One Tragedy of White Supremacy

Thomas Paine holding a copy of "Rights of Man"
Thomas Paine holding a copy of “Rights of Man” [Andrewself at English Wikipedia / CC BY-SA (
There are people in my family seduced White Supremacist thinking. They are young; they are male; they live outside the metropoles; they did not finish college; they are smart; they are aggrieved. They feel held back by a society that, in their view, puts more weight on the needs of women and minorities than on theirs.

Placing emphasis on possibilities supposedly inherent in do-it-yourself philosophies, they feel that their lack of success comes not from themselves but from nefarious forces taking from them and giving to others. They have not lived up to expectations created by their families and their culture and are sure the fault is not their own. They have no successes to point to, but the problem cannot lie within.

It does no good to argue with them. They can turn away to 4chan or Stormfront for verification of their exasperation. They were not raised as racists but, following a pattern long ago pointed out by Kenneth Burke (at the beginning of Permanence and Change), they are letting visible difference replace recognition of actual cause, taking the easier path.

Though they claim they have the knowledge and skills to succeed, they have nothing to show for their lives so far besides an unwillingness to look within. Try to discuss their lives, and they deflect to attacks on an “other” or another, refusing to examine their selves. The family loves them but has been pushed away, helpless in the face of men who take only and take ungraciously. They offer nothing in return.

If I sound frustrated, well, we have entered a time where even the President of the United States validates their feelings of theft, the ideas that others have taken rights and potentials from the deserving. This new leadership has exploded problems within families, something many of us have experienced more and more over the last three years. We have retreated to our own corners of the living room at the very best. In many cases, family members no longer talk to each other.

Many of the breaks may be complete but that makes them no less painful.

Many of us of my own baby-boomer generation also went through distancing concerning family. Today, we search for differences between what we did and what is happening now with kids often two generations removed from us. Like our parents and grandparents who did not understand us, we don’t understand the motivations and challenges of those turning to White Supremacy. We can say, with some truth, that we did try to make our own way, often working at jobs out younger relatives resent being forced into today, jobs they see as beneath them. We saw such work as only temporary stops on paths that would lead to something satisfying, if not better jobs and least a better lifestyle.

They, on the other hand, see no path from their current state, only a stifling, even oppressive, culture whose paths to achievement are open to others, not to them. We don’t know how to respond; our optimism in our own youth doesn’t translate into their lives. Where we played at nihilism, they are living it.

As they were for my generation, drugs and alcohol are major barriers to success. But the extreme dangers of drugs today were not present. Yes, people died from drink and drugs, but the impact of opioids makes the earlier dangers pale. Few of us boomers really wanted to die; today, many of our children and grandchildren seem willing to.

When we boomers were young, many of us, too, thought we were revolutionaries. We weren’t, not really.

It may be that the White Supremacists are as much hot air as we were. It may be that my own relatives will reconcile with the older generations just was we did when we could, though many of our elders had died in the meantime (tragedy we live with).

But it may not be.

What I do know is that the White Supremacist beliefs of those few of the young in my family are a greater break with family tradition than we young radicals were in the sixties. My family had a pattern of growing more liberal and accepting of racial, ethnic and religious difference going back, now, well over a century.

Further, actually: the ancestor I am named for, a soldier in the American Revolution, named one of his children Thomas Paine Barlow after his own brother’s friend, a man who not only agitated for American independence but who was, among other liberal beliefs, strongly anti-slavery.

The irony that these young men are rejecting their actual legacy for a White Supremacist mythology saddens me—not only for my family but for our country.

Tradition? And this is the horrible irony: they ignore it–from the President on down.

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