Hate crimes and hate groups have both been on the rise in the United States in recent years, including here in Michigan. According to Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics, Michigan ranks fourth in the nation for the highest number of hate crimes. The Southern Poverty Law Center found that in 2018, there were 31 hate groups in Michigan. That's compared to 15 groups in 2014.
Derek Black is a former white nationalist whose family has dedicated itself to bringing racist ideology into the mainstream. He joined Stateside to talk about how he disavowed his former ideaology, and what he has been doing to try and repair the damage done by the white supremacist movement he once embraced.
Derek Black's father is the founder of the white supremacist website Stormfront. His godfather is David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
Black himself was still involved in the white nationalist movement when he enrolled in the New College of Florida to study history, but he says he hid his ideology from his peers. Then, during his sophomore year, a fellow student came across his work with the white nationalist movement while researching terrorist groups online. The student posted the findings to an online message board for New College students.
A debate ensued among the student body as to whether they should reach out to Black or to simply exile him socially. A major turning point came when an acquaintance began inviting him to weekly Shabbat dinners. Black says that both approaches — confrontation and ostracization — were essential in prompting him to reconsider his racist ideology.
“These people who I’d gotten to know were telling me, either to my face or on the student forum, that what I was doing was awful. That was the precondition to even considering talking to some of the people at the Shabbat dinners or any of the people who reached out to me,” Black said.
Black argues that while everyone has an active role to play in calling out blatant bigotry in their communities, it’s also essential to challenge the more obfuscated and systematic forms of racism in American society.
“We have to be aware of inequalities; we have to be aware of systemic issues; we have to be aware of policing and criminal justice — things that all feel much bigger than us, but amount to a system that is fundamentally unfair because of racist ideas,” Black said.
"If we can’t as a society say that we want change, that we don’t accept those things, then the white nationalist movement is probably not wrong in saying that they have support for their more extreme beliefs.”
Listen to Stateside’s full conversation with Derek Black to hear more about how he came to disavow his white nationalist upbringing, and how he thinks society could do a better job of challenging the rise in hate.
Stateside’s Cynthia Canty will be interviewing Derek Black at a members-only event on Sunday, April 7 at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills.
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Isabella Isaacs-Thomas.