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America isn’t falling for rebranded bigotry

By Katarina Weessies

Section: Opinions

November 10, 2017

Journalist Gary Younge says that he took a “risk worth taking” when he decided to interview famed white supremacist Richard Spencer. The interview happened last July at a conference of white supremacists and revealed that Spencer’s brand of “professional” white supremacy was beginning to fray at the edges. Spencer is notorious for his ability to promote racism marketably and eloquently. He can usually be found sporting fitted suits, a condescending grin and a set of seemingly pre-written arguments to levy at any protestors. However, the Younge interview showed a much less polished Spencer. Spencer comes off as incoherent and unhinged in Younge’s writing. His responses to Younge’s questions avoid any pretense of an argument and resort directly to anger-baiting.

Typically, Spencer is a polarizing figure, but after a clip of the interview went viral this week, public opinion was squarely on Younge’s side. Some of the public shock, particularly that of white viewers, was spurred by the fact that Spencer was comfortable spouting his racist arguments to a black journalist. At one point, Spencer looks Younge directly in the eye, condescending grin intact, and tells him that Africans have “contributed nothing to civilization.” Later in the interview, he doubles down on his racist claims with the assertion that “Africans have benefitted from white supremacy.” These statements are a departure from Spencer’s usual style of racism, where he couches racist ideas in academic language. Younge himself described Spencer as “ignorant, historically illiterate, incoherent and personally insulting. The reason I called time on the interview was because Spencer was spent – beyond baiting me, he had nothing to offer.” It’s clear that Spencer’s infuriatingly marketable racism has begun to falter.

From Donald Trump to Spencer to other alt-right figures like Milo Yiannopoulos, the typical TV-friendly race-baiter has enjoyed a horrifying renaissance in America. Fortunately, Spencer’s interview with Gary Younge is just one piece in the slew of evidence that this type of racism is beginning to break down. In particular, this week’s state elections show that Americans aren’t falling for their act anymore. Virginia elected a Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, and its first transgender lawmaker, Danica Roem. In total, 15 seats in the Virginia state legislature are expected to flip from Republicans to Democrats. Roem is a particularly important victor in that she beat out Trump-like incumbent Bob Marshall, Virginia’s self-appointed “chief homophobe” whose campaign hinged on bigotry. Governor-elect Northam won by nine points against Ed Gillespie, a Republican who was trying to cash in on pro-Trump fervor in his state. The New York Times has referred to Gillespie as “Trumpified,” and Slate, New Republic and Time Magazine have drawn similar comparisons between Trump and Gillespie’s platforms. Outside of Virginia, anti-racist and anti-Trump figures are also winning elections. Notably, Democrat Phil Murphy won the governorship of New Jersey, which had previously been under Trump endorsee Chris Christie for eight years.

These elections, as well as the shift in public opinion against alt-right figures like Richard Spencer, show that the suit-clad, eloquent racist has lost his appeal. Faced with shrinking audiences, racists like Spencer might try to change their strategy. We might see the next generation of white supremacists take a grittier angle, which would probably shrink their audience even more, with racists who deem themselves “respectable” distancing themselves from the movement. More likely, as long as the public keeps pushing against them, TV-friendly racists will begin to disappear from the public eye. They’ll still be speaking and organizing, as they always have, but their message will gradually move out of the mainstream. The outrage against white supremacist figures is starting to change elections, which means we might see fewer people like Spencer speaking at colleges or winning political office.

Whether or not people like Spencer are moving out of the mainstream, the recent election results reveal optimistic possibilities for America’s future. Since Trump was elected, Americans have been protesting non-stop, with events like the Women’s March showing up in nearly every city. When Spencer or Milo Yiannopoulos try to speak at colleges, the whole community pushes back against them. So far, it seems like these protests are winning. Hopefully, the American public will continue to push racist demagogues off our streets and out of office.

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