Who's a White Supremacist?
March 20, 2009
Few terms are more beloved by the media than "white supremacist." It conjures an image of a tattooed skinhead barking "sieg heil" or a gap-toothed Klansman at a lynching. Proper people recoil in horror.
Every so often, a genuine moron pops up in the news who practically begs for the term, however many galaxies away he is from actual white advocacy. However, naming your child "Adolf Hitler" or the combination of a swastika tattoo and a vague threat against a public official are more likely signs of mental illness or a desire to shock the community than manifestation of a genuine concern about whites.
A major contributor to use of the term "white supremacist" and its grab-bag of related terms (neo-Nazi, hate group, supremacist group, racist, avowed racist, etc.) is the Southern Poverty Law Center, an increasingly discredited organization that, properly described, operates as an anti-white group. "Anti-white hate group," really, though I'm not expecting the media to call it that anytime soon.
Critics of a given presidential administration sometimes complain that this or that interest group practically has an office in the White House. Likewise, the Southern Poverty Law Center doesn't have a reporter's desk in the middle of most American newsrooms so much as it's got an editor's suite, closed off by glass in the corner.
The media faithfully describes the SPLC as a "civil rights group" or a "watchdog group" and routinely sends its press releases to print without much more change than the addition of a reporter's byline.
A recent story in the Augusta Chronicle about the National Policy Institute (which is, in fact, a white advocacy organization) went a step beyond that by actually interviewing a spokesman for the group, Louis Andrews. But it still manages to describe the NPI as promoting "white supremacy."
Reporter Stephanie Toone doesn't say what about NPI "promotes white supremacy" and probably didn't think too much before using the term.
Here's another example: Pennsylvania reporter Michael Gorsenger bandies about "racist" and "white supremacist," but it's unclear to me how a flyer saying "Love Your Race" implies supremacy. You can rest assured Mr. Gorsenger would not describe such a flyer distributed by the NAACP as "supremacist."
I propose to Ms. Toone, Mr. Gorsenger and their colleagues in the media that they reconsider use of this term. As we lawyers like to say, the prejudicial effect outweighs the probative value.
First, "supremacist" is not a very precise term. What does it mean, exactly?
The implication is that a "supremacist" would have license to engage in any kind of abuse or debasement of another he fancied. But I know of no white advocate who seeks that. The term "white separatist" might actually describe the policy goal of some white advocates, but it still wouldn't hurt to ask whether that is, in fact, his or her goal.
Most white advocates seek a general right of group self-determination that at most involves non-involvement with other racial groups, especially coercive involvement. Forced busing, affirmative action, immigration and non-discrimination laws are all examples of coercion that are opposed by white advocates.
In other words, they wish to simply decline the demands of other racial groups. That's "supremacy"? That's like calling a woman who refuses a man's sexual advances a "female supremacist."
Second, the term "supremacist" is deeply pejorative. The Southern Poverty Law Center uses the term because they want to discredit white advocates and frighten its base into making large donations. It works because it sounds scary.
But the media should not be in the business of adopting partisan terms. The problem with "supremacist" is that it stops thought rather than encourages it — instantly, the reader or viewer's blood runs cold — a "supremacist"! Oh no! The media should be using terms that accurately describe, not scare. The goal should be to impart information, not further the agenda of one side of the debate. "Supremacist" fails that test.
I personally prefer "white advocate" or "white advocacy". These terms are good because they first eliminate the dishonesty or evasion problem presented by terms like "Western" or "conservative" or "traditional." These terms certainly have their place, but at the end of the day, there is a need for the honesty of presentation that goes with using the "W" word. Also, the term "advocacy" flatly describes what's going one: a person or group who seeks the good of whites, as a group. An editor can't complain that the term "white advocate" hides an agenda.
I might also propose that black or Hispanic groups be called "black advocacy" or "Hispanic advocacy" groups, instead of the partisan-sounding "civil rights group." Really? "La Raza" is concerned about everyone's civil rights? Please.
So what do the media ethics gurus have to say about slapping any white advocate with the "white supremacist" smear? Intending to make a serious e-inquiry, I Googled up the famous Poynter Institute in Florida to see if I couldn't find an expert willing to weigh in.
Take a look at this link, however, and you'll see why I never bothered.
That's right, the Poynter Institute has actually melded "ethics" with "diversity" in such a way as to suggest that "ethical" journalism is a booster for "diversity." Needless to say, I doubt the Poynter Institute will be taking up the unfairness of the term "white supremacist."
I continue to be frustrated by the dilemma presented by filmmaker Craig Bodeker, who notes that on racial issues, whites are only allowed two positions: total indifference, or crazy, mean racist.
I, too, object. Whites are a unique group who face an array of problems that remain unaddressed in the popular media, culture and politics. We need advocates. When they appear, the media should describe them accurately.
Christopher Donovan is the pen name of an attorney and former journalist.