Friday, October 21, 2016

Racism's Superstitious & Toxic Tinge & Asatru in America

Virginia resident & 1st Amendement
advocate Brian Eybers
Earlier this morning I was reading an interesting article in the Washington Post by Travis Andrews about a 59-year-old African-American television reporter from Charleston, South Carolina named Steve Crump who confronted a 21-year-old white man named Brian Eybers for uttering derogatory racial slurs at him on the street.

As the article reports, Crump is an Emmy Award-winning journalist for WBTV who has covered, among other topics, issues of race, ethnicity and culture for years across the American south.

Two weeks ago he was doing a routine stand-up report on a Charleston street about the cleanup efforts from Hurricane Andrew when he heard Eybers, who was standing nearby, begin to mutter a series of racial slurs.

You may recall that I used to work as a television reporter in Trenton, NJ.

So let me just say that shooting a stand-up outside on a street or a public place isn't easy.

We're all familiar with those quick 30 to 60 second intros TV reporters will do in front of courthouses, hospitals or accident scenes that set up the story - then after the piece runs the camera will come back to the same scene for a brief "outro" conclusion where the reporter wraps up the report with "This is so-and-so for WABC coming to you from XXXX."

Shooting intros and outros like that in front of a camera is difficult because of everything going on around you, cars passing, random people stopping to look at you, or other unpredictable things that reporters have to try and block out while talking into the camera.

Stuff like a bee flying around you, or a truck horn drowning out the sound, forcing you to cut and start it again can make it really hard and even frustrating - you'd be surprised at the off-camera curses that fly out of reporters mouths when a take gets interrupted.

WBTV reporter Steve Crump
So I share all that to say that it's hard enough for TV reporters speaking into the camera outdoors, so I can't imagine what it was like for Steve Crump, a veteran reporter who's interviewed members of the KKK, to have to hear Brian Eybers intentionally muttering overtly racist comments within earshot.

Instead of loosing his composure, Crump grabbed his cameraman, walked over to where Eybers was leaning against a wall and began to interview the guy about why he was making racist slurs and what his beliefs were.

Their brief exchange, detailed in the Washington Post article, offers insight into the irrational, nonsensical, insidious and always toxic nature of racism.

In some ways the story reminded me of the random and confusing nature of Minnesota police officer Tim Olson's decision to confront and arrest pedestrian Larnie Thomas for simply walking along the street; the subject of Wednesday's blog.

What was going on inside the minds of Olson and Eybers when they laid eyes on two complete strangers with dark skin minding their own business?

In the same way behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner's famous 1947 experiment demonstrated that pigeon's could be conditioned to develop unusual superstitious beliefs around being fed, the complexity of racism in the United States is such that some people seem to be conditioned by society into irrational patterns of thinking triggered by the mere sight of someone with dark skin.

Conditioned how? Through constant exposure to the inherent subconscious racial bias ingrained into images in advertising, popular entertainment, news media coverage, education and court and legal systems - it's complex and the myriad results are fear-based and disturbing.

Followers of Asatru pose for photos
A trained white policeman sees a black man walking on the street, his first instinct is to stop and confront him.

A white man sitting on a Charleston street watching a black reporter doing a report on hurricane cleanup efforts feels compelled to pick up his iPad and begin uttering derogatory racial slurs into the device; to who and for what reason we can only guess.

The adoption of these kinds of beliefs rooted in a distorted perception of those seen as "other" has also impacted religious beliefs.

The spring 2016 issue of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report had an interesting article about the rise of Asatru in America; a neo-Pagan religion that the SPLC describes as "an offshoot of the racist Odinist religion that emphasizes the magical elements of pre-Christian European polytheism, paying homage to Norse gods like Thor."  

As the SPLC reported, after a lengthy investigation in November of 2015 the FBI conducted raids that led to the arrests of five people in Virginia in connection with a domestic terror plot to shoot up and bomb black churches and Jewish synagogues to try and spark a race war.

Charles D. Halderman, 30, (an associate of the Aryan Brotherhood with 17 prior felony convictions), Ronald Beasley Chaney III, 33 and Robert C. Doyle, 34 were among those arrested after two of them met with undercover FBI agents posing as weapons dealers.

Chaney and Doyle are supposed followers of Asatru, a religion that the SPLC has been reporting on since at least 1998 "which revives a pre-Christian pantheon of Norse gods, is appealing to white supremacists because it mythologizes the virtues of early Northern European whites - seen as wandering barbarians deeply involved in a mystical relationship with nature, struggling heroically against the elements." 

Asatru has gained particular popularity amongst prisoners aligned with Neo-Nazi and white supremacist gangs, but it's also gained a foothold amongst those who see it as playing into some of the same fears harbored by many white Trump supporters.

Americans whose marginalization in a vastly unequal economy geared towards the 1% has, in part due to Trump's divisive rhetoric, been transformed into a strange persecution complex that views African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Muslims and non-white immigrants as a kind of existential threat to their jobs and "way of life".

Anti-Bolshevik Nazi propaganda poster
with Nordic symbolism
As the SPLC reports, Asatru is closely linked to Odinism, a similar neo-Pagan religion rooted in Nordic mythology that was embraced by many leaders of the Third Reich in Germany; for example the double-rune SS symbol is a link to Nordic symbology.

But while Asatru is recognized as an official religion in Iceland and many followers chafe against it being associated with hatred and bigotry, as an article in reported in 2015, thousands of whites in America are drawn towards what they view as a more exclusively "white" religion - unlike Christianity whose followers come from all ethnicities and races.

One of the byproducts of the Republican party's open embrace and "mainstreaming" of bigotry, xenophobic anti-immigrant hysteria and prejudicial thinking in America is the open alignment of various elements of the white supremacist movement with the GOP and their orange-haired presidential candidate.

Both former KKK Grand Dragon David Duke and former KKK member Don Black, creator of the white supremacist Website Stormfront, famously encouraged the listeners of their respective radio programs to support and vote for Donald Trump.

Republicans, and the right-wing media machine that shapes modern conservatism, have given legitimacy to nonsensical and disproved theories like Birtherism which seeks to undermine the President because of the color of his skin, and thus they've given free reign to the kinds of fringe, extremist views repeated by their unhinged presidential candidate - and embraced by those who support him.

Those views have been allowed to flourish and grow but they're not rooted in rational thinking, facts or science, but in the kind of superstition, ignorance, baseless paranoia and fear that spark some members of law enforcement to arrest people for walking down the street or shoot and kill unarmed people for no apparent reason.

Or motivate a guy sitting on the sidewalk to start hurling racial slurs at a black television reporter who's simply doing his job.  

Is the Republican party responsible for the actions of officer Olson or Brian Eybers? Hard to say.

But I'd bet you a drink at the bar which presidential candidate they'll both be voting for.

No comments: