News: The Fire Next Time

Only you can prevent a race war

Jul 25, 2002 at 2:06 pm
Racial tensions are set to explode, according to Carol Swain.

Cincinnatians have every right to be concerned about declining race relations. America is in danger of a major uprising of race hatred and destruction, according to Carol Swain, professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University.

"We in America, I believe, are increasingly at risk of a large-scale racial conflict unprecedented in our nation's history," she writes.

In her new book, The New White Nationalism in America, Swain takes a hard look at blacks and whites in this country and warns against such a conflagration. She sees outdated public policy and out-of-touch black leadership aggravating race conditions to the point where they could blow up and wreak havoc very soon. Most importantly, she says white nationalism, which is just a sly retooling of white supremacy and Klan-type organized racism, represents a menacing force "aiming its appeal at a broader and better-educated audience."

Ersatz danger
The New White Nationalism is crammed full of important facts and ideas. Swain presents readers well-researched history lessons and data, as well as sound recommendations for the future.

But she's wrong-headed and alarmist about some things she considers to be at the core of our present danger. Why should we be scared? Because hate groups now use the Internet.

Swain makes much of the fact that hate groups claiming merely to be interested in advancing a separatist and European "folk" cultural agenda now use the Web to organize and communicate. But her alarm isn't backed up with proof that the Internet is converting the people the hate groups want.

"The Internet has served as a great recruiting tool for white nationalist groups," Swain asserts, going on to say that they "often try to lure the curious or the aggrieved."

Well, no doubt they try, but do they succeed? She never tells us.

If you go to the white nationalist site — which Swain repeatedly describes as "slick," "sophisticated" and "professional-looking" — the first thing you see is faux Nazi typeface. The visuals are straight out of The Producers' Springtime for Hitler.

The site is far from sophisticated, let alone formidable: from its downloadable SS graphics and ersatz fascist insignia to such statements as, "Negro culture is not merely DIFFERENT from White culture; it is a LESS ADVANCED culture and, by practically any standard, INFERIOR," it is wall-to-wall gibberish.

Who can take this garbage seriously? Certainly some do, but the fact that those people can now log on and squawk to one another about it does not make such content a bigger threat to our society.

Asked why she thinks these new Internet-savvy hate groups are more dangerous, Swain says, "You read my book and you still don't see why they are dangerous?"

Even after 450 pages, she just doesn't make a convincing case on this point.

Affirmative action, negative results
Despite her alarmist focus on the Net, Swain's main contention — that blacks and whites face complex and potentially dangerous problems — is, of course, true. One suggestion she offers the country that wants to heal is to "honor America's tradition of free speech by opening up political discourse ... to provide for the inclusion of unpopular ideas on race, so that they can be evaluated in open forums by individuals on opposing sides."

But isn't that what the Internet does, even in the hands of white supremacists?

Swain's worthwhile list of "ideas for improving American society" includes encouraging politicians and media to seek the opinions of ordinary people, rather than only talking to the usual tired cadre of black leaders. The Rev. Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan do not represent all black people.

Swain has more controversial suggestions, as well: The African-American community should make reducing crime and out-of-wedlock births its prime goals for the immediate future. Until black crime diminishes, the community can expect racial profiling and violence at the hands of white police to continue, she says.

Swain also believes monies asked for after violent protests, such as the ones Cincinnati saw last year, can wind up going not to the people most in need, but rather to the middle-class and businesses; she says to beware this tendency.

A good deal of The New White Nationalism is devoted to the history of affirmative action, which Swain says has worsened tensions between blacks and whites. Perverted from its original idea of race-neutral hiring and school placement, affirmative action was manipulated by people with wrong-headed or self-serving agendas, possibly even Richard Nixon seeking to cause a rift between blacks and the Democratic Party. Swain says the policy has done little for blacks and has left impoverished whites seething with resentment at a federal government they don't think looks out for their interests.

The book presents an interesting case for the use of religion to help ease the problems the United States faces in an increasingly pluralistic world. She sees real potential for promoting harmony in the encouragement of faith practice by "adherents to Abrahamic religions." It's a bold stance in the secular humanist land of political discourse.

"What is obviously needed is a religiously grounded moral leadership within the black community that combines moral exhortation with a racially inclusive vision of a future integrated America," Swain writes.

The New White Nationalism in America is a sprawling, ambitious work, and it's only partly successful. Its all-over-the-map-ness is largely due to the complexity of our historical situation. But it is also cluttered and repetitive. Are editors afraid to trim books about controversial topics?

Cincinnati has seen firsthand how bad things can get when communities break down and give in to violence. James Baldwin wrote, "We, the black and the white, deeply need each other here if we are really to become a nation."

Was he right? Do we need each other? Or have we finally had enough of one another? ©