Rising Out of Hatred/ posted in: Book Review, Reading Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist by Eli Saslow
on September 18, 2018
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Doubleday
From a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, the powerful story of how a prominent white supremacist changed his heart and mind
Derek Black grew up at the epicenter of white nationalism. His father founded Stormfront, the largest racist community on the Internet. His godfather, David Duke, was a KKK Grand Wizard. By the time Derek turned nineteen, he had become an elected politician with his own daily radio show – already regarded as the “the leading light” of the burgeoning white nationalist movement. “We can infiltrate,” Derek once told a crowd of white nationalists. “We can take the country back.” Then he went to college. Derek had been home-schooled by his parents, steeped in the culture of white supremacy, and he had rarely encountered diverse perspectives or direct outrage against his beliefs. At New College of Florida, he continued to broadcast his radio show in secret each morning, living a double life until a classmate uncovered his identity and sent an email to the entire school. “Derek Black…white supremacist, radio host…New College student???” The ensuing uproar overtook one of the most liberal colleges in the country. Some students protested Derek’s presence on campus, forcing him to reconcile for the first time with the ugliness his beliefs. Other students found the courage to reach out to him, including an Orthodox Jew who invited Derek to attend weekly Shabbat dinners. It was because of those dinners–and the wide-ranging relationships formed at that table–that Derek started to question the science, history and prejudices behind his worldview. As white nationalism infiltrated the political mainstream, Derek decided to confront the damage he had done. Rising Out of Hatred tells the story of how white-supremacist ideas migrated from the far-right fringe to the White House through the intensely personal saga of one man who eventually disavowed everything he was taught to believe, at tremendous personal cost. With great empathy and narrative verve, Eli Saslow asks what Derek’s story can tell us about America’s increasingly divided nature. This is a book to help us understand the American moment and to help us better understand one another.
It was interesting to listen to this book shortly after listening to Educated. Both books describe children who were indoctrinated into an extreme worldview and the way that their exposure to the larger world in college helped them break free of it. (Of course, I kept muttering “Well, that’s why you got to keep them locked up and not let them go to them heathen colleges” like a proper zealot the whole time I was listening.)
I found the responses of his classmates intriguing. There were basically two responses – shun him with the goal of making it so uncomfortable for him at school that he would leave, or befriend him in hopes of talking to him about his views. I’m not sure where I would have fallen if I was in that situation. Both approaches worked on him in different ways. He had never had a lot sustained pushback about his beliefs before. Arguments were just intellectual exercises for him. Now he was facing people he knew who were being affected by the policies that he had helped popularize. The people who befriended him took the risk of being thought guilty by association. They were able to work on him in different ways. His non-white friends could publicly be seen with him without people thinking they were white nationalists. They put faces to categories of “immigrant” and “Jew” in his rhetoric. His white friend was able to talk to him about his beliefs more openly because he didn’t automatically feel judgement from her based on her race but she was in danger of being assimilated by him or being thought to be a sympathizer.
I was uncomfortable with a lot of the decisions that his white girlfriend made. It worked out in the end but:
She was so naive and he had spent his life converting people to the white nationalist cause. She went to a nationalist conference with him. One picture of her there on the internet could have ruined her future. I wanted to slap some sense into her.
I thought the book dwelled a little too long on their developing relationship. Yeah, yeah, I get it. They are maybe-maybe not dating. I don’t need a play by play of their personal lives. I’m here for the bigger picture.
The book’s description of their reaction to the rise of Trump should put to rest any ideas that he isn’t playing directly to white nationalists. They point out all their talking points that he adopted. They discuss the proposals that they always wanted that he is trying to enact.