endorse non-Whites is a great big gotcha to the liberals tarring everyone they disagree with as bigots and cheapening the term "White supremacist" beyond recognition (hello, Laura Ingraham!). The problem here is that a good chunk of the figures I'm talking about describe themselves as "White supremacists" or use synonymous terms that are quite clear that they think specifically racial advocacy on behalf of Whites is an important part of their politics. If the Daily Stormer isn't "White supremacist", then nothing is.

My take is that this is best understood as a further disintegration of a Platonic Ideal of "White supremacy" which no longer (if it ever did) exists. The vision of the White supremacist as someone who simply, blindly, and uncritically hates all members of the racial outgroups, for no other reason than that they are members of that outgroup, is collapsing. In its place is someone who certainly sees inter-group conflict as central to their ideology, and views certain despised outgroups as avatars of that which they loathe in contemporary politics or society. But it's overlaid onto more complex set of political commitments (which could be anything, but often centers around a sort of paleo-conservative vision of isolationism and insularity), and so there's always the possibility that some individual member of the group will have (or be perceived as having) an aligned ideology. Such persons will be accepted as (literally) "exceptional" -- they may even be trotted out as proof that the supposedly blind haters are actually discerning and "meritocratic".

In reality, they prove the opposite: they demonstrate that occasional acceptance of certain "exceptional" outgroup members who meet highly specified criteria is perfectly compatible with even "traditional" White supremacy (let alone more subtle or ambivalent forms of racial inequity). If, as Bernard Williams reminded us, even the Nazis "pa[id], in very poor coin, the homage of irrationality to reason," this is the contemporary version of that. The Nazi anthropologists were speaking a particular language of an era that sought to warrant their hatred based on prevailing ideologies of the time. Today, the relevant ideologies have changed and thus so does the attempted payment.

There's something faintly inspiring about this -- that today even the most inveterate White supremacists nonetheless must concede some possibility of connection to or alliance with those they supposedly hate. Nonetheless, it hardly dissipates the danger. An antisemite who likes Ben Shapiro is still an antisemite. An Islamophobe who likes Mohammad Tawhidi is still an Islamophobe. A racist who likes Andrew Yang or Tulsi Gabbard is still a racist. It might be a little weird that White Supremacy could go multicultural. But such is the era we live in.

1 comment:

LWE said...

There's also the simple factor of having common enemies (people complain about red-brown alliances, but similar stuff happens otherwise, too). Which enemies can be temporary allies and which are un-negotiatable can be a source of ideological conflict.