Our copycat version of white supremacy
Indians rip off everything from fashion and food trends to music arrangements and film plots. Most of the things that are in vogue here have already been in the spotlight elsewhere in the world. The idea of using the internet to spread hate didn’t originate here either—though it was certainly Indianized by the genius jugaad of a bovine element or use of the term “love jihad”.
So the next time you see a video of a man—who is dressed to kill in white trousers and matching shoes—hacking another man to death, burning his body matter-of-factly, then turning to the camera and mouthing hate speech, don’t dismiss it as a freak incident in an India you don’t inhabit.
Hate is a global forest fire that feeds off our deepest prejudices. Hate can burn through your world in seconds—even if you reside in a gated community, selected precisely because you believed you could keep out real India. In fact, I’m sorry to upset your manicured world but your neighbour is probably part of this real India you try so hard to dodge.
Our home-grown haters have learnt all their best dialogues from white supremacists. It’s best you brush up on your basics about how hate plays out in the Western world too. As one headline on the website of Harper’s Bazaar magazine earlier this year summarized the problem: “White Liberals Still Don’t Understand White Supremacy”. So here goes. I’ll leave it to you to spot the Indian parallels.
White supremacists refer to themselves as nationalists and patriots. Once upon a time there was the Ku Klux Klan but now hundreds of these hate groups exist in America, all of them with pretty much the same belief system. Their thriving existence counts on the human tendency to bury one’s head in the sand to avoid all “unpleasantness”.
These groups can dominate the political discourse in no time at all. Tech companies are their unwitting, helpless best friends in the rush to spread their hateful propaganda. These so-called “nationalists” are richer, more powerful and more tech-savvy than the people they fear. They co-opt the police force and influence the education system and public policy. The more the job market contracts, the easier it is for them to recruit angry foot soldiers.
They believe they are fighting a battle to save people like themselves. They want special protection because they think they are the real victims. They counter “Black Lives Matter” with “White Lives Matter”, unable to comprehend the difference. Their beliefs play like a stuck record in their heads, not allowing them any pause to think.
They believe their country should be only for people like themselves—everyone else is a second-class citizen. They want their version of history to be taught in school textbooks and work hard at this project.
They have controversial idols and they rewrite the facts to suit their narratives of these “heroes”: e.g. “Adolf Hitler: The Most Lied About Man In History”. Incidentally, Jaico Publishing House has sold more than 100,000 copies of Hitler’s Mein Kampf in India and the book is an unbudging presence on Amazon India’s history best-sellers list.
These Western world extremists are conspiracy theorists. They are anti-immigrants and anti-Islam. “Sluts” is their all-time favourite word to describe women who speak against them. They think “homosexuals should be gassed” (I’m quoting from The Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin’s Alt-Right FAQ) and that Donald Trump is the greatest leader America has seen.
Trump’s presidency has given these haters a boost. Anti-Muslim hate groups nearly tripled from 34 in 2015 to 101 in 2016, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC’s) annual census of hate groups and other extremist organizations.
As author Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in the October issue of The Atlantic magazine: “To Trump, whiteness is neither notional nor symbolic but is the very core of his power. In this, Trump is not singular. But whereas his forebears carried whiteness like an ancestral talisman, Trump cracked the glowing amulet open, releasing its eldritch energies.”
Haters across the world want to amend their country’s constitution. As far back as 1985, white nationalist William Daniel Johnson, writing under the name James O. Pace, proposed an amendment to the American constitution called the “Pace Amendment”: “No person shall be a citizen of the United States unless he is a non-Hispanic white of the European race, in whom there is no ascertainable trace of Negro blood, nor more than one-eighth Mongolian, Asian, Asia Minor, Middle Eastern, Semitic, Near Eastern, American Indian, Malay or other non-European or non-white blood…. Only citizens shall have the right and privilege to reside permanently in the United States.”
White supremacists understand that if you can influence culture, you can influence anything. Politics is always downwind from culture, says a practical guide on The ShieldWall Network, which offers pointers to shape the way your community thinks. “Long before gay marriage was being pushed, people were marching in the streets and building networks to support the individuals and businesses who professed these beliefs. We counted on our institutions to protect us, but we lost the political battle because we lost the cultural battle.”
The alt-right is anti-diversity, anti-political correctness and anti any concessions. “Never concede your core beliefs,” the guide emphasizes, asking readers to make strong value judgements and share how they want things to change.
Of course, change isn’t always dependent on this group of people, as we saw in Alabama earlier this week. Quieter, more inclusive groups of citizens can be as powerful.
Doesn’t all of the above sound familiar? I guess the only silver lining about global hate is that people across the world are working hard to record it and figure out how to combat it. Now that’s an industry waiting for Indian rip-offs.
Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable.
She tweets @priyaramani