Monday, January 30th | 8 Shevat 5783

August 23, 2017 1:06 pm

Dear White Supremacist: Do You Hate Me?

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avatar by Marc Erlbaum


A Nazi flag on display on Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month. Photo: Andy Campbell via Twitter.

Dear white supremacist,

Do you hate me?

I don’t imagine that you consider yourself a hateful person. You don’t think that you are bad or evil. I assume that you believe that you are threatened —  that I have done something that places at risk something you hold dear. I would like to know what that is.

That is not a challenge; it is a genuine request.

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I don’t consider myself threatening or despicable. I am by no means perfect. I have been too harsh with my kids at times. I’ve been dismissive of my wife. I’ve been judgmental of friends and colleagues. I’ve held grudges and spoken unkindly of people behind their back.

I’d say that I’m pretty normal — and by that, I mean flawed and human, and generally trying to do the best that I can.

I am Jewish. I know that’s a strike against me in your book. Again, I’m not sure why. The stereotype is that we’re stingy and litigious. They say we’re good at business and that we use our wits to take advantage of others.

To be perfectly frank, I’ve known people like that.

Some of them are Jewish, and some of them aren’t. I suppose I can’t be relied upon to be perfectly objective, but I will tell you with as much honesty as I can muster that I have not experienced Jews to be more reprehensible than others.

Most Jews I know are actually very charitable and communally oriented. Some Jews I know even complain that Jews today aren’t giving enough of their charitable funds and energies to Jewish causes — that they’re giving their money to non-Jewish causes ,and neglecting their duty to their own.

I’m not sure exactly how I feel about that, but I mention it because it seems to be a decent response to the accusation of Jewish stinginess, and an indication that we care about others as well as ourselves.

And maybe that’s what you don’t like about us. Maybe it is precisely our tendency to break down barriers that offends you. Perhaps we are the symbol of the diversification of structures and institutions that you would like to remain more homogeneous and pure.

I can actually understand that to some extent. We Jews have traditionally sought to maintain a Jewish continuity that precludes intermarriage and complete integration. That has changed more recently in the majority of secular Jewish circles, but it is a part of our heritage. The notion is not that we need to maintain a purity or superiority, but rather that in order to sustain our culture, traditions, and ethnicity, we have always been encouraged to marry “within the tribe.” There are those who find that distasteful, but I assume you will actually find it preferable.

So perhaps we have something in common here — the desire to preserve something precious and traditional. Perhaps you see us as a threat to the traditional, because we have been at the forefront of the civil rights movement, and we have tended to represent the underdog and advocate for a more equitable and morally just society.

We are certainly not unique in that — fortunately, the majority of people of all faiths are inclined toward inclusion and generosity — but these virtues are baked into the core of our ethics. As the first century sage Hillel said when he was asked to teach the entire Torah while standing on one leg: “That which is hateful unto you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole of the Torah. The rest is commentary.”

Where our groups differ, I think, is that our desire to preserve our tradition does not compel us to dispel or denigrate anyone else’s tradition. We have lived in exile, within and alongside other faiths and cultures, for thousands of years. We have maintained our way of life amidst incredible diversity, and even incredible adversity. I wonder why you feel that your way of life is under threat, that you think you have something to lose if others with differing viewpoints co-exist and co-mingle.

I think it’s because you realize that exposure to diversity and multiculturism is actually quite attractive. I think it’s because you know that it is hard to retain followers when they actually get to know people of different backgrounds and cultures. Once they experience relationships with African Americans, Jews, Muslims Buddhists etc., they will find that their biases and preconceptions were mistaken — and will therefore be bound to leave the fold. In that sense you are right.

Your ideology is under siege, and is absolutely vulnerable. Your concerns are valid — and by that, I simply mean that I understand them. The homogeneity that you have been raised to value is nearly impossible to maintain in a world where people are more interconnected than ever.

But here’s what I don’t understand: Why is that a problem?

I get that it’s hard to change, that it feels more comfortable to keep things the way they’ve been. But when we really get down to it, what is it about whiteness that is inherently better or more valuable than other skin tones? I suppose it represents some sort of purity — but what is that based on?

Do white people have a different soul, a different intellect, a different destiny? Haven’t we seen innumerable examples of virtue in others. Haven’t we had more than enough proof that those who receive common education and experience are capable of common achievement and success. Can you still believe today that the differences between people is based on their birth, and not on their nurture and life experience?

Let’s assume for a moment that you lose this battle — that the forces of diversity and integration prevail. Why does that frighten you? Do you believe that society will degenerate into a more barbaric state? Do you worry that your descendants will not have the same rights and opportunities that you do? Is there some privilege that you currently enjoy that you are concerned you will lose?

Maybe all of these questions are over-intellectualizing the matter. I have a good friend who is a former neo-Nazi. He tells me that the essential root of affilliation with white supremacy is pain. He says that he was drafted into the cause because he was suffering, and he needed a place to belong. He admits that the power that surged through white power gatherings was addictive. He bemoans the fact that young men who are lost and needy are seduced by a movement that gives them purpose and something to fight for.

I get all that. I don’t think one has to be evil to be led astray. And I don’t think it makes one weak to reconsider his past perspectives and convictions.

I know that there are many people at this moment who wish you ill will. I don’t blame them — we are all human, and we are all afraid. I think you can understand why you are feared. I don’t know if you feel misunderstood, or if fear is precisely the thing that you are hoping to instill.

But I don’t wish you ill will.

I wish you clarity. I wish you would take the time to get to know the people who you oppose and decry. I wish you an easing of any pain that has led you to the path of conflict and rage that you currently tread.

I don’t hate you, and I don’t believe that if you knew me, you would hate me either.

Marc Erlbaum is a filmmaker and social activist.  He is the founder of Common Party (, a non-political social movement that is working to bring the country back together in these divisive times through the celebration of our overwhelming commonality.

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