A white nationalist group and a white anti-racist organization may have more in common than one might expect, argued Prof. Matthew Hughey, sociology, University of Connecticut.
On Monday, Hughey spoke at Cornell about his findings from 14 months of research, arguing that perhaps these two seemingly antithetical groups were not so different after all.
Hughey studied the white nationalist group National Equality for All and the white anti-racist organization Whites for Racial Justice. He said he spent time with members of both groups, went to the grocery store with them and babysat their kids.
Hughey said he conducted in-depth interviews with 45 members of the two groups, the longest of which almost lasted 24 hours. He conducted content analysis, examining over 400 newsletters, flyers, emails and memos, and during the study, the members of one group were unaware that he was in contact with the other.
From his research, Hughey identified “common denominators that link or bind whiteness to itself” — various similarities between the ideologies of the members of the NEA and the WRJ.
“There is a supra-ideal of what whiteness should be,” he said, “that is, dominant social expectations and accountabilities associated with whiteness exist across different and even supposedly antagonistic social fields.”
A dimension of that ideal is a sense of hierarchical superiority over people of color that was evident even among anti-racists, as well as a feeling of heroically struggling against an unfair society as a victim.
A white anti-racist expressed this feeling of victimization when he said to Hughey that “fighting this [anti-racist] fight is just about as difficult as being black in America. I mean, being a white anti-racist might be the new black.”
Both white nationalist and anti-racist movements have a sense of “entitlement to racialized knowledge,” Hughey added, describing the way whites fear and reject things they cannot understand. “Rap music is angry, and it scares whites,” an anti-racist member said to Hughey.
The final commonality is characterized by a tendency to think of themselves as exempt from cultural standards, Hughey said.
Hughey described it as “get out of racism free card.” He illustrated the concept with an interview with a NEA member, a 32-year-old nurse, who said that because he has “quite a few good black friendships,” no one can say that he is “some redneck, ignorant racist.”
Another interviewee reflected these claims. A 24-year-old graduate student in WRJ told Hughey about his opposition to segregation. He then continued to say he “earned respect” by having two black neighbors and even, on one occasion, brought one by the WRJ.
Hughey proceeded to give examples of subjects from both groups who sexually objectified women of color.
During his studies, Hughey said, he accidentally caught a glimpse of a 36-year-old white nationalist’s pornography DVD, which featured black women.
The NEA member explained to Hughey, “‘I mean … I tried white porn for a while, but I just didn’t get as much out of it … Man, those black girls do some crazy stuff, they are so much more free and expressive.’”
When asked if he would settle down with a black woman one day, the white nationalist got angry. “‘Oh, hell no! I would only marry a white girl … but I can take some tricks from watching that will sure liven up my ordinary sex life and whatever normal white girl I settle down with.’”
A 36-year-old white anti-racist banker said in a separate statement, “black women have a way about them that is simply sexual. White women have been socialized to be prudes.
Hughey said there has recently been a spike in white nationalist activity due, in large part, to a perception of a rising anti-whiteness movement. “White people feel that they are losing ground,” he said, “and that they are the victims of reverse racism.”
To emphasize his point, Hughey showed various images of white nationalists and white anti-racists aimed to show the lines between “good” and “bad” people are blurred.
The last image on the slideshow was a screencap of the New York Times article on Cornell, titled “Racially Charged Incidents Shake Cornell Campus.” The purpose, Hughey said, of Cornell’s inclusion was to “shock” students into “thinking more about themselves.”