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alt-right demonstrators

Why is the overrepresentation of millennials in the alt-right movement important to note? Because it proves racism is passing to new generations.

Southern California. Philadelphia. Oregon. Berkeley.

What do these places have common? They are certifiable proof that the “peace” and “healing” that President Donald Trump called for two months ago has not manifested and, in all likelihood, will never manifest, so long as he remains in office.

Each of these places has made headlines for being hotbeds of brutal protests between a segment of pissed off Trump supporters calling themselves the “alt-right,” and fired-up anti-fascists or “antifas.” And every time news of a clash spirals into our virtual spaces, such as the street brawl involving bottles and bagels last Saturday, we’re forced to raise some serious questions about the peculiar, but not so peculiar, phenom of the alt-right: where it spawned from, what its goals and values are and who’s invested in the movement. We are forced to understand it — if only to begin acquiring the tools to challenge and dismantle this mindset.

What and who, exactly, is the alt-right? What do we know? Well, we know that its instincts and impulses long precede that national prominence of an egomaniacal real estate tycoon with a propensity for high-octane hate speech. We know that notions of white ethnocentrism are among its raw ingredients. We know that a white nationalist by the name of Richard Bertrand Spencer, who directs the white think tank National Policy Institute, popularized the term to capture the growing suspicion among some whites — poor whites, or “white trash”, in particular — that their race, the purported progenitors of “Western civilization,” had been disadvantaged, discriminated against and “victimized” at the expense of a miscalculated government plan to autocorrect the historical wrongs committed against “inferior” groups: non-European immigrants, Native Americans, Hispanics and blacks, basically.

And we know that, not incidentally, the percolations of this ambition to center “white identity” just so happened to coincide with the election and re-election of the country’s first black president.

Spencer isn’t the only one. Controversial public personas like American Renaissance editor Jared Taylor, Greg Johnson of conservative publishing house Counter-Currents, and Mike Enoch of The Right Stuff blog, among others, have also positioned themselves as key intellectual architects behind the ludicrous fancies of the alt-right, such as an imaginary surge of white genocide, depletion of purity and the demise of a glorious Western world where whites singularly thrived.

Related: Here’s Why Racist, Conservative Troll Milo Yiannopolous’ Twitter Was Finally Shut Down

However, it’s the demographics of the alt-right activists — that is, who within the rank and file dominates its legion of supporters — that is the most disappointing. Indeed, it’s terrifying.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (which published arguably the best expose on the origins of the alt-right movement), Spencer says the movement is largely made up of “younger people, often recent college graduates, who recognize the ‘uselessness of mainstream conservatism’ in what he describes as a ‘hyper-racialized’ world.”

Younger people. Recent college graduates. Millennials, in other words.

These are the faceless and tasteless social-media users who leverage their online platforms on Twitter, Facebook and other virtual services to instigate race conflicts and distribute their ideas. Those that aren’t Twitter bots, anyway.

Why is the overrepresentation of millennials in the alt-right movement important to note? For one main reason:

Racism, we’re told, breathed its last breath 52 years ago with the official fall of de jure racial segregation, or Jim Crow, in the American south. Critics and participatants on the left and right of U.S. politics assumed that progress had been made and that we were well on our way to instituting a multiracial democratic republic. White baby boomers, the cultural repositories of white supremacy — and, in a fit of irony, among the targeted enemies of the alt-right — were either dying off or, like America’s beloved Dixiecrat George Wallace, undergoing a dramatic shift in perspective on race relations in the “free world.”

Their successors, the fresh-faced younger whites we see snarling, cursing and hurling fireworks at anti-Trump protestors, individuals who have come of age in the aftermath of slavery in a post-Jim Crow world (and, in theory at least, primed to embrace a different path) were offered up on the social altar as the force capable of repairing the political and economic scars on the bodies and psyches of blacks.

What’s crucial to keep in mind here is that these young folks taking to the streets in defense of Trumpism were, in theory, supposed to be the resolution of Nazism, fascism and structures of human society based on racial hierarchy. Full of new and more progressive ideas, they were supposed to craft left-leaning, anti-racist policies and form the base of a new, more conscientious cross-racial coalition.

They were, to borrow a term, served up as “the great white hope.”

That promise, as of yet, has not manifested. What has actually occurred is that older whites, in the home and in the media, still cognizant of memories of the “good ol’ days,” have been silently cultivating the next generation to carry on the legacy of white supremacy in their stead.

Has it been a perfect process? Not by a long shot. Are all whites, young and old, invested in the agenda? Of course not. That much, I venture, should be obvious. However, enough of the white community is involved for us to be concerned about the real potential of older forms of white racism to gradually resurface.

In the months following the election of 45, tensions between blacks and whites have not abated. Misunderstandings, willful or not, continue to suffocate attempts to jumpstart and sustain meaningful dialogue. Judging by the scenes we’re witnessing in the cities referenced earlier, Heaven knows where our society will wind up if this trend continues.

Whatever “peace” and reconciliation that 45 assumed with all the bubbling bluster in his blood would emerge as he took the reins of American imperialism from 44, as he prematurely foresaw at beginning his presidential duties, has long since dissipated.

In its place is the recognition that racism, no matter its mutated form, is not a web of events that happened a “long time ago.” Neither are its cousins, fascism and xenophobia.

No; it is a living, beating, breathing mode of thought and behavior that continues to adjust and modify itself with the times by cleverly donning linguistic and political disguises, like “alt-right,” in order to keep firm on its path to inflict harmful, but not irreparable, damage to the state of our democracy.


Antwan is an educator, cultural critic, actor, and writer for Wear Your Voice Mag (WYV), where he focuses on the dynamics of class, race, gender, politics, and pop culture. Prior to joining the team at WYV, he was an adjunct professor in the African American Studies Department at Valdosta State University in southern Georgia, where he taught African American Literature. He has traveled the U.S. and U.K. showcasing a fifty-five minute, one-person play titled Whitewash, which focuses on the state of black men in the post-civil rights era. Antwan received his B.A. in English and Literature from California State University, Dominguez Hills, and M.A. in African American Studies from University of California, Los Angeles. He is a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and NAACP theater nominee.

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